A family united

By Ray O'Hanlon

There were emotional scenes at Kennedy Airport Tuesday when Pearl River's Joe Byrne was reunited with his wife and daughter, this after almost a two and a half years forced absence from his Rockland County home spent in his native County Louth.

Byrne arrived on the lunchtime flight from Dublin and was greeted by his wife, Eileen, daughter Mairead, friends and supporters, including Congressman Eliot Engel.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

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

Ordinarily, that would have freed him to take a flight back to New York for a reunion with his American family. But his green card had expired and his absence from the U.S. had prevent him from renewing it.

Byrne's green card was revoked by immigration authorities just a couple of weeks before his daughter's First Communion day.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.

Byrne lived 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 more than two years but never went to trial. His vindication a few weeks ago came as a huge relief, but it was not quite the end of the story.

Kennedy Airport on Tuesday provided the final scene.

"It's a wonderful moment having Joe back. It was proven that he is innocent and he had then come up against a typical case of bureaucratic nonsense," a delighted Rep. Engel told the Echo.