Saturday 17 August 2019

'It's a life sentence' - father of Corkman facing deportation from US

Family life: Keith and Keren with children Leona (right), Gabriel and Mr Byrne’s stepson Ezra
Family life: Keith and Keren with children Leona (right), Gabriel and Mr Byrne’s stepson Ezra

Niamh Lynch

The family of a Corkman that is facing deportation from America have said that they believe US authorities are trying to make an “example” of him.

Jim Byrne, father of Keith (37) who was detained by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last Wednesday, said: "I don’t expect anything to have changed. I still have that feeling he’ll be coming home."

Mr Byrne said Keith’s wife Keren Zaga, and the couple’s children Leona (6) and Gabriel (4), as well as thirteen-year-old Ezra, who is Ms Zaga’s child from another relationship, are "devastated".

"We have to figure out what’s best for his family, what can be done to get him back to the States if he returns home.

"All because of a misdemeanour here, a slap on the wrist in Ireland and he gets a life sentence in America. It was only a fine here for joints.

"They tried to open an egg with a sledgehammer. They know it’s impossible to deal with every case, so they reckon they can just bundle him in."

Keith Byrne married Keren Zaga in 2009
Keith Byrne married Keren Zaga in 2009
Keith Byrne's children (pictured) are US citizens

Keith Byrne is originally from Fermoy in Co. Cork but entered America in 2007 under the Visa Waiver Programme. His family say he overstayed his visa after meeting his future wife.

Mr Byrne married Ms Zaga in 2009, and the couple live in Springfield, Pennsylvania with their children.

In 2010, the family applied for Mr Byrne’s status as a permanent citizen, expecting a simple process due to him being married to and the father of US citizens.

But because of two minor marijuana possession charges Mr Byrne received aged in his early twenties in Ireland, and his breach of the visa waiver programme, his application and subsequent appeals were denied and he was ordered to be deported.

Keith Byrne was detained last week as he made his way to work near his home on the outskirts of Philadelphia (PA)
Keith Byrne was detained last week as he made his way to work near his home on the outskirts of Philadelphia (PA)

The Fianna Fáil spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Niall Collins, has said Keith Byrne’s case is "an example of why we need action for our undocumented Irish in the US."

"I understand Mr. Byrne has been working with authorities to resolve his immigration status. His arrest will leave many Irish looking over their shoulder.

Keith Byrne with stepson Ezra (13) and children Leona (6) and Gabriel (4)
Keith Byrne with stepson Ezra (13) and children Leona (6) and Gabriel (4)

"Thw Government must continue to press this issue and highlight the benefits of providing a legal pathway for the undocumented for all concerned. I believe it would be mutually beneficial and would help strengthen and enhance the bond between our two nations," he said.

In a post on her Facebook page, Ms Zaga said: "I’m at a loss for words. Nothing in my life could have prepared us for what has become [of] our lives over [the] last few days.

"We are humbled and in awe of the pouring in of love and support by our family, friends and even strangers. Please keep us in your thoughts while we continue to do whatever it takes to end this nonsense."

Keith, who runs a painting business called O’Broin Painting, was arrested on his way to work last Wednesday.

ICE officials confirmed to Independent.ie that Keith Byrne had been arrested on July 10 for "immigration violations", and that he is in ICE custody "pending removal".

He is currently detained at Pike County Correctional Facility in north-east Pennsylvania.

In a statement to Independent.ie, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said: "The Department is aware of the case and is in contact with the individual concerned, and family members both in the US and Ireland. We are providing all possible consular assistance as appropriate."

An online fundraiser for Mr Byrne has raised over $20,000 since it was created three days ago.

In March of this year, it was reported that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar sought to strike a deal with President Trump to protect undocumented Irish living in America.

In April, Mr Trump promised to crack down on immigrants who remain in the US after overstaying their visas. According to ICE’s annual report, the number of Irish immigrants deported last year under the Trump administration rose to 47, from 26 in 2016.

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