Keren Byrne (left) and her husband Keith, who is facing deportation to Ireland.

by Sue Ann Rybak

The clock is ticking for Oreland resident Keith Byrne, 37, an Irish national, who is currently being held at Pike County Correctional Facility in Hawley, Pennsylvania. Byrne’s wife Keren, 34, said the way the government is treating her husband is “unjust.”

Recently, Bryne, who was born in Fermoy, in the Irish Republic, was given an ultimatum: Sign an application for a passport that would ban him from coming back to the United States for five years or go to prison for a year.

Keren said she never thought this would happen to her family. For almost 10 years, she has been trying to apply for citizenship or a green card for her husband, who came to the United States in 2007 on a “Visa Waiver Program,” which allows visitors to travel to the United States easily, but makes it difficult to change their status.

Keith had no intention of staying in the United States until he met Keren, a U.S. citizen who grew up in Northwest Philadelphia, and her young son. On Oct. 10, 2009, they got married in Philadelphia. In 2010, they hired a lawyer and began the citizenship process. Keith was completely honest during the application process, including disclosing that he had been fined in Ireland for two minor incidents of marijuana possession in his early 20s. It was such a minor amount it was considered a civil crime.

The couple was still in the process of legally changing his status when he was arrested by U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) on July 10 on the way to work.

“Then, they knocked on my door at 8 a.m. in the morning to let me know they had taken my husband, and he would be put into detainment,” said Keren, who is a registered nurse at Jefferson Hospital. “They didn’t know when I would be able to talk to him or see him again. Then, they gave me his car keys and phone and told me where his truck was parked. It has been a nightmare ever since.”

She added that her husband has been fully documented since the time he came here.

“I want to make sure people understand that he has not been an undocumented illegal immigrant,” she said. “We went through all the channels we were supposed to. He was caught with marijuana like 17 years ago. He had to pay a fine, which he did. He didn’t need a lawyer. He wasn’t going to do jail time. That is a huge part of why we have had so much trouble adjusting his status. That’s why we have been denied, so many times.

Oreland resident Keith Byrne (center) with his stepson Ezra, 13, and two daughters Gabriel, 4 and Leona, 6. (Photo courtesy of Keren Byrne)

“He was given all the tools that he needed to become a functioning member of our society by the government to grow his roots here. He was given work authorization and a Social Security number and all the right tools to grow a business here. Over the last nine years, we have grown our family together. He has helped me to go to nursing school, so I could become an RN. Keith has helped me raise my 13 year-old son since he was 2 years old. They have a very strong bond, but I don’t think my oldest son deserves to be separated from his father, just like I don’t think my youngest children deserve to be separated from their father [Keith].”

She said his case should be reviewed individually, not under one umbrella of illegal immigrant.

“It’s so unnecessary what they done to our family,” she said. “His case has not been given the individual attention it deserves. I have contacted all of our Congressmen. I have spoken to the ambassador from Ireland. I want to make people realize this is a humanitarian issue.

“My husband doesn’t even smoke. He is a hardworking person. He is an open book; he doesn’t hold anything back. People want to downplay how hard it would be for us to move and relocate. We all live together. It would be extremely devastating and detrimental.”

Keren’s cousin, Jeff Snader, 41, of Chesterbrook, said this is not about a Republican or Democratic administration.

“We are disappointed in all administrations,” Snader said. “There is no basis for not letting a good upstanding man who has children here and runs a business to not grant him citizenship. Not all crimes are created equal. We could debate whether we would want somebody in the country with a felony crime, but someone who has a marijuana charge. I think the vast majority of people would say that’s irrelevant, especially since he has had a clean record in the United States for 12 years. It’s not like he’s an ongoing problem. It’s just a broken system. And now, that they are taking action on it all the holes are being shown.

“If someone is illegal, why would you send them to prison instead of deporting them? Secondly, what happens after prison? Do you rinse and repeat and do it over again?”

He said that seems unconstitutional.

“The clock is ticking, and we don’t know how much time is left on the clock,” Snader said. “If someone doesn’t say ‘don’t deport Keith Byrne,’ he will be put on a plane and deported. Then he will be banned from the United States for five years. We are hoping they don’t just put him on a plane and send him home before we get to hear and fight for his trial.”

Sue Ann Rybak can be reached at sueann@chestnuthilllocal.com or 215-248-8804.

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