Friday 6 December 2019

Irish dad 'left with no choice' but to sign US papers for deportation

Keith Byrne and wife Keren Zaga
Keith Byrne and wife Keren Zaga

A Cork man at the centre of an immigration controversy in the US has signed documents to pave the way for his deportation.

Keith Byrne (37) signed the papers yesterday morning in the US, his father said.

Speaking to the Herald, Seamus Byrne said son Keith would "take the advice of those around him".

"We won't know anything for two to three weeks. We're keeping our hopes up and our fingers and toes crossed," he added.

Keith Byrne, originally from Fermoy, signed the passport application after nine days of detention in Pike County Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania.

He was detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement on his way to work last week.

He now has to wait for an Irish passport renewal before he can travel to Ireland.

Refusal to sign the documents could have sent him to jail for up to four years.


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

Speaking to RTE Radio One's Drivetime on Thursday evening, Mr Byrne's wife Keren Zaga said: "The deadline for tomorrow is that he sign a passport application, and once that passport application is signed then Immigration Customs Enforcement [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 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."

Mr Byrne entered the US in 2007 under the Visa Waiver Programme. His family says he overstayed his visa after meeting his future wife.

Mr Byrne married Ms Zaga in 2009, and they live in Pennsylvania with their children Leona (6) and Gabriel (4) and Mr Byrne's stepson Ezra (13).

In 2010, the family applied for Mr Byrne's status as a permanent citizen, expecting a simple process.

However, 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 ordered.

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