By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Sometimes you can do everything right, for all of the right reasons, and things can still go wrong.
That is what the Hallahan family of Silver Lake has learned recently when an adoption process that began in the fall of 2006, was discovered to be invalid.
Pat and Sharon Hallahan thought they had legally adopted Holy Trinity senior Dang Quang Tran, known to everyone as Winn, in the summer of 2008, before he turned 16.
According to US law, a child must be under 16 years of age for the adoption to be legal.
The Hallahans have four other children: Cody, 20; Brittney, 19; Jackson, 17; and Cortney, 16.
When the Hallahans filed additional paper work to apply for Tran’s citizenship, they were told by immigration that his adoption had not gone through until after his 16th birthday, and that he was in the country illegally and would have to return to Vietnam.
The couple, who had never adopted before, thought they had done everything they needed to make sure Tran’s adoption was legal.
They had hired an attorney who had assured them she had been through this process before.
“From day one, we had told her that Winn needed to be adopted before he was 16 because of international law,” Pat said.
“She said, ‘it wouldn’t be a problem, that she had done these things many times.’”
When the Hallahans had questions about how the adoption was proceeding because the process kept dragging out, they were reassured by their attorney that everything was okay.
“When we got the adoption papers, we were all so happy,” Pat said.
“Winn has lived with us since he has been 14 and he has really fit in well,” Sharon Hallahan said. “There is always a hole in our family when he leaves to visit his sister in California.”
Because the Hallahans believed that Tran was legally adopted, they were not concerned about his I-20 status expiring. His I-20 status makes it legal for him to study in the US.
Holy Trinity in Winsted had been the school that had issued Tran his I-20 when he first came to the US from Vietnam as a foreign exchange student in 2006. At the time, Pat was teaching there and the Hallahans were his host family.
When Pat received another teaching position at Holy Family in Victoria, the family’s two younger children began attending school at Holy Family, and they wanted Tran to go to school there, as well.
The Hallahans contacted their attorney for her approval.
“She told us, ‘As long as the petition for adoption is started, everything is okay.’ We didn’t know the law,” Pat said. “We were going on the advice of our lawyer.”
So for his junior year, Tran transferred to Holy Family with the rest of the Hallahan children and for that year, things seemed to run smoothly.
Tran enjoys playing sports and had done well playing soccer and baseball at Holy Family.
Now, looking back, there were some red flags that made Pat and Sharon concerned about the adoption, according to Pat.
One of them was when they received Tran’s birth certificate saying he was adopted, “but at the bottom, it said, ‘this is not proof of citizenship,’” Pat said.
“When we went to get citizenship, that was when we learned he was not legally adopted.”
“It was the first week of this school year this started happening,” Pat said.
That was when they realized that Tran was in the US with an expired I-20 status.
“Because we had taken him out of Holy Trinity, his I-20, which he came over here with, isn’t valid,” Pat said.
Deportation is a fear the Hallahan family and Tran have had to live with since then.
“I started thinking what is he best way to keep him in the country and I started to call news stations, and contacted Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office,” Pat said. “I even sent an e-mail to the White House, just trying to get somebody to give me an answer on what we should do.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office responded and gave the Hallahans the name of an immigration attorney, who is handling the process to get Tran’s I-20 status reinstated.
Tran has been transferred back to Holy Trinity School in Winsted where he originally was granted his I-20 status.
“Amy Klobuchar’s office actually calls once a week to let immigration know that a senator is keeping an eye on this,” Pat said.
The Hallahans’ new attorney has said that if the I-20 reinstatement is denied, she has other avenues she will try, according to Pat.
“We don’t want to lose him,” Pat said. “He has been with us for four years. We just can’t imagine life without him.”
My son, Jackson, will be devastated if he is sent back. They were supposed to graduate together this spring.”