Drug Sale Instigates Deportation

Relates to:
Date: 2000-06-16

Americans Adopted Brazilian as Child

Susan Levine
Washington Post

A 22-year-old Ohio man, adopted as a child from Brazil but never naturalized as a U.S. citizen, was ordered deported yesterday because in 1997 he sold 7.5 ounces of marijuana to a police informant.

Immigration Judge Elizabeth Hacker issued a final order that Joao Herbert be returned to his native country because of the drug conviction that followed his arrest. It was Herbert's first criminal offense, for which he was sentenced only to probation and community treatment. But under immigration law, it made him an aggravated felon and essentially ensured that he would be deported permanently from his adopted country.

"The law has taken all discretion from the judge and the court, despite any humanitarian factors that might exist," said attorney Maura Jaite, who represented Herbert at a hearing yesterday in Cleveland. "In this case, they don't even come into play."

Still, Jaite said she would appeal the order, which would give Herbert an automatic stay of deportation. He has been detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for 15 months and is seeking a writ of habeas corpus that would force his release pending the appeal.

Herbert is not the first adoptee to discover, too late, that a lifetime in America with American parents is no protection under the law. Unless an individual is naturalized--even one adopted at birth--he or she is still subject to automatic removal if convicted of one of a multitude of offenses both large and small.

For months, Herbert's case has been complicated by Brazil's refusal to accept him because of its contention that adoption is irrevocable. In explaining that position earlier this year, Brazilian Ambassador Rubens Antonio Barbosa also mentioned the humanitarian concerns: Herbert knows no one in the country and no longer understands Portuguese.

As of yesterday, Jaite said, Herbert still does not have any travel documents.

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