Charges dropped but Rockland's Byrne loses his green card

By Ray O'Hanlon

The Byrne family of Pearl River in Rockland County was celebrating this week - on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Ireland, Joe Byrne, who had been extradited to Ireland to face charges stemming from the 1990s, was last week exonerated by a court in Dundalk, County Louth.

Ordinarily, that would have freed him to take a flight back to New York for a reunion with his U.S. citizen wife, Eileen, and their daughter, Mairead.

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But Joe Byrne has not been in the United States since February of 2008. And, in the that has passed between then and now, his green card expired.

He's a free man, but that freedom doesn't get him home. And it didn't get him home in time for Mairead's First Holy Communion, which took place last Saturday at St. Margaret's Church in Pearl River.

"The judge said that he believed Joseph Byrne and that he was innocent of the charges. But, of course, we already knew that," Byrne's wife, Eileen Grady Byrne, told the Echo.

Byrne's green card was revoked by immigration authorities just a couple of weeks before his daughter's big day. He had been summoned to a meeting at the federal offices in lower Manhattan because his green card's validity was coming up against the rule that you can't be out of the U.S. for more than a year.

But having been extradited, Byrne was unable to use his green card to enter the U.S. - even when it was still valid. Repeated letters of explanation from the family's attorney, Eamon Dornan, did not prevent the cancellation of the green card.

Now Eileen frets that her husband's return might be delayed even longer, this against the backdrop of the recent security scare in New York.

"He was extradited, so we are worried that he might on the no-fly list," said Eileen, who flew to Ireland along with Mairead to see her husband at Easter.

"We have contacted Congressman Eliot Engel's office is an effort to secure Joe's return to the United States as quickly as possible," she said.

Byrne has been living with his parents in Dundalk, since his extradition. His father is a retired Garda sergeant. The son's troubles with the Irish legal authorities were rooted in a 1997 house burglary and the robbery of a pub during which the daughter of the owner was tied up.

Byrne was working in the pub at the time as a part time barman. He was also employed by a local contractor, a man Byrne believes had ties to the Irish National Liberation Army.

Byrne was questioned by police after the robberies and made statements he subsequently said were coerced. He was released without charge at the time. There the matter rested for ten years.

A few years after the robberies, Byrne moved to the U.S. He and Eileen were married and Byrne applied for a green card.

On the advice of an attorney, Byrne admitted to U.S. immigration authorities that he had been questioned by Irish police in connection with the burglary and pub robbery.

The immigration authorities did not see this as an impediment and Byrne was granted legal U.S. residence. Byrne began his own contracting business in Rockland County and both he and his wife settled into a life that would, in time, include their daughter. During this time, Byrne was able to renew his Irish passport without difficulty.

Then came the extradition warrant and the charges filed by Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions. In 2007, Byrne lost his legal bid to remain in the U.S. when a court in White Plains ruled in favor of the Irish authorities.

Byrne was able to remain in the U.S. for a few weeks after that ruling before having to leave for Ireland in February, 2008.

Byrne's case came "up for mention" several times over the last two years but never went to trial. Now, though he has been cleared of any crime, his clearance for a westward take off remains on hold.