Keith Byrne and Keren Raga. Family photo
By Ray O’Hanlon
The Cork man facing deportation from the United States, and an ocean-wide separation from his American wife and children, supported his wife as she worked her way through nursing school.
Now colleagues of Keren Raga are rallying behind Keith Byrne who is facing a stark choice of leaving the United States and facing a bar against return, or jail in the U.S. with possible deportation at the end of a process that could take at least a year.
Byrne’s story has made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic, the single person/single family version of a broader immigration picture that has starkly highlighted the desire of many for a life of freedom and opportunity in an America that is lately reluctant to open its door any wider than is legally and minimally required.
The story of Keith Byrne and Karen Raga is the big picture in miniature relief. But to this Irish and American family in Pennsylvania, it is the only picture that counts right now.
And into it has poured the support of friends and colleagues, this support being succinctly expressed by a co-worker of Keren, a fellow nurse, Jessica Denning.
Denning, in an email to the Echo wrote in part: “At this very moment, the nurses and staff at Jefferson’s Methodist Hospital are feeling the pain of one of their own. The staff at Methodist are rallying behind her by every means possible.
“An ocean away, Irish citizens and their government have gotten involved to rectify the situation.
“Most recently, the staff decided not enough was being done as this story is covered globally but not locally. We took our support to a new level in a last minute attempt to help our comrade, Keren.
“Keren Byrne is an amazing Emergency Room nurse at Methodist. In recent days she has found herself facing the very real possibility of having to leave her job, divide her family, lose her house (bought this year) and the dream she and her husband Keith have built, Keren as a nurse and he a successful entrepreneur running a painting/decorating business.
“Keith is from Ireland. He came to America in 2007 on a visa waiver. A week before he was supposed to leave, he met Keren and they fell in love. They married in a surprise wedding at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2009 with only a handful of friends in attendance. Keith supported Keren through nursing school and raised her son of a previous relationship from the age of two. Since then, the couple has had two more children, Leona 6 and Gabriel 4.
“While Keith knew he overstayed his visa, he and Keren have been fighting for his U.S. citizenship since 2010.
He rode a bike to work, refusing to drive without a license which he later received legally. He took the proper steps to get a Social Security number so he could be taxed legally. When he started his business he was granted a Tax ID so his business too would be legitimate in the eyes of the law. While applying for citizenship he hid in plain sight and cooperated with immigration authorities who were kept informed of his dwelling and ultimately made his arrest what is being called ‘easy pickings.’
“Keith is an honest hardworking individual. So honest that when applying for citizenship he answered honestly to a question he was not required to respond to at all. Yes, he had been arrested in his home country of Ireland. For marijuana joints on two occasions in his 20s. An infraction so minimal in his country, he only received a small fine which he paid.
“This minor infraction he did not have to disclose has prevented him from gaining his citizenship in the country he is raising his family and building a life you might call, ‘The American Dream’ with his wife Keren by his side.
“July 10th, Keith was pulled over on his way to work and detained by ICE. He has been in detention ever since. At the moment, his options have been reduced to deportation that will spilt his family, as his stepson will lose either Keren or his biological father and his extended family or go to jail, potentially up to a year before his case will be heard before an immigration judge. We and they have waited for Philadelphia to cry foul in the defense of this couple for over a week.
“At Methodist, we do a lot together. Dinners, parties both in and outside of work, weddings, funerals, baby showers and vacations. A recent vacation resulted in what we are calling a ‘Limited Edition Beach Towel’ that features the picture of another of our fantastic nurse’s Daisy Award picture on it. When the towel hit Facebook, we all wanted one. When Keren’s life fell apart, we were pressed for time to raise money for her. A staff member suggested a towel auction.
“At the moment, the auction for a single towel is about to exceed $1,000 after two days on the auction block. We fully anticipate the towel to auction for far more. Our plan is to give the towel to Keren, who responded to our auction effort with a much needed laugh. You have to laugh in this field. You also have to have the support of your co-workers and family.
“That is what we are doing today at Methodist. Supporting a co-worker we think of as family while her family is suffering, hoping to end that suffering, making her laugh in the meantime when we can and raising all the awareness and funds we can think of for her.
“We would like to take our efforts to a new level but we need publicity to do so. In addition to our in house Towel Auction, we would like to include the general public to donate to Go Fund me page for ‘The Citizenship of Keith Byrne,’ with the highest donation receiving their very own, Limited Edition Daisy Award Winning Nurse Towel.
“People bend and break the rules every day. Most get away with it and would lie to you about it. Not Keith Byrne. He was honest. Followed the rules to the best of his ability. Can’t help falling in love.
“For those who care about them, on either side of the pond, it really doesn’t seem to be something that should be this difficult. It’s life. Let them live the life they built together. End of story, everyone lives happily ever after.”