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Dad says girl at center of custody fight soon heading to China with biological family
Chinese Custody TNG 5524050
Eight year old Anna Mae He, right, hands her mother, Casey, an egg during breakfast Saturday, Dec. 22, 2007 in Memphis, Tenn. Her little sister, Avita, 5, looks on as their father, Jack He kneels in the background. Anna He was the subject of a court battle to return to her biological parents, Jack and Casey He from China - photo by Associated Press
    MEMPHIS, Tenn. — An 8-year-old girl who was taken from an American couple and returned to her Chinese parents after a seven-year custody fight faces another big adjustment — moving to China.
    Anna Mae He rejoined biological parents Shaoqiang and Qin Luo He in July under orders from the state Supreme Court. She grew up with American foster parents who took her in as an infant to help her financially strapped parents and then refused to give her back.
    Now, with the custody fight settled, Anna’s family faces deportation, and her father says it’s time to head home to China.
    ‘‘We always wanted custody to move back to China as a family,’’ He said recently at his family’s small, two-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Memphis.
    Shaoqiang He came to Tennessee to attend graduate school at the University of Memphis, but his student visa expired years ago. He was allowed to remain in the United States because of the custody fight, which began in May 2000 and ended with the high court ruling in January.
    An immigration judge agreed four years ago to delay ruling on the Hes’ immigration status, but He said that decision can come any time now. He said he expects to return to China by the end of February.
    Ashok Kara, a family psychologist working with the Hes on Anna’s transition, said she is warming toward her parents and gets along well with brother Andy, 7, and sister Avita, 5.
    ‘‘At least on the surface, things are moving in a very positive direction. She’s happy. She talks. She laughs. She jokes,’’ Kara said. ‘‘Although beneath the surface where things are not easily observed, we don’t quite know what’s going on.’’
    A third-grader, Anna earned all ‘‘As’’ on her latest report card. ‘‘She participates well when called up,’’ her teacher wrote. ‘‘I enjoy having her in class.’’
    Former foster parents Jerry and Louise Baker won a court order five years ago barring the Hes from any contact with Anna, so she is still just getting to know her parents and siblings.
    But piled up on a living room sofa one recent evening to watch TV cartoons, Anna, Andy and Avita shared the easy laughter of comfortable playmates.
    ‘‘She has been learning Chinese, but she’s a little bit afraid of the language,’’ her father said. ‘‘But she’s becoming more curious about China. She asks about the schools, the teachers, the children, what’s the subjects that are taught.’’
    Anna was born in January 1999 with her parents facing hard times financially and legally. Shaoqiang He was accused of sexual assault by a female student at the university, a charge that cost him his scholarship and student stipend, although he was ultimately acquitted at trial.
    The Bakers, a suburban Memphis couple with four children of their own, were introduced to the Hes through a private foster-care organization. They volunteered to take Anna in for a few months but decided later to try to adopt her, even though the Hes wanted her back.
    The Bakers accused the Hes of being unfit parents and argued that Anna would have a better life in America than in China.
    In 2004, a Memphis judge took away the Hes’ parental rights on grounds of abandonment, a decision that drew widespread criticism as culturally and ethnically biased.
    The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the Hes thought they were giving up their daughter for a short time so she could get health insurance and lost custody largely because of an ignorance of American law. It ordered the family to be reunited.
    He has supported his family with a series of low-paying jobs, often working at Chinese restaurants and most recently as a church janitor. He said he expects to find a better job in China, perhaps teaching at a private elementary or secondary school that teaches English and will accept his children as students.
    Kara, the psychologist, said he had hoped Anna Mae would have more time to bond with her family before moving to a country with an unfamiliar culture and language.
    ‘‘But the way things were set up, they were allowed to stay here until a resolution (of custody), and the resolution has taken place,’’ he said.

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