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


Author: Julie Wallace, Beacon Journal staff writer

Dateline: MEDINA

A Medina County judge on Tuesday threw out a three-year prison sentence he had imposed on a Medina woman and resentenced her to 360 days of probation -- a move that could help her avoid deportation.

Common Pleas Judge Christopher Collier took the unusual step at the request of James Chin, the immigration attorney representing Sandra Orantes Cruz, a 30-year-old who never filed for citizenship after she was adopted from an orphanage in El Salvador at age 6 by a Twinsburg couple.

Chin made his request because Orantes Cruz's difficult history -- she was on her own by age 16 and was involved in two abusive relationships -- wasn't shared with the judge when he sentenced her nearly three years ago after a jury convicted her of felonious assault and kidnapping.

Chin also raised questions about whether she understood the risk she was taking in light of her lack of citizenship when she rejected a plea bargain and instead took the case to trial.

"Our belief is that had she known the immigration consequences, she would have accepted the plea bargain," Chin said.

Assistant County Prosecutor Scott Salisbury -- following the lead of County Prosecutor Dean Holman -- said the state would not oppose the resentencing. Holman said last week, after Chin's motion was filed, that had Orantes Cruz's background been shared with the court, the sentence she would have received most likely would have been less than a year.

Salisbury said afterward that although he cannot recall all the specifics of the plea deal offered to Orantes Cruz prior to trial, he does remember that it carried some prison time with it.

Orantes Cruz, brought from the Seneca County Jail in Tiffin, where she's being held on a deportation order, sat quietly through most of the hearing -- wiping away tears and waving at her three sons, Nino, 10, Alejandro, 5, and Owen, 3, who were sitting in the back of the courtroom with her biological sister, Morena Sweitzer.

When Orantes Cruz was led into the courtroom dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit and clad in handcuffs and ankle shackles, Owen said loudly: "I see you," and waved.

Chin -- who secured a certified copy of the judge's order before heading back to his Cleveland office -- said afterward that he will file a motion with the Immigration Board of Appeals within days seeking to have the woman's case kicked back to the docket of the Michigan-based immigration judge who ordered her deported last month.

At that point, he will seek to have the deportation case terminated because the new sentence -- less than a year -- removes Orantes Cruz from the grips of automatic deportation. Chin said he doesn't expect the process to be speedy since a previous case handled to overturn a deportation order took several months.

He also warned that the sentence change doesn't guarantee his client's freedom: Immigration officials have fought similar changes, and they'll have the chance to do so in this case as well.

In the meantime, Orantes Cruz will return to the Seneca County Jail to wait.

She had completed her three-year prison sentence and was looking forward to her release when she was picked up by immigration officials.

Sweitzer, joined in the back of the courtroom by another biological sister, Gloria Morgan, and friends was heading back to her Akron home, where she has been raising Orantes Cruz's sons along with her own blended family of four boys.

She has said that her sister would not survive without her sons, but that her sister had no intention of subjecting her boys to life in El Salvador -- a country Orantes Cruz and her siblings left after their mother was murdered and where the dominant language, Spanish, is now foreign to them.


1- Sandra Orantes Cruz's children wave to her after her resentencing hearing Tuesday. Orantes Cruz is trying to avoid being deported back to El Salvador. **

2- Sandra Orantes Cruz waves to family in court on Tuesday. She is being held in Seneca County Jail on a deportation order, but a resentencing could help her avoid being sent back to El Salvador.


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

2005 Oct 12