Deportee begins new life as stranger in a strange land

Relates to:
Date: 2000-11-18

The Dallas Morning News

Deported from the United States to a homeland he barely recalls, Joao Herbert on Friday began a new life in Brazil the way many immigrants do - trying to learn the language and find a job.

The 22-year-old Mr. Herbert, who was deported for a drug conviction, arrived in Sao Paulo late Thursday. He was questioned by federal police at Sao Paulo's Guarulhos Airport and taken to a shelter for homeless people run by a Roman Catholic charity.

"It's hard for me to say exactly what my true feelings are," Mr. Herbert told reporters outside the shelter. "All I can say is that my first priority is to learn the language and then look for a job."

Mr. Herbert, who was adopted from a Sao Paulo orphanage 14 years ago by Nancy Saunders and her former husband, James Herbert, no longer speaks Portuguese, the language of Brazil. He never became a U.S. citizen, so after being sentenced in the United States he was returned to his native country.

"I don't feel like a foreigner," Mr. Herbert said. "When I was in deportation status, the Brazilian Embassy gave me a lot of support and valuable advice and made it possible for me to return to this country. I know something about Brazil, but I'm going to have to learn a lot more, especially the language."

Although he said he had no resentment over his deportation, Mr. Herbert feels he was treated unfairly by the U.S. government.

"There are a lot of people in the United States that are going through the same process I went through," he said. "And like me, they are being treated unfairly." He would not elaborate.

Mr. Herbert was applying for U.S. citizenship when he was arrested in 1997 for selling 7.5 ounces of marijuana to an undercover police officer near Cleveland.

It was his first offense and he received probation, but he was labeled a serious criminal under the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, requiring deportation. He fought deportation for more than a year but finally gave up.

Mr. Herbert said he would spend most of his first day back in his native country with a Brazilian friend of his adoptive family and, "I will return to my new home and play some soccer."

Vasco Monteiro, a director of the shelter, said he had received several calls from people and companies wanting to help Mr. Herbert, "so I don't think he will stay with us for very long."

After spending the night in a room by himself, Mr. Herbert was moved to one of five dormitories, each containing 150 beds, "because everyone here receives the same treatment," Mr. Monteiro said.

Founded in 1996, the Arsenal of Hope is part of a worldwide network of similar organizations run by the Servizio Missionario Giovani - or Youth Missionary Service in English - based in Turin, Italy. It currently cares for about 1,160 people, including 20 refugees from Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Morocco, the Congo, Algeria and other African countries.

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