Keith Byrne and his wife Keren. Family photo.
By Ray O’Hanlon
It’s summertime and the living is anything but easy for those living in the immigration shadows.
The illegal and undocumented of every nationality, the Irish included, have been on edge in recent weeks with reports of impending large scale raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE.
Last weekend was supposed to see those widespread raids take place with the primary focus being on big cities with large immigrant populations, but as the Guardian U.S. edition reported: “ICE raids didn't materialize over the weekend. The fear, tension and anger remain, but there are no reports yet of the kind of systematic, ruthless anti-immigration raids the government had flagged would happen on Sunday.”
Nevertheless, many remain on edge and the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in New York caught the mood with a carefully worded statement: “We stand with vulnerable families to ensure they are treated fairly and in keeping with the constitution and laws of this nation.”
Problem is the laws, at least as they apply to immigration, are beginning to give the constitution a run for its money in terms of longevity.
While the ICE raids - indfeed prominently flagged by President Trump - did not turn out to be all that prominent, one Irish national living in Pennsylvania was arrested.
Reported the Irish Times: “Cork man Keith Byrne remained in Pike County Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania after being arrested by immigration officers while on his way to work last Wednesday.
“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 Times reported that Billy Lawless, the Chicago-based senator with responsibility for the diaspora, said he was extremely concerned about the latest moves against immigrants in so-called sanctuary cities like Chicago.
“We are advising people to stay low and be vigilant, and we are ready to give advice and support to those who need it,” Senator Lawless said.
The report added: “Mr. Lawless claimed Irish undocumented people were in a more precarious legal position than immigrants who had recently arrived over the southern border mainly from Central America.
“While most Irish undocumented arrived in the country legally and overstayed a visa, those coming over the border illegally are in fact entitled to legal representation and to a hearing,” he said.
In contrast, undocumented residents picked up for visa violations were typically detained and deported immediately.
The Irish Independent was reporting Tuesday that the outpouring of support for Keith Byrne (that support includes a GOFundMe page) was an encouragement to him.
His father, Jim, said that the outpouring of public support had left Keith in “good form,” the daily reported.
The Independent additionally reported that Keith’s sister, Melinda, and his wife Keren Zaga, were doing everything they could to have his situation heard.
Melinda Byrne also called on U.S. authorities to take action.
“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.”
Added the report: Keith, originally from Fermoy in Co. Cork, entered America in 2007 under the Visa Waiver Program. 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.
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.
Mr. Byrne was arrested on his way to work last Wednesday and has been detained since then.
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.”
An online fundraiser for Mr. Byrne has raised over $22,000 since it was created three days ago.
Senator Lawless said that he didn’t think that Keith Byrne’s case was because of the “so-called” ICE raids.
“He was on the radar anyway. His final appeal was denied earlier this year,” Senator Lawless told the Independent.
Meanwhile, the report continued, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Niall Collins, has said Keith Byrne’s case is “an example of why we need action for our undocumented Irish in the U.S.”
“I understand Mr. Byrne has been working with authorities to resolve his immigration status. His arrest will leave many Irish looking over their shoulder.”
“The government must continue to press this issue and highlight the benefits of providing a legal pathway for the undocumented for all concerned. I believe it would be mutually beneficial and would help strengthen and enhance the bond between our two nations,” Collins said.