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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

For many, the net is full of holes

Mary Sanchez Kansas City Star

A young Sri Lankan woman who simply got too old in the eyes of the U.S. government before her adoption paperwork was finalized.

A Korea-born man who lived in the United States his whole life, not knowing his adoptive family never made him a U.S. citizen.

And the family of a Muslim man who was murdered by a deranged man after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

All are cases of private immigration bills that were approved last year by President George Bush. In each case, the people in question could have been deported without the special relief.

The shrieking of the immigration control crowd might begin here: “No special consideration!”

“If people are illegal, deport them!”

Private bills are to be used for exceptions. For when people literally fall through the cracks of other laws. But with immigration issues, some aspects of the circumstances sound familiar.

Many people end up deported not so much because they did anything wrong but because they did not have the connections, the special circumstances, to get out of immigration jams not of their own making.

Private bills are not intended to fix these problems. But sometimes they do. And some immigration lawyers and immigrant advocates believe attempts to use such bills will increase.

The reason is desperation. And a convoluted immigration system that can throw immigrants into impossible situations.

Others fear a restriction-minded Congress may close even the loophole private bills offer to a select few. One member of Congress who has worked hard to find the most deserving of these cases is Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Jackson Lee has repeatedly called for less piecemeal work on cases, instead asking for comprehensive immigration reform where necessary.

Last year she introduced legislation to fix the problem of immigrants who finished the adoption process too late to be considered children under immigration and naturalization laws that would then allow them to seek U.S. citizenship. Jackson Lee also rightfully emphasizes that the cases are often hard luck and not the person’s fault.

The young Sri Lankan lady is now 20. By her third birthday, her father abandoned her. Her mother abandoned her a few years later. An aunt and uncle eventually adopted her, bringing her to live in the United States. The only problem was, her adoption was finalized five days after her 16th birthday. That meant, she needed to return to Sri Lanka, a country she didn’t know anymore, and begin the process of trying to legally re-enter the United States as an adult.

The Korean young man was the son of an unknown U.S. serviceman and a Korean woman. They gave him up for adoption. An Air Force sergeant and his wife lovingly complied. But the new father died in a fishing accident when the boy was 1 year old. The widowed mother found she couldn’t care for the boy and his sister. So they were moved to the United States to live with the children’s paternal grandmother and other relatives. As an adult, the man found out he wasn’t a U.S. citizen when the government tried to deport him in 2000.

The Muslim man was the legal base by which his family could gain legal residency in the United States. A native of Pakistan, he had made the paperwork applications for his family to live in the U.S. legally. But on Sept. 15, 2001, a Texas man shot the Muslim man, in retaliation for the terrorist attacks. The grieving Pakistani family then faced deportation.

The private bill for the Muslim man argued that he died as a victim of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Only a lucky few have the connections and special circumstances that make private bills applicable.

Many other immigrants with equally sympathetic, no-fault-of-their-own cases end up deported.

The question shouldn’t be, “why are these people getting special bills?” The question should be, “why is there a need for these private bills?” Sometimes, the bills are tipoffs to Congress that other laws need to change.