Delays doom couple's adopted son to deportation

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Date: 1998-07-19

AMY HERDY
St. Petersburg Times

Although adopted and raised in the United States by American parents, John Gaul III is about to deported to Thailand, a country he has not seen since he was 4.

Why? A paperwork glitch by the government and Gaul's own conviction on felony theft charges as a teenager.

"I know I messed up, but I served my time," said Gaul, 24, during an interview at an immigration detention center in Bradenton. "This is unfair treatment of an American citizen."

Trouble is, he's not a citizen.

Pam and her husband, John Gaul, Jr., who was in the Air Force, adopted their son from Bangkok, Thailand, in 1979 after being stationed in Asia.

For the next 20 years Gaul was raised in the U.S. as a typical American child. An all-star athlete, he played basketball, baseball and soccer, and attended private school in Tampa.

His parents had filed his birth certificate in the U.S. but discovered when he was 17 they had not filed the proper paperwork with the U.S. Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services, or INS.

Gaul's mother, Pam, immediately filed the paperwork, but INS rejected it because she submitted the wrong fee. By the time a second packet was processed and a hearing scheduled, Gaul had turned 18, making him ineligible to become a citizen.

When he was 18, Gaul ran afoul of the law.

He and several friends were convicted of writing worthless checks and stealing a car, both felonies.

Gaul served 20 months in state prison, and was released Dec. 31, 1996. Immigration officials took him straight to the deportation center, where he was held for four months before his mother bailed him out.

Last year, immigration judge R. Kevin McHugh said the immigration service was "totally to blame" for taking too long to process Gaul's citizenship application. Still, McHugh said there was nothing he could do.

His appeals exhausted, Gaul turned himself in to the deportation center July 8. He fears being sent to a country whose language and culture he does not know, and whose politics and religion he does not agree with.

"I'll be lost," he said.

To his mother, Gaul's case is more than unfair; it is devastating. Although she knows her only child made a mistake, she never dreamed he'd be banished because of it.

"In this country we allow people to start over again," she said, "and he's being denied that. And it breaks my heart."

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