CITIZENSHIP BILL TOO LATE FOR INMATE

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Date: 2000-10-19

WADSWORTH MAN AWAITS DEPORTATION FOR DRUG CHARGE

Gina Mace and Marilyn Miller
Akron Beacon Journal

A bill passed by Congress granting citizenship to adopted foreign children won't help Joao Herbert, who is awaiting deportation back to the country of his birth.

"I'm happy that no one else will have to go through this, but sad that this law won't help me," said Herbert, 22, who was adopted from Brazil by a Wadsworth couple 14 years ago.

Herbert is being held for deportation in the North Royalton Jail. Another inmate told him that he heard about Herbert while watching televised congressional hearings on C-SPAN.

Rep. William D. Delahunt, D-Mass., mentioned Herbert in arguing for passage of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which is awaiting President Clinton's signature. The act, whose sponsors in the Senate include Ohio Republican Mike DeWine, amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide automatic U.S. citizenship for a child under age 18 adopted by an American citizen.

"The terrible price these young people and their families have paid is out of proportion to their misdeeds," Delahunt argued. "Whatever they did, they should be treated like any other American kid. They are our children, and we are responsible for them."

Herbert has been in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service for nearly a year, awaiting deportation for selling marijuana to a Wadsworth undercover police officer. He was ordered deported under a 1996 law, which makes a non-citizen subject to deportation for committing all but the most minor crimes.

He spends his remaining time in America studying Portuguese from a book and writing goodbye notes to family and friends.

Maureen Evans, former executive director of the Joint Council on International Children's Services in Washington, D.C., testified before a congressional subcommittee in support of the bill.

She said the 1996 law, which became Herbert's nightmare, brought to the forefront the need to protect adopted children.

"What it did was raise awareness in very dramatic ways about the danger of not securing citizenship," she said. "Some parents thought their children automatically became citizens once they were adopted. Others wanted to wait until (citizenship) was meaningful for the child. As a result, some of these children are being punished."

Evans said a change in the 1996 law is needed to respect the integrity of the adoptive family.

"Citizenship for adopted foreign children is a low priority for INS," she said. "It's not unusual for families to be waiting a year, two years or more, for citizenship."

Herbert's parents, Nancy Saunders and Jim Herbert, became tangled in the bureaucratic red tape while trying to secure citizenship for their son.

The couple applied to naturalize their son when he was 17, but the paperwork was clogged in the INS system for months, until after Herbert turned 18. The family then received a letter from the INS instructing Herbert to apply on his own since he had become an adult.

DeWine said the bill, which was passed by the Senate last week and the House last month, is not retroactive and applies only to those under age 18.

"I co-sponsored the bill because I was concerned about the added burden and red tape placed upon families as they tried to find their way through the adoption process while adopting a foreign-born child," DeWine said. "In addition to all of the paperwork, time and financial expense, the parents are required to go through a burdensome and confusing citizenship process."

Herbert said he hopes this bill is the beginning of changes to the 1996 law.

"Not every kid is perfect," he said. "If they live here all their lives and mess up, they need to know that they will get justice here."

He still doesn't understand why a country that welcomed him with open arms is now pushing him away.

"At 8 years old, I didn't choose to come here," Herbert said. "The government allowed me to come, to live here, to be educated here. Now they're kicking me out."

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