The thing is: you’re adoptees.
You were brought to the United States from another country to become the adopted child of US citizens. And now you’re an adult, raised in America. You speak only English. You went to school here and worked here. You know only your American family and friends.
The State Department website tells adoptive parents:
“It is important to ensure that your adopted child becomes a U.S. citizen. If you postpone documenting or obtaining your child’s citizenship, later he or she may have difficulty getting college scholarships, working legally, voting, and enjoying other rights and privileges.”
But wait: there’s more. Adoptees can be deported.
For all its rhetoric and posturing across the political spectrum about the value of adoption, the US Congress has failed miserably in supporting internationally adopted children.
Let’s review here: A child arrives in the US from Korea, India, Brazil, or another far off place with a different language, culture, food, music, customs, holidays, history. The child is adopted by US citizens. So of course the child automatically becomes a US citizen too, right?
Nope. Certainly not if he or she had the poor timing to be adopted prior to 2000, when the Child Citizenship Act became law. That law, which I (along with many other people) worked on and supported, means that (most) internationally adopted children can automatically become US citizens, if they arrived after February 27, 2001. There is still paperwork involved, of course.
Children arriving on IR-4 visas before or after the CCA must follow a different route, and that’s significant. But citizenship is achievable.
For those thousands and thousands of adoptees who arrived here before the CCA, the process was not so streamlined or automatic. Some parents failed to get their kids US citizenship. Some adoption agencies could have done a better job providing information about the value of citizenship. (And this is still an issue now for those IR-4 visas.)
It was a huge oversight.
An immigration law passed by Congress in 1996 had among its many clauses the possibility of deportation for non-US citizens who commit a felony, including non-violent crimes. There have been adoptees who have committed felonies. I’m not condoning the commission of crimes.
But these adoptees were brought to the US for purposes of adoption by US citizens. They most likely thought they were citizens–seems reasonable. And now, after being raised in America, after serving their sentences, they can be deported to their country of origin–where often they know no one, don’t speak the language, have little chance of getting work, and can never return to the United States.
This has already happened to several adoptees. One died at 26 after being sent back to Brazil, having been raised in Ohio from the age of 8, after a first time marijuana conviction. The plight of others has prompted petitions. Russell Green was the subject of at least one. The most recent in the news was Kairi Shepherd, and there are many more pending. Many folks, especially adult adoptees, have been working very hard to fix this absurd situation. The Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative has been among the leaders in this movement.
We don’t deport US citizens who have committed crimes, even if we’d like to. Deporting the internationally adopted children of US citizens is an insult to the integrity of adoption and to the reality of adoptive families.
Congress has been (astonishingly? unsurprisingly? shamefully?) slow to rectify this. Consider contacting the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and your Senator and Representative. Ask them to move on legislation that is fair, humane, and overdue: US citizenship for internationally adopted children, regardless of when they arrived.
A nod to Woody Guthrie for the title of this blog post.