Tuesday 20 August 2019

Corkman facing deportation from US to meet with Irish consulate 'to explore options'

Ms Zaga and Mr Byrne’s children Leona (6) and Gabriel (4), as well as Ezra (13), who is Ms Zaga’s child from another relationship, will visit him this evening.

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 Cork man facing deportation from the US will meet a representative from the Irish consulate in the coming days to explore all options available to him.

Keith Byrne (37) was arrested last week and is facing deportation.

His father Jim said that the outpouring of public support has left Mr Byrne in “good form”.

He added that the Department of Foreign Affairs have been in touch.

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

“He’s quite happy with how it’s panned out so far and the support for him on both sides.”

“He’s a lot better than he was a couple of days ago, let’s put it that way. He’s in good form,” he said.

Meanwhile, Keith’s sister Melinda said his wife Keren Zaga is “doing everything she can to make his situation heard”.

“There’s movement, we’re trying to push for movement. The campaign is progressing.

“CNN have requested an interview with Keith but we’re not sure if it can happen. But there’s interest in the case, it’s picking up momentum.

“We just have to leave it to the powers of the divine,” said Ms Byrne.

Keith Byrne's children (pictured) are US citizens
Keith Byrne's children (pictured) are US citizens

Ms Zaga and Mr Byrne’s children Leona (6) and Gabriel (4), as well as thirteen-year-old Ezra, who is Ms Zaga’s child from another relationship, will visit him this evening.

“It’s through glass though so I don’t really know how it will go. It’ll be very tough, very emotional,” said Melinda.

Ms Bryne also spoke about Ms Zaga’s emotional grief: “For one hour, she’s very positive about the situation and the next hour her heart is breaking and she’s very emotional - it’s the two extremes.”

But Ms Byrne also called on US authorities to take action. “We want the US government to give discretion and that Keith can be heard by an immigration judge. We respect that there’s a process there - a process that Keith had been following.

“I received an email last night from Simon Coveney’s office. But we understand that it’s on a case-by-case basis. We understand they can’t comment on it but are dealing with it. We’re just sitting tight at the moment.

“We feel like we’re grieving for Keith. We’re all exhausted.”

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

He married Ms Zaga in 2009 and the couple live in Springfield, Pennsylvania, where he runs a painting business.

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.

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.

Mr Byrne was arrested on his way to work last Wednesday and has been detained in Pike County Correctional Facility in north-east Pennsylvania since then.

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

In a statement to the Irish Independent, 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 $22,000 since it was created three days ago.

Keith’s father has previously said that he believes US authorities want to make an “example” out of Keith.

Speaking to Independent.ie yesterday, Jim Byrne said: “I don’t expect anything to have changed. I still have that feeling he’ll be coming 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.”

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

However, planned raids by ICE over the weekend appear to have happened on a smaller scale than expected.

But Fine Gael senator Billy Lawless, who represents the Irish diaspora, said “I don’t think that Keith Byrne’s case was because of the so-called raids.

“He was on the radar anyway. His final appeal was denied earlier this year.”

Meanwhile, 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.”

“The 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.

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