Father of Irishman facing US deportation decision says he will 'fight to the last'
Jim Byrne, father of 37-year-old Keith, said he spoke to his son today from Pike County Correctional Facility, where he has been held by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since last Wednesday.
“He’s not going to give up, he says he’s not going to throw 12 years away. He knows if he leaves, it’s impossible to get back. So he’s going to wait and listen to his lawyers," he said.
Mr Byrne was given until Friday to agree to leave the country or face significant jail time.
“Tomorrow is the big day, but he’s had a lot of support. Last week, I would’ve said 'No, he would sign', now maybe not. He’s stubborn, he won’t give in easy. There’ll be no towel thrown in there,” said Mr Byrne.
“The shock has worn off, but the shock of being away from his family will never wear off.”
Keith’s sister Melinda said the family were caught in a “waiting game.”
Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Drivetime, Keith’s wife Keren Zaga said: “The deadline for tomorrow is that he sign a passport application... and once that passport application is signed then ICE can apply for his passport, which is what they need to put him on a plane to go home.
“He has to sign it legally, otherwise he can be charged criminally, because it's a criminal offence to not comply with deportation. He has been left with no choice, but to sign this application for a passport.”
“We never considered that they would ever take him... he never was contacted by ICE before that moment. They told our lawyer that he was not a person of interest a few years ago.
“He has been here very very documented and trying in every effort to adjust his status... being upfront and open about everything, about his past.
Refusal to sign the documents could see him sent to jail for up to four years. 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.
Keith, originally from Fermoy in Co Cork, entered the US 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 they live in Springfield, Pennsylvania with their children Leona (6) and Gabriel (4), and Mr Byrne’s 13-year-old stepson, Ezra.
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 his deportation was ordered.