Kansas vet's family may have to leave U.S. over adopted daughter's immigration status

Kansas Army veteran can’t get his adopted daughter citizenship

Patrick Schreiber, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who has served for 27 years with six tours of duty, adopted his Korean-born daughter when she was 17. But immigration officials said it was too late to get her citizenship.
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Patrick Schreiber, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who has served for 27 years with six tours of duty, adopted his Korean-born daughter when she was 17. But immigration officials said it was too late to get her citizenship.

A retired Army lieutenant colonel with six tours of duty, Patrick Schreiber says that his failure to gain an understanding of immigration law is "the greatest regret in my life."

Because it now could mean having to move his family to South Korea next year so he, his wife and adopted daughter can stay together.

In 2013, just before he deployed to Afghanistan as a chief intelligence officer, Schreiber of Lansing assumed he and his wife had time to adopt a Korean-immigrant niece, then 15, as their daughter. Having consulted with an adoption attorney, he thought the cut-off date to legally adopt would be her 18th birthday.

"I assumed wrong," he says now, having adopted the girl when she was 17.

Too late, according to the government. A federal statute says that children brought into the country should be adopted before age 16 to be allowed access to U.S. citizenship.

As a result, daughter Hyebin, a junior studying chemical engineering at the University of Kansas, may be forced to leave the U.S.

Too bad for Schreiber — a U.S. citizen who was trying to defeat the Taliban during the period that immigration officials say he should have adopted Hyebin.

Schreiber and wife Soo Jin Schreiber have filed suit in federal court in hopes of reversing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' rejection of their application that Hyebin become an American.

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Retired Army Lt. Col. Patrick Schreiber is hoping his Kansas family — daughter Hyebin and wife Soo Jin Schreiber — can stay in the country. Submitted photo

It's a complicated case. But all of immigration law is that way — far too complicated, said the Scheibers' attorney, Rekha Sharma-Crawford.

If a decorated soldier with 27 years of service — including military intelligence — can get lost in the tangle of immigration rules, "how is the average guy supposed to get it?" asked Sharma-Crawford.

Even immigration officials sympathize with the family.

Residents of Lansing since 2006, the couple filled out the proper immigration forms for Hyebin; they followed step-by-step the advice of USCIS workers. And all agree that Hyebin's adoption was legal, just not soon enough to keep her from having to leave the country after she completes her studies in 2019.

"The law clearly says that if you're 16 or older when adopted, you cannot derive citizenship from your parents," said USCIS spokeswoman Sharon Rummery. "We don't make the law. That's the job of Congress."

Hyebin had just turned 15 when family problems in Korea prompted the Schreibers to host her in Kansas in 2012. Hyebin's biological father is the brother of Soo Jin, who has been almost a mother figure to Hyebin since she was a baby.

Patrick and Soo Jin, both of Korean descent, met in 1995 while he was stationed in South Korea. After taking in Hyebin, who arrived legally in the U.S. with a student visa, the family was quick to discuss adoption. But the military called Schreiber to Afghanistan in 2013, and the couple chose to put Hyebin's adoption on hold until Patrick's return the following year.

"I should have put my family ahead of the Army," Patrick Schreiber now says.

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One of Patrick Schreiber's six tours of duty in a a 27-year military career included a 2007 stint as an embedded adviser in Iraq. At right stands an Iraqi soldier. Submitted photo

His daughter's student visa expires next year. If the family doesn't succeed in finding her a path to citizenship, the parents said they will follow her back to South Korea.

"Yes, she loves the United States. But our biggest concern is staying together as a family," Schreiber says.

Rummery of the USCIS said the statute regulating the adoption of foreign nationals dates back at least to the mid-1980s. The law aims to curb the sometimes fraudulent ways that older teenagers entering the country can seek citizenship.

But in the Schreibers' case, nobody disputes their honest intent. The mistake Patrick Schreiber admits he made is that he consulted with an adoption lawyer and not an immigration lawyer.

He didn't know that different entities of government set different standards.

The state of Kansas recognized Hyebin's adoption in late 2014 by issuing a birth certificate naming Patrick her father and Soo Jin her mother. As the dependent of a veteran, the Department of Defense soon issued her a benefits card.

The Schreibers "tried everything to make it easy for (immigration authorities) to decide" in favor of Hyebin's pursuit of citizenship, said lawyer Sharma-Crawford. "Clearly, nothing has turned out easy."

Under heightened immigration enforcement in the presidencies of both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, "you're seeing people understand for the first time that 'wait a minute, we know these people'" threatened with deportation, she said. "The system really is broken."

Broken, but not necessarily hopeless.

Even if Hyebin Schreiber must relocate next year to South Korea, she could seek out a U.S. company to sponsor an H-1B work visa and bring her family back to America.

Or, as a student of the sciences — STEM being the golden acronym (sciences, technology, engineering and math) — she might qualify for such a visa without needing to leave the country, immigration experts say.

A recent article in Military Times profiled Patrick Schreiber and other veterans with family members in peril with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to the story, three bills proposed in Washington might resolve their issues:

  • The Adoptive Citizenship Act of 2018, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, and Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, would ease some of the immigration restrictions on international adoptees. (A Blunt spokesperson, however, said the current language of the bill applies to adoptions before 2001 and may not help more recent adoptees such as Hyebin Schreiber.)

  • In the House, the American Families United Act, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas, would allow for immigration enforcement on a case-by-case basis to help military spouses and dependents remain in the U.S.

  • The bipartisan-sponsored Repatriate our Patriots Act would allow certain honorably discharged veterans who have been deported to come home.

Lt. Col. Schreiber, now working as a defense contractor, stresses that he and his family seek no special privileges. He had followed the steps that immigration officials suggested he take, and, in a brief letter sent to him in February 2015, USCIS gave him the bad news.

This after he served in Operation Desert Storm, jumped with the 82nd Airborne Division into Panama for Operation Just Cause, deployed twice to Iraq and then twice to Afghanistan.

And he's not angry that the country for which he fought may deny his daughter a path to citizenship, said lawyer Sharma-Crawford, who is providing her services for free because of Schreiber's military sacrifices. She recently told her client, "I'm going to be angry for you."

Sharma-Crawford has drawn national notoriety this year for defending Lawrence chemist Syed A. Jamal, a 30-year resident of the area, in his bid to stay in America with his wife and U.S.-born children.

Kansas chemist Syed Jamal is reunited with his family after federal judge ordered his release from jail pending outcome of his deportation case.

Both cases reflect the need to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, said Kansas City organizer Diana Martinez of Advocates for Immigration Rights and Reconciliation.

While Martinez said she had never heard of a case similar to the Schreibers', "it makes sense these days."

"The government is putting up a lot of stipulations to make it hard for people to petition for immigrant family members."