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Monday 16 September 2019

'They're making example of him' - father accuses US authorities


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

Niamh Lynch

The family of a Corkman who is facing deportation from the US have said they believe authorities are trying to make an "example" of him.

Jim Byrne, father of Keith Byrne (37) who was detained as part of a crackdown by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last Wednesday, said he had the feeling his son would be "coming home" to Ireland.

He believes his son'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," he told the Irish Independent.

"All because of a misdemeanour here, a slap on the wrist in Ireland and he gets a life sentence in America."

Mr Byrne is originally from Fermoy, Co Cork, but entered America in 2007 under the visa waiver programme. His family say he overstayed his visa after meeting his future wife.

They married 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 as he was married to and the father of US citizens.

Because of two minor marijuana possession charges from Mr Byrne's early 20s in Ireland, and his breach of the visa waiver programme, his application and subsequent appeals were denied and he was ordered to be deported.

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."

Mr Byrne, who ran a painting business called O'Broin Painting, was arrested on his way to work.

ICE officials confirmed to the Irish Independent that Mr Byrne had been arrested on July 10 for "immigration violations", and he is in ICE custody "pending removal". Mr Byrne is currently being held at Pike County Correctional Facility in north-east Pennsylvania.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said it is providing all possible consular assistance as appropriate.

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

"His arrest will leave many Irish looking over their shoulder," he said.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael TD John Deasy - the Government's special envoy to the United States - declined to comment on Mr Byrne's case.

Mr Deasy, who is working on helping Irish undocumented immigrants in the US, did respond to President Donald Trump warning last week of a "major operation" of arrests and deportations.

He said that the Irish Embassy would be in contact with the families of any Irish people affected.

Irish Independent

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