Jess Mustanich was adopted from a convent in El Salvador when he was six months old by a couple from the United States.They adopted him under Salvadoran law and brought him back to the United States, but divorced before completing the adoption process under U.S. law.
After a long legal battle, Mustanich’s father was awarded custody. By that point, Mustanich was five years old.
His father sought to resume the adoption process with the aim of obtaining citizenship for his son, but encountered difficulties because the agency that had helped the couple adopt was no longer operating. In the end, the adoption was never finalized.
At one point, the father took a completed citizenship application to an Immigration and Naturalization Service office, but the clerk refused to accept it and gave him a phone number to call; although the father called the number and left repeated messages, he never received a return call.
Meanwhile, Mustanich had begun to have disciplinary problems at school and was in and out of counseling. Soon afterwards, he was taken into custody by the state and began living in group homes.
His father repeatedly asked judges and social workers in the juvenile justice system to resolve the boy’s citizenship, but nothing was done. Shortly after Mustanich turned eighteen, his father came home one day and found that his house had been burglarized. Suspecting his son of being the culprit, he called the police in the hope that a brush with the law might set his son straight. He had no idea that he was putting in motion a process that would take his son away from him for good.
Mustanich was convicted of burglary in April 1997. While serving his sentence at San Quentin, he received an additional four-year sentence for possessing a homemade knife; Mustanich, who is five feet tall, maintained that he needed the weapon to protect himself from older, bigger inmates. He was ordered deported on the basis of his convictions, and was placed in immigration detention upon completion of his sentence in 2003. He was deported to El Salvador July 10, 2008.
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