Sunday 25 August 2019

'They put me in shackles, they put cuffs on my feet' - Keith Byrne speaks of US arrest over deportation

Happily married: Keith Byrne and Keren Zaga – a US citizen – tied the knot 10 years ago
Happily married: Keith Byrne and Keren Zaga – a US citizen – tied the knot 10 years ago
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

The Irish man at the centre of an immigration storm in America has spoken of how scared he was after being 'thrown in a cell' by US authorities trying to deport him.

Keith Byrne (37), from Fermoy, Co. Cork, was detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for overstaying his visa and was held at the Pike County Correctional Facility for two weeks.

He was released after a ruling from Chief Judge Christopher Conner after the Corkman’s legal team filed an emergency petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Wednesday morning.

The judge granted a period of 30 days out of detention for Mr Byrne to “seek injunctive relief and judicial review of his final denial of adjustment of status in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania”.

Mr Byrne had been expected to be deported last week after signing documents for an Irish passport, but his lawyer Thomas Griffin said a technicality with the final denial of a green card application was discovered and it is on that basis that Mr Byrne was released.

Speaking for the first time since his release on Thursday, Mr Byrne told RTE News that he was "heartbroken" following the arrest.

Together again: Keith Byrne and his wife Keren on the way home after he was released
Photo: Jackie Fox/RTE
Together again: Keith Byrne and his wife Keren on the way home after he was released Photo: Jackie Fox/RTE

"They put me in cuffs and they also put me in shackles, they put cuffs on my feet. They took me to a detention centre in Philadelphia, threw me in a cell," he said.

"I guess more than anything else I was just heartbroken because my babies, my wife, my business, my customers, my life, everything I worked so hard for was gone. So to pounce on me the way they did, it was pretty shocking.

"I was scared, I was very scared."

Mr Byrne has been living in the US since 2007, and overstayed his visa after meeting his future wife, American, Keren Zaga, who he married in 2009.

Read more here: 'It's uncertain territory now' - Keith Byrne still in US and meeting legal team on Monday

He has two children with his wife and a stepson.

Immigration: Keith Byrne with wife Keren Zaga, baby boy Gabriel, step-son Ezra and daughter Leona
Immigration: Keith Byrne with wife Keren Zaga, baby boy Gabriel, step-son Ezra and daughter Leona

Mr Byrne has been denied a visa in the US over two criminal convictions he has in Ireland for possession of marijuana for personal use.

"I have previous convictions in Ireland for personal use of marijuana, it's kind of embarrassing. It's a 14-year-old fine that I paid in court so I don't know what message they're giving out by sending me home," he said.

He said he has been fighting in US courts for nine years for legal status to live in America.

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