Wednesday 21 August 2019

'He's determined to fight on' - Deportation d-day arrives for Irishman Keith Byrne

'Thrilled to bits' by international support as his case garners huge attention

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

Evie Kearney

IRISHMAN Keith Byrne has said he has been "blown away" by the international interest in his case after being told by authorities to leave the United States today or face going to prison.

The 37-year-old was told this week that if he did not sign a passport application by Friday, he could be moved to a state penitentiary and face up to four years in prison.

If deported, he would receive a minimum five-year ban on re-entry to the US, but his father believes it would be too difficult to ever legally return.

Keith Byrne spoke to his father yesterday evening from where he is currently being detained at Pike County Correctional Facility in north-east Pennsylvania.

Speaking to Independent.ie, his father, Jim Byrne, has said that his son remains determined to resolve his immigration status in the US so that he can stay with his young family.

"He's determined to get through for his family. That's all Keith is thinking about at the minute," he said.

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

Keith Byrne, originally from Fermoy, Co. Cork, married Keren Zaga in 2009 and they live in Springfield, Pennsylvania, with their children Leona (6) and Gabriel (4), and 13-year-old Ezra, who is Ms Zaga's son from a previous relationship.

Jim Byrne said that his son is in "good form" and cannot believe the support he has received both home and abroad.

A GoFundMe set up for Keith Byrne has raised over $28,000 while a petition to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) set up by his wife's nursing colleagues has received almost 2,000 signatures.

"He can't believe it, he's blown away," Mr Byrne said.

"He knew he'd get support from home because he's got a big family here and he knew Keren's family would be there but the reaction here and in Philadelphia and the United States - the way things have snowballed, he's thrilled to bits."

Mr Byrne has said that his son knows he made mistakes but has made every effort to correct them over the past 10 years in order to build a life with his family.

"Nobody goes on holiday expecting to fall in love," he said.

Keith Byrne's father also thanked his son's lawyers, saying that they have "great confidence" in immigration lawyer Thomas Griffin who has been working on the case for a number of years.

Keith Byrne originally entered the US in 2007 under a visa waiver programme before meeting his future wife later that year. In 2010, he applied for 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. He was subsequently arrested on his way to work on July 10.

Among those supporting the family in the US are two immigration lawyers and two congressmen including Irish-American Brendan Boyle who has said he is working to delay the deportation as it "does nothing to improve the United States."

"Speaking as an American citizen, not even a member of Congress, what exactly does this achieve? This doesn't Make America Great Again," Mr Boyle said.

Mr Byrne said that his son was "doing well" under the Obama administration and that they were aware of his presence in the country.

"There's been a lot of pluses and minuses in his 10 year stay since he's been trying to apply for the green card," his father said.

"He was doing well under Obama and that administration but the new administration seemed to take everything. It's a bit ridiculous."

Senator Billy Lawless, who represents the Irish diaspora, has said he does not believe the case is related to the "so-called Trump raids" which reports say failed to materialise this week.

"He [Keith] was on the radar anyway because he was engaging," he said.

"Deportations have been going on for the last 10 years but it was more diplomatic before," he added.

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