Relates to:
Date: 1999-02-28

The Palm Beach Post

Adopted by an American couple 20 years ago, 25-year-old John Gaul III has been deported to his native Thailand.

Legislation designed to get tough on immigrants who commit crimes, some forgotten paperwork and a teenage run-in with the law consigned Gaul to an uncertain future Monday with little prospect of ever returning home.

His mother, Pam Gaul, flew to Bangkok on Wednesday to help her son adjust to his native, yet foreign, country. She will return after two weeks to her job as a respiratory therapist to support her son financially through his transition.

She is angry at Congress for passing the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.

"The purpose of the original legislation was to combat terrorism," she told the St. Petersburg Times. "It was not to tear families apart."

The law expanded the list of felonies for which non-citizens could be deported and made it retroactive. Pam Gaul said it is harsh and should address hard-core criminals, not people like her son.

At 19, he was convicted in Tampa of writing worthless checks and stealing a car, both felonies. He served 20 months in prison and planned to apply for citizenship when he was released Dec. 31, 1996.

Immigration officials, instead, took him to a Bradenton deportation center where he stayed four months before his mother bailed him out. He was ordered back last July and remained there until his mother ended an appeals process to save his flagging spirit.

Because he was adopted by Americans, he could have obtained automatic citizenship if the Gauls, now divorced, had applied before he became an adult, but they were unaware of that until he was 17.

They applied at that time, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service turned them down because the wrong fee had been submitted. He was still 17 before a new application and the correct fee were submitted, but he turned 18 by the time it was processed and no longer was eligible for automatic citizenship, Pam Gaul said.

An immigration judge ruled INS had taken too long to process the application, but the 1996 law also barred judges from overturning contested deportation cases.

The Gauls don't have connections to members of Congress such as Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Orlando, who is sponsoring a bill to bring home the son of the treasurer of the Orange County Republican Party. Robert Anthony Broley was deported to Canada after serving four years for theft, burglary, forgery and trafficking in stolen goods.

"It really saddens me that the law doesn't apply on the same level to all people," Pam Gaul said.

Even if the law is changed, her son cannot seek a return to the United States for 20 years, and Gaul said she doubts he would be granted approval even then.


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