Published 2:29 PM EDT Oct 3, 2018
Time and legal options are running out for a Kansas couple desperately trying to keep their adopted daughter from being deported back to South Korea on a legal technicality involving adoption and immigration law.
Hyebin Schreiber was brought to the U.S. by her would-be adoptive parents in 2012 when she was 15. In Kansas, the cutoff date to complete legal adoption is 18. Hyebin was 17 when the adoption became final in December 2014.
The family didn't realize, however, that under federal rules she had to be adopted by the age of 16 to be granted citizenship. The family's delay was understandable – Hyebin's dad, Lt. Col. Patrick Schreiber, spent much of 2013 and 2014 serving in Afghanistan.
Still, a federal judge ruled last week that the law is clear and that Hyebin, a senior biochemistry student at Kansas University, must leave the country upon graduation.
Efforts to remedy the teen's case with an emergency "private bill" in Congress failed to draw the support of the Kansas congressional delegation, Rekha Sharma-Crawford, a lawyer for Schreiber's family, told USA TODAY.
"The attitude of the lawmakers was that even if they filed a private bill it would not pass given the current climate," Sharma-Crawford said.
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Lee Modesitt, spokesman for Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., said their office recently tried without success to win approval of a private bill for another client of Sharma-Crawford who was facing immediate deportation. The struggles on behalf of chemistry teacher Syed Jamal provide a cautionary tale.
Jamal first arrived in the U.S. more than 30 years ago on a student visa, continued working in the system and believed he was following a path to citizenship. But he overstayed a voluntary departure notice and in January was taken into custody in front of his home while taking his daughter to school.
He was being flown back to Bangladesh in February when he won a temporary reprieve. He deboarded in Hawaii and returned to Kansas while his case dragged on. In August, an immigration appeals board granted Jamal’s request to have his case heard by an immigration judge, so he remains in the U.S. for now.
Jenkins visited with Jamal's family and lobbied for his cause. But the private bill stalled in Congress, showing the difficulty of using legislation to overcome an individual immigration issue, Modesitt said.
"In the case of the Schreibers, the congresswoman would support legislation that addresses the underlying adoption issue," Modesitt said.
The Schreibers reached out to Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who has introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at closing a loophole that has prevented internationally adopted children, who are now adults, from receiving U.S. citizenship. But the bill applies to people who were 18 and over in February 2001, and a Blunt spokesman said only that the bill doesn't apply to the Schreiber case.
Schreiber's parents met in South Korea in 1995. They were married in Texas five years later before settling in Lansing, Kansas. Hyebin Schreiber was the daughter of Mrs. Schreiber's brother, who could not provide a stable home in Korea for his daughter, Sharma-Crawford said.
If Hyebin goes back, it won't be alone, her parents say.
“Of all the immigration cases our firm takes on, this one makes me the angriest," Sharma-Crawford said. "But, so help him God, Lt. Col. Patrick Schreiber and his wife, Soo Jin Ye, are prepared to leave the U.S. with their daughter if Immigration and Customs Enforcement deports her to South Korea."