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From: kippaherring on 27 Jul 2008 17:24
"Yes, she made mistakes. And she should be held accountable. But she
has been," says her older sister, Kristi Tafoya. "Why aren't adopted
children protected?" ABSOLUTELY.
Meth, adoption, deportation: Discretion is better when used
By Rebecca Walsh
Erlene Shepherd was one of those women who is going to save the world
- one sponsored child in Guatemala, one stray cat at a time.
Before she died of breast cancer in 1991, Shepherd adopted eight
children, paid 50 cents a day for another dozen around the globe and
took in every lost pet she found. She kept important documents in two
tote bags in her car. They were eventually stolen. And she died before
she could file citizenship papers for her youngest - a little girl
adopted at 3 months old from India.
None of those details should matter.
Except that 12 years later, Kairi Shepherd got caught forging
checks to pay for her meth habit. Erlene Shepherd's quirky record-
keeping went on trial. And as a result, her daughter has been snared
in the morass of sometimes conflicting American immigration laws -
legally adopted, a permanent resident, but still facing deportation to
a country she never knew.
"They tell you you slipped through the cracks and that's your
luck," she says.
Kairi Shepherd's troubles started with her mother's death when she
was 8 years old. She was passed between older siblings (her maternal
grandmother suggested offering her up for adoption again). A co-worker
introduced her to meth - for its bursts of energy and appetite-
suppression - when she was 17. In 2003, she was charged with forgery.
Immigration came calling. Then she was diagnosed with multiple
She has been in jail most of the past year, detained by Homeland
Security, shuttled between four county jails from Ogden to St. George,
sometimes allowed to take her MS medication, sometimes not.
All of which is to say: Enough already.
"Yes, she made mistakes. And she should be held accountable. But
she has been," says her older sister, Kristi Tafoya. "Why aren't
adopted children protected?"
Prosecutors use their judgment in cases where mothers and fathers
leave their babies to bake to death in the car, with maliciously
repetitive drunk drivers, or when con men bilk their LDS ward members
out of millions. But not, apparently, in this all-important
application of post-9/11 red tape.
Unable to staunch the flow of undocumented immigrants slipping
over the Mexican border, government lawyers are going after the ones
they already know about, the ones they can: immigrants who came here
legally, then broke the law. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
regional spokeswoman Lori Haley says the agency works closely with
local law enforcement to identify those who should be deported. Kairi,
it seems, is on that list.
She is not unique in Utah. Immigration officials also tried to
deport 25-year-old Samuel Schultz last year after he was convicted of
felony car theft. Schultz's mother adopted him from India when he was
3 years old and she, too, did not complete his citizenship paperwork.
He appealed all the way to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
Denver, which upheld his deportation order.
Congress has attempted to streamline adoptees' citizenship
applications. Until 2000, parents simply had to fill out a form before
a child turned 21. Erlene Shepherd's daughters believe she filled out
the paperwork but never filed it before her death. After 2001, legal
international adoptions automatically confer citizenship on children
adopted by U.S. citizens. But 26-year-old Kairi's birthday missed the
new deadline by a matter of months.
Twice, immigration Judge William Nixon has dismissed the
government's Notice to Appear against her - once because everyone
involved in the case, including prosecutors, assumed Kairi's legal
adoption would grant her citizenship, and a second time because her
volunteer attorney Alan Smith argued the government could not refile
its Notice to Appear to try to change Nixon's original ruling.
Undeterred, local ICE prosecutors have appealed to the agency's Board
of Immigration Appeals.
"It's really a garden variety case of how bureaucracy operates,"
says Smith. "From their standpoint, they're just doing their job. From
my standpoint, I would like a little more equitable discretion to be
exercised in a situation like this, where you have a young lady who
has gotten off on the wrong foot."
Kairi has left a 40-pound box of supplies - clothing, a pair of
shoes, pre-paid phone cards - with Immigration, just in case. If she
is deported and India accepts her (the country has refused to take in
U.S. deportees in the past) she and her sister plan to buy a plane
ticket to London. She won't even leave the airport in Delhi.
"She'll die in India," the older sister says. "If [deportation]
happens, she's got to be OK."
Meantime, Kairi has been charged with violating her probation for
the original forgery charge. She didn't notify her probation officer
she was being held all those months in jail by Immigration. A hearing
is scheduled for Aug. 4.