Family, Fairness and Love: #CitizenshipforAllAdoptees

In February the adoption community the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 will have been in effect for 17 years. This legislation was passed to ensure that children brought to the U.S. by American families would enjoy the same legal protection as the children born to American parents. Along with citizenship for transnational adoptees, the bill promised adoptive parents a citizenship process with less bureaucracy and expense. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Yes, and for many intercountry adoptees and adoptive families, the CCA 2000 delivered exactly what it promised: automatic citizenship for adoptees and a simpler, more secure process for adoptive parents. But it didn’t provide automatic citizenship to adoptees who were 18 or older at the time it went into effect, and, even today, its provisions are not always automatic. As the language on the USCIS website covering visas for internationally adopted children shows, there are several factors that can still affect whether a child is automatically granted citizenship or not: Hague status of the child’s country of origin, type of visa, even error on the part of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate can, on their own or in combination, change the path to citizenship. USCIS doesn't mention what are contributors in many cases: adoptive parent failure to complete requirements (from misunderstanding, laziness, or outright refusal) and adoption agency failure to ensure that the citizenship process was completed.

Meanwhile, adoptees who do not enjoy the CCA 2000’s protection remain at risk or are in fact deported. The Adoption Museum Project’s fact sheet on adoptee citizenship shows that an estimated 35,000 to 50,000 U.S. intercountry adoptees do not have U.S. citizenship and at least 25 have been deported. Of those, I am aware of at least two who have died after deportation: Joao Herbert to murder in May 2004 in Campinas, Brazil, and Phillip Clay to suicide in Seoul, South Korea in May 2017.

The impact of deportation on adoptees is staggering, on all levels. At the January 10th Congressional hearing on adoptee citizenship organized by the Adoptee Rights Campaign and NAKASEC, Helen Ko of Korean Adoption Services shared her experiences with deported adoptees, whom she supports in her work. The American identities they struggled to find were taken away from them in an instant, replaced by a new struggle to find Korean identities in a country they do not know. It should be no surprise that frustration, isolation, depression and mental health issues are common among deported adoptees. In Ms. Ko’s words, deportation is a death sentence, and Phillip Clay’s suicide bears this out. HyeJi Kim of the Republic of Korea's Ministry of Health and Welfare spoke about South Korea's outrage over this discrimination against adoptees and, on behalf of the Korean government, demanded swift passage of the Adoptee Citizenship Act.

Living without citizenship in the U.S. brings another, equally challenging, set of circumstances and impacts. Two adoptees (I withhold their names here for privacy) who learned as adults that they lacked citizenship spoke at the hearing and shared a terrifying list of experiences they face every single day. They spoke of the fact that they came to the U.S. legally and shared experiences; both of their stories include application processing errors that should have never led to this end. They spoke of ICE’s single-minded focus on deportation and how living under ICE supervision creates a life filled with fear. They experience limitations in virtually all areas of life: inability to apply for virtually anything requiring legal status, such as bank loans; denial of credit; inability to engage in civic activities like voting; challenges to staying employed; lack of access to Federal employment, which in some areas has tremendous access on the job market; lack of access to survivor benefits; risk of losing their own retirement benefits; and more. Remember: these are people who came to this country legally and are in this unjust situation because of the actions of others who failed to protect them. They deserve citizenship, now, without question.

An amendment to the CCA 2000 could correct this injustice. There have been several since 2001 (most recently S. 2275 (114th): Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2015 and H.R. 5454 (114th): Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2016, which will have to be reintroduced in the 115th Congress), but none have made it to law. It makes no difference who has held the White House or Congress, clearly our legislators and society see adoptee citizenship as an immigration issue, and post-9/11 anti-immigration sentiment makes their passage a hard sell.

The message needs to change. At the January 10th hearing, former Congressman Bill Delahunt and National Center on Adoption and Permanency President Adam Pertman both spoke to the need for the adoption community to move the focus of the Adoptee Citizenship Act away from immigration and toward its core message: equity, fairness, family, and love for intercountry adoptees who were promised these when brought to the United States. Adoptees can no longer be left to pick up the pieces of adoptive parent, adoption agency and legislator failure to protect them. The entire adoption community must come together to let Congress know that #CitizenshipforAllAdoptees is about the most American of values: family, fairness and love.

More citizenship resources on Third Mom's #CitizenshipforAllAdoptees page.

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