Tuesday 15 October 2019

Irish dad told he must promise to leave US by tomorrow or face jail

Keith Byrne and wife Karen
Keith Byrne and wife Karen

An Irishman facing deportation from the US has been given until tomorrow to agree to leave or else face jail time, his family has said.

Keith Byrne's sister Melinda Maupeu Byrne said that her brother was presented a deal to sign documentation to leave the US by tomorrow - but refusal could mean up to four years in jail.

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.

If Mr Byrne refuses the deal, he would remain in jail, where it could be at least one year before his case is heard in a federal court.

The family is now hoping for a deportation appeal to be heard by a US immigration judge.

Ms Maupeu Byrne said they are pleading to "whomever has the discretionary power" to give Mr Byrne that discretion and allow his case to move forward.

"We are making a plea under the exceptional circumstances," she said.

"We understand it's on a case-by-case basis and we have to respect the process."

She said exceptional circumstances include that Mr Byrne's wife, Keren Zaga, and children, Leona (6) and Gabriel (4), as well as stepson Ezra (13), would have difficulty relocating to Ireland, as Ezra would be separated from his father in the US.

"The family circumstances are so difficult, so we have to keep trying," she said.

The family has been contacted by the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is providing "all consular assistance as appropriate".

US congressman Brendan Boyle has also said he is working to delay the deportation because the removal "does nothing to improve the United States".

Married

The Irish-American politician told Morning Ireland that there are "a few different avenues" being pursued, but that he could not comment further on the case for legal reasons.

Mr Byrne, originally from Fermoy, Co Cork, entered the US in 2007 under the Visa Waiver Programme. His family say he overstayed his visa after meeting his future wife.

He married Ms Zaga in 2009 and the couple live in Springfield, Pennsylvania, where he runs a painting business.

Mr Byrne managed to build a legal life there, including getting his driving licence and buying a home.

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.

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 he was ordered to be deported.

Mr Byrne's father, Seamus, told Cork's 96FM that his son's appeal being denied because of minor marijuana charges was "like getting a life sentence for speeding".

According to his father, Mr Byrne son voluntarily disclosed the charges on a green card application because he wanted to "do it right".

Mr Byrne has been held in Pike County Correctional Facility in north-east Pennsylvania since his arrest last week.

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