Tuesday 15 October 2019

Anger as Irish dad faces 'life sentence' deportation from US

Keith Byrne with his family
Keith Byrne with his family

The family of a Cork man facing deportation in America have said they believe US authorities are trying to make an "example" of him.

Jim Byrne, father of Keith (37), who was detained by US Immigration and Customs last Wednesday, said: "I still have that feeling he'll be coming home."

Jim said Keith's wife Keren Zaga and the couple's children Leona (6) and Gabriel (4), as well as 13-year-old Ezra, Ms Zaga's child from another relationship, were "devastated".

"We have to figure out what can be done to get him back to the States if he returns home.

"All because of a misdemeanour here. It was only a fine for joints - a slap on the wrist in Ireland and he gets a life sentence in America," added Jim.

Mr Byrne, 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. Mr Byrne married Ms Zaga in 2009 and the couple live in Springfield, Pennsylvania, with their children.

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

But because of two minor marijuana possession charges in his 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 is currently detained at Pike County Correctional Facility, Pennsylvania.

Action

An online fundraiser for Mr Byrne has raised over $20,000 (€17,000) in three days.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said: "The department is in contact with the individual and family in the US and Ireland.

"We are providing all possible consular assistance."

Fianna Fail's spokesman for foreign affairs and trade, Niall Collins, said Mr Byrne's case was "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 status. His arrest will leave many Irish looking over their shoulder," he said.

In a Facebook post, Ms Zaga said: "Nothing could prepare us for what has become of our lives over the last few days."

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