exposing the dark side of adoption
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Gina Mace and Marilyn Miller Roane

Akron Beacon Journal

February 11, 2001

Jim Herbert knows it is unlikely he will be able to visit his adopted son in Brazil.

The distance and health problems have spurred him to lobby for changes to the law that deported Joao Herbert.

He thinks if a judge could hear how the 1996 Immigration Reform Act has torn his family apart, Joao would be allowed to come home.

"The punishment doesn't fit the crime," Herbert says, "and someone has to make that right some way."

One bill to change the law has already been introduced into the House of Representatives by Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif. Two more bills are expected to be introduced in Congress soon.

And the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case out of New York that addresses the issue of judicial review.

Joao Herbert and his parents didn't get to address a judge because the 1996 act removed judicial review before deportation. The only thing that mattered was that Joao had been convicted of selling marijuana.

"Had there been a judicial review in this case, I feel Joao's chances would have been excellent to remain in the United States," said his attorney, Margaret Wong. "I've been handling these types of cases for a long time and the only hope now for any justice is to push to change the law."

Filner, who represents the San Diego area, near the Mexican border, said seeing the human ramifications of the 1996 law was "the most emotional experience I have had as a congressman." That's why he's sponsoring legislation to change the law.

"Hundreds of families came to see me, telling me how they or their loved ones were arrested in the middle of the night," Filner said. "These are working people with kids in college. . . . Some committed minor offenses, but paid their debt to society and were raising families."

The 1996 Act, passed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, was intended to rid the United States of foreign terrorists and violent alien criminals. What it did instead, was more than triple the number of immigrants - including legal permanent residents like Herbert - who were eligible for deportation. Because it was retroactive, people who committed minor crimes in the 1970s and '80s were caught in the net."

Immigrants from countries that will not take them back, like Laos, Cuba and Libya, stay in detention indefinitely. Last year more than 20,000 people - four times the number of detainees in 1992 - were in detention on any given day.

Melanie Nezer, of the Immigration and Refugee Service of America in Washington D.C., worked with Rep. John Conyer, D-Mich., to draft the comprehensive Restoration of Fairness in Immigration Act of 2000, which was introduced in Congress but didn't win approval last year. She said Conyers is expected to reintroduce the legislation and a similar bill will be introduced into the Senate by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass and Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla.

Nezer said the move to change the 1996 law last year had the backing of Attorney General Janet Reno. Nezer hopes the new attorney general, John Ashcroft, will see the unfairness of the law and support the reforms.

"If the people who are enforcing the law say that the law is wrong and needs to be changed," Nezer said, "that's a very powerful statement to lawmakers."

2001 Feb 11