Irish dad jailed after arriving with family in Florida for overstaying visa 21 years ago
It was meant to be the holiday of a lifetime.
An Irish dad was put in prison shortly after arriving in Florida for a family holiday as he overstayed his visa 21 years ago.
On March 22, Darren, his wife and his three kids - aged 9, 11, and 15 - flew to Orlando for what was meant to be the trip of a lifetime.
He explained on RTÉ Radio 1's Liveline:
"We planned the holiday in June last year, and we kept it among ourselves, myself and my wife.
“We thought we’d surprise the kids on Christmas Eve and present them with this wonderful trip of a lifetime so that’s what we did.
"There was a great excitement in the house, everyone was buzzing."
The family-of-five hopped on the plane to Orlando from London's Gatwick Airport last Thursday, after almost a year of excitement.
When they arrived, they started going through the usual immigration control - which is when Darren was asked about his previous travels to the United States, with things changing entirely.
He was soon informed that he would not be allowed to enter the country, as he had stayed longer than his three-month visa allowed...in 1996.
“We spoke to a border agent and everything seemed fine, we gave another set of finger prints and then suddenly his attitude and line of questioning changed.
“All the attention was focused on me and he asked me ‘when was the first time you were in the United States?’.
“I kind of fumbled my lines because of the long flight and I said ‘2002’.
"And my wife Linda kind of nudged me and said ‘no, you were here in 1996’. He said how long did you stay for and I said ‘three months’.
“He continued on and separated my passport away from the other four passengers and said ‘we’re going to need to look into this a little bit further can you follow me?’."
He was separated from his family, where - after an hour - he was brought into a separate room and questioned about his visit in 1996.
The border agents asked him about how long he had been in the country previously, as well as if he overstayed his visa.
Darren said that he was "holding his hands up" that he did stay longer than the visa allowed, but "not by much".
He was told that he wouldn't be allowed into the United States as he had overstayed his visa on the previous visit.
“This lady was a supervisor and she said to me, ‘I’ll tell you what’s going to happen now. You’re not entering the United States today’.”
When he questioned why he had been allowed to return to the United States four times since 1996 without any issues, she told him that he had "got lucky".
Darren told the border agents that he had to pass on all the cards and cash to his wife, Linda, who he had been separated from for around two hours at that point.
He was told that while they had no obligation to allow him to see his family, if he promised to keep things calm for the sake of his wife and kids they would let him talk to his partner to explain things.
On the moment he was allowed to talk to his family, Darren said:
“As soon as I told my wife what was happening she broke down naturally.
“I was very strong because I was conscious that I didn’t want them to see their father in a distressed manner.
“The kids seen their mam crying so they started crying.
“I managed to calm Linda down and I went along each of the kids. I said ‘it will be ok. Go and have your holiday, it’s not how we planned it but it is what it is’.
“I was brought back into a holding reception centre which is as they call it a secondary screening.
“I went through a process of having to eventually hold my hands up that I had stayed past three months.
"I tried to dispute the fact that I didn’t stay longer than the 9th of October but that appeal was falling on deaf ears.”
Darren found himself facing a difficult 24 hours, beginning with signing a sworn statement that included family information.
At 1am the next morning, he was handcuffed and moved via a prison van to a correctional facility 17 miles away from the airport.
He was removed from the secure facility at 2.15pm and brought back to Orlando, handcuffed in a prison van.
That's where he stayed until 8.45pm, which is when he was escorted - in handcuffs - to the plane, in full view of all other passengers.
“I was escorted to the plane by two armed guards in full view of all the passengers.”
He landed back in London at 09:30 on Saturday morning and then Dublin at lunchtime.
His family are still over there trying to make the best of a holiday which is the way we planned it.