Utah woman adopted as baby faces deportation to India, despite no connections there

By P. Solomon Banda

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 28 2012 2:48 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys are scrambling to find a way to prevent the deportation of a woman who was adopted from an orphanage in India as a 3-month-old baby following a determination by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that she is in the country illegally.

Kairi Abha Shepherd's adoptive mother died when she was 8 years old, never having filed citizenship paperwork, her attorney Alan L. Smith of Salt Lake City said.

The Denver-based appellate court earlier this month upheld an immigration court's ruling that Shepherd, now 30, is too old to qualify for automatic citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 that applies to children from foreign countries who are adopted by Americans.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement began efforts to deport Shepherd in 2007 after she was jailed in Salt Lake City for probation violation of a 2004 guilty plea to a felony charge of forgery. ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said Shepherd's conviction was an aggravated felony, making her an immigration enforcement priority.

Shepherd has no family or contacts in India.

"I think she took a geography class in high school where she learned about India," Smith said. "She doesn't speak the language, she has no connection whatsoever. She's American through and through."

In a statement issued through Smith, Shepherd said she suffers from multiple sclerosis and has other health issues.

"The deportation order which may force me to part from my physicians, family, and friends here, could be a death sentence to me," she said.

Smith and other attorneys are donating their time to reverse Shepherd's deportation order and help her gain legal status, he said. Their options include appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Indian government to deny travel documents, or asking a state court judge to allow Shepherd to withdraw her felony guilty plea. Smith said Shepherd had assumed she was a U.S. citizen at the time she pleaded guilty to a felony, not knowing it would end up getting her deported.

Officials at the Consulate General of India in San Francisco did not immediately return messages.

A 2008 Salt Lake City Tribune column described Shepherd's mother, Erlene Shepherd, as someone who would try to save the world, pay 50 cents a day to sponsor a dozen children around the world and take in every lost pet she found.

Smith said Erlene Shepherd adopted three children from the United States, three from Thailand, and two from India, including a boy who died before Kairi Shepherd was adopted as a baby.

A widow and single mother to seven children, Erlene Shepherd died in 1991 of breast cancer, never having filed the proper paperwork for Kairi Shepherd, her youngest child. Kairi Shepherd went to live with one of her adoptive siblings, a sister, until she was 14, and then an adoptive brother until she graduated from high school, Smith said. A sibling said their mother had filed the proper paperwork for her other children.

Messages left for Shepherd's siblings by The Associated Press were not immediately returned.

Shepherd worked at odd jobs, in grocery stores and in fast food. In 2003, authorities in two Utah counties charged her with crimes including felony forgery for falsifying checks to pay for a drug habit.

She pleaded guilty in March 2004 in Salt Lake County to a misdemeanor charge of attempted forgery and was sentenced to 68 days in jail, probation, and ordered to pay a $750 fine. In May of that year, she pleaded guilty to forgery, in a separate case, to a third-degree felony in Ogden. Misdemeanor charges of theft and receiving stolen property were dropped.

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