Friday 23 August 2019

US ultimatum to Keith: get out by Friday or face four years in jail

Family face being split apart after Trump crackdown on immigration sees Fermoy man detained in USA

The Fermoy man facing deportation from the US has been given until Friday (19th) to agree to leave or else face significant jail time, his family has said.

Keith Byrne's sister Melinda Maupeu Byrne said this Wednesday that her brother had been presented with a deal to sign documentation to leave the US by Friday - but refusal could mean up to four years in jail.

However, if he agrees to leave the US - where he lives with his wife and young family - by Friday, he may not ever get back in.

Agreeing to the deal would impose a five-year minimum ban on re-entry to the US, with no guarantee that the restriction would ever be lifted.

If Mr Byrne refuses to leave this week, he would remain in jail where it could be at least one year before his case is heard in a federal court.

The family are now hoping for a deportation appeal to be heard by a US immigration judge. However, deportation appeals are reportedly rarely acquiesed to by judges.

Ms Maupeu Byrne said they are pleading to "whomever has the discretionary power" to give Mr Byrne that discretion and allow his case to move forward.

"We are making a plea under the exceptional circumstances," Melinda said. "We understand it's on a case by case basis and we have to respect the process."

She said exceptional circumstances include how Mr Byrne's wife, Keren Zaga, and children Leona (6) and Gabriel (4), as well as 13-year-old stepson Ezra, would have difficulty relocating to Ireland as Ezra would be divided from his father in the US.

"The family circumstances are so difficult, so we have to keep trying," said Melinda.

The family have been contacted by the Department of Foreign Affairs who are providing "all consular assistance as appropriate."

US Congressman Brendan Boyle has also said he is working to delay the deportation because the removal "does nothing to improve the United States."

The Irish-American told Morning Ireland on Wednesday that there are "a few different avenues" being pursued, but that he could not comment further on the case for legal reasons.

Keith entered America in 2007 under the Visa Waiver Programme. His family say he overstayed his visa after meeting his future wife.

"I know he did wrong. He started with a holiday, but he fell in love. He didn't go there for a wife, he went for a good time," said Keith's brother, Greg.

Keith married Keren Zaga in 2009 and the couple live in Springfield, Pennsylvania, where he runs a painting business. Mr Byrne managed to build a legal life there, including getting his driving license and buying a home.

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

Howevr, 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.

Keith's father, Seamus, told Cork's 96fm that his son's appeal being denied because of minor marijuana charges was "like getting a life sentence for speeding".

According to Seamus, Keith voluntarily disclosed the charges on a green card application because he wanted to "do it right".

Meanwhile, Keith has been held in Pike County Correctional Facility in north-east Pennsylvania since his arrest last Wednesday week.

Now, a GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family. Jeff Snader, a cousin of the family and a US marine, set up the Go Fund Me page and said "The America we love is here to support life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is intended for all of the brave and caring souls who are willing to sacrifice and put in the work to be a part of this. Keith Byrne exemplifies this".