Two Brazilians adopted as children by American couples are being
expelled from the US. Problem is Brazil "on humanitarian grounds" doesn’t want
them back. The INS has announced that the youngsters might be indefinitely in jail until a
third country accepts them.
By Rodolfo Espinoza
Joao (sic) Herbert and Djavan Arams Silva don’t know each other, but these two
youngsters, who live in the US, share a very similar story and might end up being deported
to Brazil, a country they barely know and whose language they cannot speak or understand,
even though they were born there. Herbert, who lives in Ohio and Silva, from
Massachusetts, were adopted when they were small kids by American couples. Herbert was 7,
in 1986, when he left Brazil; Silva was 10, when adopted in 1987.
In 1996, Herbert and Djavan had problems with the law. The first one tried to sell a
small amount of marijuana to an undercover police agent, the other one resisted during a
police raid. Both were sent to jail and suddenly found out that they were not Americans as
they thought, since their parents never applied for their naturalization.
To complicate matters, Brazil does not want to get them back on "humanitarian
grounds". In a interview with daily Folha de São Paulo, ambassador Maurício
Cortes Costa, in charge of the Brazilian consulate in Boston, said that Brazil recognizes
the Brazilian citizenship of both, but that adoptions are irrevocable acts: "They
can’t return to Brazil because they don’t speak Portuguese anymore and they don’t have
family or friends in the country. They would have a hard time to adapt themselves."
It was in January that the Immigration and Naturalization Service contacted the
Brazilian authorities to get the necessary documents for the deportation procedures.
However, the Itamaraty (Brazilian Foreign Ministry) instructed Brazilian diplomats
in the US to not issue those documents. Arguing that an adoption cannot simply be revoked
and that the kids were taken from Brazil more than 10 years ago by couples who promised
they would treat the adoptees as their children. Brazil also argues that no other
civilized country, besides the US, requires that an adoptee be naturalized by their
parents to become a citizen of the country they are taken to.
In response to the Brazilian stance, the INS has announced that the Brazilian-born
youngsters might be indefinitely in jail until a third country accepts them. Herbert
himself is puzzled by all this: "I was born Brazilian, became American and now they
want me to turn into a Brazilian again. I have already paid for my crime and I cannot
stand this anymore. I feel like I don’t have a country, that I do not belong in any place.
I’m afraid I will become a beggar if I have to go back."
Herbert, now 22, is a first-time offender was initially sentenced only to probation and
community work. Jim Herbert, father of Joao, says that he never naturalized his son for
personal reasons. He wanted that Herbert himself would choose what he wanted to be when he
grew up. But he is not taking chances anymore, and has already applied for citizenship for
Daniel, another Brazilian boy he adopted. Jim visits his son almost daily in jail.
"He is my son, and I want him with me," he says.
As for Djavan Silva, who has been depressed for some time now, the situation is even
more complicated. The couple that adopted him abandoned him in jail and does not want
anything to do with him.
Under the title "A Foreigner at Home" the Washington Post, on March 5,
published an article about the situation of several children, adopted by Americans who are
or have already been deported to their country of origin. The piece starts with Herbert’s
story: "The Americanization of Joao Herbert began in 1987, when an 8-year-old boy
from Brazil flew north to become the adopted son of a small-town Ohio insurance salesman
and hairdresser. Blessed with an ebullient spirit, he embraced his new family, his new
home, and his new world. English quickly replaced Portuguese. Football eventually
supplanted soccer. By high school, his father boasts, he could nail a field goal from 50
"Unfortunately, by then he’d embraced some less desirable aspects of American
youth, too. Herbert fell in with the wrong crowd, partied with booze and pot. And just two
months after high school graduation in 1997, he sold 7.5 ounces of marijuana to a police
informant in his hometown of Wadsworth."
Commenting about the situation to the Post, Nancy Morawetz, the law professor
who runs the Immigrants Rights Clinic at New York University, said: "There’s
something particularly appalling about sending back someone who was adopted. Aren’t we
engaged in an amazing fiction, to say that this group of people, who were raised in this
country, who believe that they’re part of this country, that suddenly they’re
strangers?" "It totally invalidates the whole adoption experience," said
Susan Cox, vice president of Holt International Children’s Services. "These actions
have an impact on our responsibility as the receiving country, on our integrity, on the
promises we’ve made to the sending countries."