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Back to Korea for Adoptee

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  • Sunny Jo
    Back to Korea for Adoptee New immigration laws mean deportation for a man with a criminal record by Dan Levine - February 19, 2004 Talk to Dan Heiskala on the
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 16, 2004
      Back to Korea for Adoptee
      New immigration laws mean deportation for a man with a criminal record

      by Dan Levine - February 19, 2004

      Talk to Dan Heiskala on the phone, and one would
      never know he isn't an American citizen. He grew up
      in Michigan, the son of an engineer and a nurse.

      He is an adopted son, however. On sight, one might
      guess Heiskala isn't a citizen -- he has Asian
      features -- but with his swoosh baseball cap and
      business card announcing him as the proprietor of a
      tavern in Massachusetts, he still comes off no
      differently than any other native born adult.

      But even though he came to the United States as a
      toddler, Heiskala is under immediate threat of
      deportation back to South Korea. His parents never
      got him citizenship, and because he was convicted
      of a crime in the early 1990s, a bizarre confluence of
      legal circumstance means he has little recourse to
      fight removal.

      "Honestly, I don't know how to say 'hi' in Korean," he says.

      Born in 1968, Heiskala's parents adopted him and brought him to
      the United States
      as a 5-year-old. Heiskala had three siblings and nestled into a
      typical American

      Being adopted, though, did not mean Heiskala automatically
      achieved American
      citizenship. His parents would have had to proceed through a
      separate bureaucratic
      process, and they didn't do it. His parents wanted to give him
      the option of
      maintaining his Korean heritage, they reasoned.

      Heiskala's status in the U.S. wasn't questioned until a 2003
      motor vehicle stop. But
      his trouble began in 1993 when, Heiskala says, he drove a friend
      a ride to a truck that
      the friend wanted to steal. Heiskala says he never set foot in
      the stolen truck, just
      dropped the friend off. When the police came to Heiskala and
      asked about it, he
      didn't give up the friend. However, police eventually arrested
      Heiskala, who pleaded
      not guilty and took the case to trial. The friend, Heiskala
      says, testified against him.
      On advise of counsel, he didn't testify on his own behalf and a
      jury found him guilty.
      He received a seven- to 10-year sentence for stealing and
      burning a motor vehicle.

      Heiskala got out of jail in two years and three months, but
      unbeknownst to him, his
      legal nightmare had just begun. In 1996, Congress passed a
      battery of immigration
      laws -- the Immigration Reform Act. Suddenly, felony convictions
      could result in
      deportation for non-citizens, whereas before 1996 the
      consequence might not have
      been as serious, says Mike Martel, an attorney with Boston-based
      Ross, Silverman &
      Levy, who is representing Heiskala. So even though Heiskala was
      not deported when
      he was originally convicted, the 1996 reforms placed him in
      legal jeopardy.

      Had he been adopted today, Heiskala would not have to worry
      about this outcome.
      Following a law that went into effect three years ago,
      foreign-born children adopted
      by American families now automatically become U.S. citizens when
      they enter the

      And get this: Had Heiskala pleaded guilty to stealing the car
      instead of demanding a
      trial, he would be able to escape deportation. This is perhaps
      the strangest legal
      aspect of his case. Under a June 2001 Supreme Court ruling, the
      1996 immigration
      laws cannot be applied retroactively to people who pleaded
      guilty to a crime. The
      logic is that the person must have taken their immigration
      consequences into
      consideration when they made the deal, attorney Martel says,
      meaning the deal -- to
      plead guilty to avoid deportation -- should be honored. But if a
      person went to trial,
      then they somehow waived their right to address their
      immigration status now.

      By January 2003, Heiskala had opened his own restaurant and
      stayed out of trouble.
      But he was pulled over for driving a vehicle without
      registration -- he says he missed
      the DMV that day to register his new car by a matter of hours.
      The cop charged him
      with DUI, and because his parole had not yet expired, they sent
      him back to a state
      prison pending disposition of the case.

      And that's when immigration stepped in. Even though the motor
      vehicle charge was
      dismissed, the feds took Heiskala into custody. He is out on
      bond, awaiting a court
      date where a judge could order his deportation.

      In the last twist of circumstance, South Korea refuses to accept
      adopted children
      back into its country, so Heiskala may just wind up sitting in
      an American immigration
      jail indefinitely.

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