Cold Empire of Law

Relates to:
Date: 2000-12-01

Cold Empire of Law

João Herbert, 22, has been in Brazil since November 16. Although he doesn't speak any Portuguese and has lived 15 years in the United States as the adopted son of an American couple, Jim Herbert and Nancy Saunders, being deported to his native Brazil was the only way he found to get out of jail. Despite being legally adopted, Herbert was considered a foreigner because his parents never applied for his naturalization. Herbert, who lived in a Brazilian orphanage his adoption, was imprisoned after falling into a police sting while trying to sell 200 grams of marijuana to a plain-clothes policeman from Ohio.

The youngster's case became a cause célèbre because the Brazilian government, on humanitarian grounds, argued that he shouldn't be returned to Brazil as he was not a Brazilian anymore, didn't speak the language and had no family to go home to. Brazil—together with his adoptive parents—also claimed Herbert didn't come to the U.S. of his own volition and that adoption is an irrevocable act. Useless arguments. The Yankee intransigence won and again, on humanitarian grounds, the Brazilian government granted him a Brazilian passport. The only alternative left was for Herbert to spend the rest of his life in American prisons.

The return of Herbert moved Brazilians and after staying a few days in a São Paulo shelter for the poor he accepted an invitation from a pastor to live with him and his family in the interior of São Paulo. On his first day in the streets of São Paulo, Herbert said that he was feeling like a foreigner. "I feel moved and confused," he told reporters: "I studied about Brazil in school. Everything seems very different from the time I left. But I think this is a beautiful and kind country. As for my situation, many other people in the United States are suffering the same thing I did and unfairly as it happened to me." His priority now, he said, is to learn Portuguese. He is already saying some words like muito obrigado (thanks a lot).

The youngster also confided that he wants to study law and become an attorney specializing in International Law. His intention, he says, is to be able one day to show Americans the need to change their immigration laws and the way they treat immigrants in the United States: "There are some laws that are being changed, but this is not enough. The way they do things there hurts not only the immigrant, but also the whole family."

While not as dramatically as Herbert, Brazilians are increasingly being rejected and deported all around the world. According to a story published at the end of November by daily O Estado de S. Paulo, there was a dramatic 667% increase in deportation of Brazilians this year compared to 1999. Numbers from the Federal Police show that from January to October 1,359 Brazilians were barred from entering other countries and were returned home from the foreign airport. By comparison, for the whole year of 1999 there were 177 cases of deportation of Brazilians.

In a single day in November there were 20 instances of banishment. There is an average of six such occurrences a day. Most times the customs people suspect that the person with a tourist visa wishes to remain in the country. Most of the deported come from the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. The United States leads the countries that send more Brazilians back, followed by England, Portugal, and more recently, Mexico.

Not every one that is sent back was thinking about living illegally in the foreign country, but the deportation experience is always humiliating and many times cruel. Some are kept incommunicado for hours or days in the airport and are taken in handcuffs to the plane. Their passport is confiscated by the police and given to the plane crew who gives it then to the Brazilian federal police.


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