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Stranger in a strange land


Stranger in a strange land

Lufkin man adopted as baby living out immigration nightmare in Mexico


The Lufkin Daily News

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A man adopted by an American family 35 years ago the day after his

birth has been caught in an immigration nightmare, unable to return to

his family in the United States.

Robin Whiteley, of Lufkin, now spends his days hiding out in a Mexican

border town — a place where the U.S. government says he belongs. He

says he doesn't speak the language and knows no one there, yet U.S.

government officials say he has no legal right to be in America.


Lora and Royce Whiteley, of Lufkin, pore over files of paperwork they

have kept over the years on their adopted son's legal status in the

United States. Their 35-year-old son, Robin, has been unable to

lawfully enter the country since his deportation to Mexico, a country

he has never known other than a place listed on his birth


Unable to work or lead a productive life in Mexico without a valid

birth certificate, Whiteley said he would likely be jailed if stopped

by Mexican officials because he has no proof of his nationalism.

"I'm a man without a country," he said.

The downward spiral of his immigration status began with a drug

possession charge in Lufkin in 2000. Up until that point, Whiteley had

been going through a lengthy process of becoming a U.S. citizen. He

had received his green card and at 18 become a permanent resident. The

decision to go that route came after his parents had run into

considerable red tape in finalizing his immigration status as a child,

according to Whiteley's mother, Lora.

'Given wrong information'

In 1974, the Whiteleys received a call from a midwife from whom they

had a adopted a baby girl eight years earlier.

"We got a phone call from her wanting us to help. The midwife said she

had a boy needing a home and asked if we would adopt him," said

Whitely's father, Royce.

By that time the parents had four children — three boys and a girl.

"We took a family vote and we all wanted to adopt him," Whiteley said.

His wife, Lora, flew out to El Paso and brought home Robin on Jan. 14

of that year. While state adoption records listed his birthplace as

Ciudad Juarez, his adoptive mother said the government based that

determination on her own statements rather than any outside knowledge.

"There is not one shred of evidence of the exact location of where he

was born," she said.

Six years later Whiteley's adoption decree was finalized. The next

step in the process would be to get his U.S. citizenship.

After receiving his birth certificate from the state, Lora Whiteley

said she contacted immigration and was told she would need to provide

a copy of the adoption decree. The problem was the adoption decree, as

a matter of formality, had been sealed until her son turned 18.

Unable to afford an attorney to guide her family through the process,

the mother went round and round with immigration officials being told

to fill out one thing and then another.

"I feel like we were unjustly treated and given the wrong information

by immigration," she said.

Three years ago she found out the attorney who filed for the birth

certificate had a copy of the adoption decree.

"I didn't know that at the time and no one with immigration thought to

tell me he would have a copy," she said.

Over the years the family has spent an incalculable amount of time

trying to work out Whiteley's residency. Some laws have changed, but

laws in place the year Whiteley was born are still valid today.

"They've made it so complicated," she said.

'Save his life'

Since he was 8 years old Whiteley has called Lufkin home. His family

relocated here after his father landed a job as principal at Central

High School, where he later retired after 27 years in education.

Whiteley began school at Kurth Elementary and went on to Lufkin Junior

High East. After not being allowed to play football on the middle

school team, he began running with a fast crowd, one that influenced

some bad decisions later in life, his father said. The family

instituted "tough love" and Whiteley moved out of the house at 18.

At 26, Whiteley was picked up by police on possession of marijuana

charges in Lufkin. He was sentenced to prison and served two years

before he was deported to Mexico.

A stipulation under immigration law at the time considered any drug

charge an aggravated felony offense if that person were not a lawful

citizen, Whiteley said. That pushed his case into immigration court

where his permanent resident status in the United States came under

question and he was eventually forced across the border to a country

he had never known.

Whiteley stayed three days in Mexico before he sneaked back into his

home country. He was picked up at a work site in Ohio and deported

back to Mexico. That didn't stop him from coming back time and time

again until in 2007 when he was charged with a felony offense for

illegal re-entry — a virtual death sentence for any legal effort to

return to the United States, according to a report published Sunday by

the McAllen Monitor on Whiteley's case.

"In the end, this was my fault," he told a reporter with the Monitor.

"I should have pushed through earlier and gotten my citizenship. I

committed a crime, and I paid that price. But now, I feel like I'm

still being punished."

Whiteley said a lot of people are not able to look past his criminal

record when assessing his case.

"That should have no bearing on my citizenship," he said. "I am a U.S.

citizen by every requirement of the law."

As it turns out, Whiteley's situation is more common than one would


The government has mistakenly locked up, deported or denied entry to

dozens of lawful U.S. citizens based on suspicion alone. A study done

by the non-profit Vera Institute for Justice in 2007 found 322 people

with claims to citizenship detained in 13 of the nation's immigration

prisons, according to the Monitor's report.

For Whiteley's case, there is a ray of hope in a bill being drafted by

Congress. U.S. Senate Bill 1359, introduced by Sen. Mary L. Landrieu

(D-La.), amends the Immigrations and Nationality Act to give automatic

citizenship for a child adopted outside the United States by a U.S.

citizen parent. The bill called the Foreign Adopted Children Equality

Act or the FACE act applies to those over and under the age of 18. If

passed, Whiteley could be given citizenship.

Until that time comes, Whiteley said he is trying to do anything he

can to get back to his family. He has four children — two young ones

and two older ones.

"I've missed a lot of their life due to what's going on now. I just

hope one day that it all can change," he said.

Whiteley has resorted to media coverage in hopes that someone familiar

with immigration law can help him get home.

"He's trying to do everything he can to save his life," his father


2009 Sep 15