exposing the dark side of adoption
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Akron Beacon Journal (OH)


Author: Julie Wallace, Beacon Journal staff writer

Dateline: MEDINA

Sandra Orantes Cruz, a Medina woman who months ago was on the brink of being deported to El Salvador, learned Wednesday that the deportation order has been lifted.

The decision, made by the Board of Immigration Appeals, should free the mother of three from the Seneca County Jail in Tiffin, where she has been held since the immigration process began.

No release date has been set for Orantes Cruz, who left El Salvador at age 6 when she was adopted by a Twinsburg couple. In theory, she could be home as early as this weekend if no legal snarls arise.

"Oh my God," an excited Orantes Cruz said via a collect call from the jail. "I screamed. And I screamed. I've screamed so much, I think I've annoyed everyone here. I'm so excited."

Cleveland attorney James Chin, who specializes in immigration cases, said Wednesday that the only tangle that could arise is if immigration officials decide to appeal the decision to a federal court. That could happen, he said, but the decision Wednesday was a huge step.

"I'm very, very encouraged," Chin said. "When I took this case, I never thought this could happen."

Orantes Cruz, 30, ended up in the immigration net because she never filed for citizenship despite her adoption.

When she was convicted in 2003 of felonious assault and kidnapping and sentenced to serve three years in prison after a drunken brawl left a former boyfriend with a cut on his finger, she was one of many foreign-born adoptees to learn that adoption didn't automatically translate to citizenship.

She was ordered back to El Salvador, a country where the dominant language, Spanish, now is foreign to her. She and her biological siblings left that country after their mother was stabbed to death and their father relinquished custody.

But an unusual legal maneuver in October may have saved her. That was when Medina County Common Pleas Judge Christopher Collier retroactively reduced her three-year prison sentence to 360 days of probation -- a move prompted by a motion from Chin and one not opposed by Medina County Prosecutor Dean Holman.

The change was prompted after Orantes Cruz's long history of abuse was made public. That history included living on her own beginning at age 16, plus her involvement in two abusive relationships. An official at a shelter where she and her two oldest sons once lived had diagnosed her as suffering from battered woman syndrome.

Had that history been known at the time of the sentencing, Holman said, Orantes Cruz probably would have received a lesser sentence. The change removed Orantes Cruz from the category of automatic deportation, and Chin filed motions immediately afterward seeking to overturn the deportation order.

Orantes Cruz hopes to spend Christmas with her sons Nino, 10, Alejandro, 5, and Owen, 3, as well as the family of her biological sister, Morena Sweitzer of Akron.

Sweitzer has been raising the boys since Orantes Cruz was incarcerated -- taking custody of Owen when he was 11 months old.

Orantes Cruz said she has only one wish when she arrives at her sister's house, where she'll be living: To just sit and hug her children for as long as they'll let her.

"I just want to hold them. Nino has always disliked that -- he says it makes him hot," she said, laughing. "But I want to hold my babies."


Julie Wallace can be reached at 330-996-3542 or jwallace@thebeaconjournal.com

2005 Dec 8