Family fights son's deportation

Relates to:
Date: 1998-07-21

JIM SLOAN
The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA - A Tampa woman watches helplessly as her son is about to be deported to Thailand, a country he doesn't know.

Pam Gaul is living a parent's nightmare.

As she waits helplessly, her adopted son sits in an immigration detention center in Manatee County, slated for deportation to a country he left when he was 4.

John Gaul III, 24, is the victim of a paperwork glitch and a brush with the law as a teen. Monday, his mother gave her side of a sad story first featured Saturday in The Tampa Tribune.

After almost 20 years of life as an American, Gaul faces deportation to Thailand, where he does not speak the language and knows nothing of the culture, religion or politics.

"This is my only child being sent back," Pam Gaul said. "Put yourself in his position. You are being sent to a place where you have no family, no relatives, no support system. You cannot come back."

Pam Gaul and her former husband, John Gaul Jr., adopted John from Bangkok through an international agency in 1979. Since then, he lived the life of a typical American boy, attending private school and playing soccer and basketball.

When Gaul was 17, his parents applied for a passport and discovered he wasn't a U.S. citizen - despite his adoption by two American-born citizens and a birth certificate issued in New Jersey.

The family applied to the U.S. Department of Immigration and Naturalization. But Nov. 7, just two weeks before Gaul would turn 18, the INS sent the application back, saying the Gauls had sent the wrong fee.

By the time a second packet, with the correct fee, was processed and a hearing scheduled, Gaul had turned 18, making him ineligible for citizenship.

"I asked them about the fee before I sent the application and I sent them the fee they asked me to send," Pam Gaul said.

"I trust my government. I had no reason to challenge them about whether this was the proper fee."

When Gaul was 18, he fell in with a bad crowd, a Hispanic youth gang. Convicted in 1995 with his friends of writing bad checks, he served 20 months in prison.

"He made a poor choice, a very, very poor choice, and we don't excuse that," Pam Gaul said.

But she rejected an acquaintance's comment that her son had befriended Hispanics because his dark skin made it difficult for him to relate to whites.

"This has never been a cultural or racial issue with us," she said. "My husband and I are white, his aunts and uncles are white, he doesn't have a problem relating to anybody."

When he walked out of prison on Dec. 31, 1996, the INS was waiting. He was taken to a deportation center and kept for four months until his mother posted his bail.

Since then, Pam Gaul has spent thousands of dollars fighting his deportation.

Last year, an immigration judge said the INS had taken too long to process Gaul's citizenship application, but that there was nothing he could do, she said.

Lemar Wooley, spokesman for the INS office in Miami, called Gaul's predicament an "unfortunate situation," but added that "a lot of years passed" in which the family could have applied for citizenship for their son.

But Pam Gaul said she didn't apply earlier because she thought her son was a U.S. citizen.

His appeals exhausted, Gaul turned himself in to the Bradenton Detention Center on July 8. No date has been set for deportation.

"We're working hard to get a support system in place for him" in Thailand, Pam Gaul said. "But at this point, he's going into an unknown land."

He won't be able to apply to return to the United States for 20 years, she said.

She fears for his safety.

If he's given an order by an official in Thailand, he won't understand it, and his lack of response could be taken as an insult, she said.

"This is my only child and I'm very emotional about it," she said. "I have to hope and pray that someone will see the tragedy of what's happening."

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