Ashamed of the Buckeye State and the guy in charge |

Ashamed of the Buckeye State and the guy in charge

Andrew Gmerek

When 22-year-old English teacher Joao Herbert was shot to death on May 27 in the slums of Campinas, Brazil, I doubt that many people in the United States noticed. After all, it’s rare that Americans pay attention to major events happening in other countries, let alone the death of a young man in one of the world’s many slums. This Brazilian, however, was different. Joao grew up an American but was technically a Brazilian, and this loophole in his life, along with the help of certain government officials, got him killed in a country where he did not belong.To understand the story better, I guess I should start at the beginning.At the age of 8, Joao was adopted from Brazil by Jim Herbert and his wife Nancy Saunders of Wadsworth, Ohio. He spent the next 10 years living in the United States and basically becoming an American.

The trouble began for Joao, however, when he became a teenager. At the age of 18, he, along with two other boys, was caught selling 7.5 ounces of marijuana – considered a minor offense – to an undercover police officer.But because of the 1996 anti-terrorism law passed after the Oklahoma City bombing, even though Joao was the adopted son of American parents, he was technically not an American and therefore a candidate for deportation.To make matters worse, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft ignored the state parole board’s unanimous recommendation and declined to give Joao clemency. Four years ago, this young man was escorted out of his country to a place he could barely remember where he could no longer speak the language.Which leads me to believe our government shows more care when it reintroduces wolves to the wild than it gave this young human being.I know there are people out there who are thinking, “Who cares? This guy was a drug dealer and good riddance.”

But let’s look at the facts. The offense was minor and Joao was paying for his crime with time spent in a drug treatment program as well as probation. But unlike the other “American” boys that were caught with him, he was forced to live with a stupid mistake for the rest of his rather short life.There is one good thing, however, that came out of the Joao case at the time of his expulsion from the country. The Child Citizens Act, which makes foreign-born adopted children automatic citizens, was pushed through Congress in 2000. Being the father of one girl adopted from China with another on the way, I’m happy that both my daughters fall under this protection, because living in a country that creates knee-jerk laws that separate children from parents, and tosses the children away, frightens me.But what scares me more than anything is that there are elected officials out there like Bob Taft who, in my opinion was born without heart or cognitive reasoning ability, would not stop an obviously wrong government process. Trust me when I say that if someone – i.e. a mindless politician – tried to deport my children, he would end up eating his state seal covered with jelly.

I personally can’t remember one time in my life when I’ve been ashamed of my place of birth, but that’s no longer true. I guess Taft just didn’t believe the adopted son of American parents was “American” enough for justice.Two bills, HR3896 and S1934, are sitting in Congress concerning international adoption. Known as the Intercountry Adoption Reform Act they would make citizenship provisions retroactive to adoptees back to 1950. The bills would also streamline paperwork required to protect the citizenship rights of current international adoptees.Being a father of adopted kids, I strongly urge everyone to lobby their representatives in Congress to pass these bills. If you don’t believe they are important just imagine what it would be like to see our government send your kids away to a place where they might end up like Joao.Andrew Gmerek writes a Friday column. He can be reached at

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