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Brazilian Deported on Drug Charge

November 17, 2000

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) _Deported from the United States for a drug conviction, Joao Herbert on Thursday arrived in Brazil, the country he left 14 years ago as the adopted child of an American couple, with no idea of what lies in store for him.

``I don’t know what my plans are for the future,″ the 22-year-old Herbert said shortly after being questioned by the federal police at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport. He also was met by 30 journalists.

Wearing a gray polo shirt and faded blue jeans, Herbert looked disheveled and exhausted after a trip of more than 20 hours.

``I appreciate everybody coming to support me,″ he said. ``It means a lot. I never expected all of this from everybody, but I want to say thank you. This means a lot to me and my family in the United States.

``The next few days I will be willing to answer more questions and tell you more about myself, but I’ve had a very long day. I’m ready to go to bed and I want tonight for myself.″

Thursday’s deportation ended a legal battle and personal ordeal for Herbert and the family who adopted him as a child from Brazil. He never became a U.S. citizen.

His adoptive mother, Nancy Saunders, said her son called her in the morning during a layover in Miami, where his handcuffs were removed due to good behavior.

``He was nervous and we had our cries,″ she said, her voice choked with emotion.

She said his cooperation with officials in the United States and Brazil has made the ordeal easier for the family.

``We’re fortunate more than not,″ she said.

Herbert hasn’t been in his South American homeland since he was adopted from a Sao Paulo orphanage at the age of 8 by Saunders and her former husband, James Herbert. Joao Herbert doesn’t even remember how to speak Portuguese, the language of Brazil.

But he said earlier this week he is looking forward to going on with his life.

``I know God has good things in store for me,″ said Herbert, who in the past few weeks has been impatient to leave.

Herbert was applying to become a U.S. citizen when he was arrested in 1997 for selling 7.5 ounces of marijuana to an undercover police officer near Cleveland.

It was his first offense and he received probation, but he was labeled a serious criminal under the 1996 Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, requiring deportation. He could risk imprisonment if he returns to the United States.

Herbert fought his deportation for more than a year but finally gave up.

On Sunday, Saunders and James Herbert spent half an hour with their adopted son in jail. It was the last time they could embrace on American soil.

James Herbert, a quadriplegic as a result of an automobile accident, said it probably will be the last time he sees Joao because of his disability.

Saunders said her heart is breaking.

``It’s like a piece of me died. He was given to me, and I can’t believe I’m losing him like this. I’m afraid he’s going to be sick, and I can’t be there. I can’t be there if he hurts,″ she said.

Brazilian Ambassador Rubens Barbosa called Herbert’s ordeal ``a symbolic case″ that has angered several major adoption agencies in Brazil. Brazilians consider children adopted by foreign parents to be citizens of their parents’ country, he said.

Representatives of Arsenal of Hope, a Sao Paulo non-governmental organization, will help Herbert ease into his new life, Saunders said.

James Herbert said the group will provide his son with a place to stay for six months and help him relearn the Portuguese language.

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