Keith Byrne and his wife Keren Zaga
By Ray O’Hanlon
Every immigration story has its unique characteristics just as it might have shared ones.
There are complications and nuances to consider, mistakes and bad moves. Some of the rules are followed, some not. Sometimes there is plain bad luck in the mix. Always there is the law.
Keith Byrne, from Fermoy County Cork and lately of Pennsylvania USA exemplifies this mish mash of hope, responsibility, commitment and legal jeopardy.
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Byrne, who appears not to have been caught up in a specific ICE action at a time when undocumented and illegal immigrants are expecting such at any moment, faces a stark choice according to reports.
He can leave the U.S. Friday and be barred from returning for years, or perhaps indefinitely. Or he can remain on U.S. soil, or at least the concrete floor of a U.S. jail cell. He might remain there for up to four years and then be deported.
Either way, Byrne will be pulled away from his American citizen wife and their three children. Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs have been providing advice to Byrne and Philadelphia congressman Brendan Boyle is trying to delay deportation because, as he told RTE, Byrne’s removal from the U.S. “does nothing to improve the United States.”
Rep. Boyle said in an interview that there were “a few different avenues” being pursued, but that he could not comment further on the case for legal reasons.
Byrne entered the United States in 2007 under the visa waiver program. He overstayed after falling in love with the woman who would be his future wife.
Reported the Irish Times earlier this week: “The 37 year old, who has been living in the U.S. since 2007, was refused residency because of two charges related to cannabis possession dating from his time in Ireland. He is married to an American woman and the pair have children. Mr. Byrne’s father, Jim, told The Irish Times his son declined to sign a waiver that would have seen him deported within 48 hours.”
The Irish Independent reported that Keith’s sister, Melinda, and his wife Keren Zaga, were doing everything they could to have his situation heard.
“We want the U.S. government to give discretion and that Keith can be heard by an immigration judge. We respect that there’s a process there – a process that Keith had been following,” said Melinda.
Byrne married Zaga in 2009 and the couple live in Springfield, Pennsylvania, where he runs a painting business.
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 U.S. citizens. Because of two minor marijuana possession charges from Mr. Byrne’s early 20s in Ireland, and his breach of the visa waiver program, his application and subsequent appeals were denied and he was ordered to be deported.
ICE officials confirmed to Independent.ie that Byrne had been arrested on July 10 for “immigration violations” and that he is in ICE custody “pending removal.”
Keith Byrne’s story is just one story among countless immigration stories affecting not just individuals but, lately, significant portions of national populations.
The United States is a beacon to the world, the homeland of opportunity and liberty, the shining city on the hill.
But not for everybody who makes landfall within its borders.
Immigration is complicated, even when universal human desires for safety, opportunity and love are so simple.
Keith Byrne, from Fermoy, and lately Pike County Correctional facility, knows this full well.