| 8.7°C Dublin

'I was heartbroken' - deportation threat Keith tells of US jail ordeal


Keith Byrne and his wife Keren on the way home

Keith Byrne and his wife Keren on the way home

Keith Byrne and his wife Keren on the way home

The Irishman at the centre of an immigration storm in the US has told of how scared he was after being thrown in a cell by American authorities trying to deport him.

Keith Byrne (37), originally from Fermoy, Co Cork, was detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) for overstaying his visa and held at the Pike County Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania for two weeks.

He was released following a ruling from Chief Judge Christopher Conner after his legal team filed an emergency petition for a writ of habeas corpus last Wednesday morning.

The judge granted a period of 30 days out of detention for Mr Byrne to "seek injunctive relief and judicial review of his final denial of adjustment of status in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania".

Mr Byrne had been expected to be deported last week after signing documents for an Irish passport.

However, his lawyer, Thomas Griffin, said a technicality with the final denial of a green card application was discovered and it is on that basis that Mr Byrne was released.

Speaking for the first time since being freed on Thursday, Mr Byrne told RTE News he was "heartbroken" following his arrest.


"They put me in cuffs and they also put me in shackles. They put cuffs on my feet," he said.

"They took me to a detention centre in Philadelphia, threw me in a cell.

"I guess more than anything else I was just heartbroken because my babies, my wife, my business, my customers, my life, everything I worked so hard for was gone, so to pounce on me the way they did, it was pretty shocking. I was scared. I was very scared."

Mr Byrne has been living in the US since 2007, and overstayed his visa after meeting his future wife, American Keren Zaga, who he married in 2009.

He has been denied a visa in the US because of two criminal convictions he has in Ireland for possession of marijuana for personal use.

"I have previous convictions in Ireland for personal use of marijuana. It's kind of embarrassing," he said.

"It's a 14-year-old fine that I paid in court so I don't know what message they're giving out by sending me home."

He said he has been fighting in US courts for nine years for legal status to live in America.