FORMER NAVY SEAL FIGHTS DEPORTING OF ADOPTED SON

Relates to:
Date: 2004-01-03

FATHER ASSUMED BOY BECAME U.S CITIZEN

Jon Frank
The Virginian-Pilot

When Jim Schombs returned to the United States from the Philippines in 1986, he brought with him a new wife and her 5-year-old son, Julius.

Mother and son were natives of the faraway island of Negros Occidental, and Schombs wanted them each to feel a part of his new family in Virginia Beach.

So Schombs, a Navy enlisted man at the time, adopted Julius.

In the years that followed, they settled into an American lifestyle similar to that of many other families in Virginia Beach. Julius attended school, his mother got a job and Schombs began a successful military career as a Navy SEAL.

He took part in Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989 and won numerous military awards, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.

Throughout his grueling commando training and the special forces service that followed, Schombs assumed that when he adopted Julius, his son automatically became an American citizen.

He was wrong.

In a tragic turn of events, spurred by immigration laws that are now strictly enforced in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Julius has learned that he is not a U.S. citizen and he soon may be deported.

Ironically, Schombs said, the country he risked his life for is unwilling to keep his family from being ripped apart.

"I have served my country," Schombs said. "And now, what is my country doing for me?"

If deported, Julius will be unable to return to the United States. He will only be able to see his parents and brother if they visit him in the Philippines or some other country.

Julius, 22, currently is in the Piedmont Regional Jail in Farmville. He could be deported at any time.

The 5-foot-5-inch inmate does not know the native language of the Philippines and has only distant relatives there.

"I don't know anybody over there," Julius said recently during a telephone interview. "Yes, I am afraid."

Julius was not a model citizen while living at the Beach. He has a juvenile criminal record and got into trouble as an adult in 2000 by stealing video recorders and pawning them.

Schombs blames himself for some of his son's problems. His life as a globe-trotting Navy SEAL meant Schombs often was overseas during Julius' adolescence.

"He might not have had the right supervision with me being gone all the time," Schombs said.

Now Schombs is trying to make up for past transgressions.

Since Julius has been in custody, his father has spent more than $10,000 for attorneys to prevent what could be a life sentence of exile.

Julius said he has learned his lesson. He described his life in prison as "misery" and said the thought of returning to the Philippines is too horrible to consider.

He doesn't want to serve more jail time. Fear of prison will make him follow the law - either in the Philippines or in the United States - no matter what, Julius said.

"I have no time left in me," he said.

But Julius' many allies say they feel powerless to stop the post-9/11 immigration machine responsible for sending many out of the United States.

They are getting desperate.

"We are running out of time," said Nony Abrajano, chairman of the Hampton Roads chapter of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations.

Abrajano has contacted Gov. Mark R. Warner and other political figures, but so far there has been no help. "It seems it is beyond their power to do anything," Abrajano said.

Schombs blames the terrorist attacks of two years ago and the new approach to immigration laws for the problem. If the 9/11 terrorist attacks had never happened, Schombs believes, immigration authorities would never have gotten involved with his son.

The immigration service began investigating Julius after he was caught with stolen video recorders in March 2000.

Julius, who attended Green Run High School before dropping out, was 18 at the time. The other youths involved in the crimes were younger and were charged as juveniles. They have since enlisted in the military, Schombs said.

In July 2000, Julius pleaded guilty in Virginia Beach Circuit Court to felony charges of statutory burglary, grand larceny, and conspiracy, and to misdemeanor charges of obtaining money under false pretenses and possession of marijuana.

His attorney at the time was Cynthia D. Garris. She could not be reached for comment.

Julius served about 30 months at the St. Brides Correctional Center in Chesapeake.

Before he could be released earlier this year, immigration officials stepped in and began deportation proceedings.

Julius made the guilty pleas thinking that he was a U.S. citizen, said Portsmouth attorney Stephen E. Heretick, who is helping Julius with his immigration problems.

Heretick filed a motion before Circuit Judge Frederick B. Lowe to reduce the charges after Julius' guilty pleas. Charges with less than a year of jail time would have removed Julius from the "aggravated felony" category and made deportation impossible, Heretick said.

Lowe denied that motion. Prosecutor Mark McKinney said the judge ruled that the court did not have the jurisdiction to reduce the charges.

Still, McKinney is sympathetic to the plight of the Schombs family. Deportation, he said, "was not a contemplated consequence when he pleaded guilty because nobody knew that he wasn't a citizen."

Once immigration officials got involved, Heretick said, there was only one probable outcome.

"Under federal law, if you are a deportable alien and commit a felony, you can just about guarantee that you will be deported," Heretick said.

Greg Gagne, a spokesman for immigration review in the federal Department of Justice, said the Immigration Reform act of 1996 made it mandatory to deport non-citizens convicted of aggravated felonies. Such deportations, which can be ordered by any of the nation's 220 immigration judges, are not appealable, Gagne said.

Enforcement of immigration laws went into high gear after Sept. 11, 2001, he said - especially after the old Immigration and Naturalization Service was dissolved and reconstituted within the new federal Department of Homeland Security

"They are certainly a lot more vigilant in a lot of areas," Gagne said.

Everything that now bedevils the Schombs family could have been avoided for an $80 citizenship application fee back in the 1980s.

"It would have been a simple matter of filling out a form," Heretick said. "But nobody knew it or considered it a problem. It just didn't occur to anyone."

Heretick admits that Julius is not without fault in helping create the problem. Julius' other brushes with the law include a destruction of property charge in 1994 and a curfew violation.

"This kid had his share of problems," Heretick said. "But he never hurt anybody."

He appeared to be getting his life together at St. Brides.

He earned his general equivalency diploma and learned a trade as an automobile body repairman. Upon release, he had a job lined up and a secure home with his father.

"He was doing all the right things in the program and the staff recognized it," said James Keeling, the facility's therapeutic community director.

St. Brides officials were so impressed with Julius that several attended his immigration hearings to lend moral support.

Schombs, who suffered a stroke in May 2000 and recently retired from the military, said the treatment his family has received at the hands of the government is shameful.

"I want my son to be able to come home and stay here in the U.S.," Schombs said.

"I have all the faith in the world that he will become a productive member of the community."

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