Interracial Families, Border Crossings, and Luck of the Draw

A recent online conversation among parents who’ve adopted transracially and traveled internationally spurred a wide range of responses.  While crossing borders, some had been asked to provide proof that the child was theirs, some had never been asked, some  carry the adoption decree with them in hard copy or via their cell phones, some had been asked for documentation about their racially-matching children, and some whose kids were melting down wildly at border crossings were or were not asked for documentation.

One mom wondered if being asked for documents to prove parenthood was discriminatory against transracial adoption.

My strong feeling is that being asked for documentation at the border to prove you are a family has nothing to do with us personally.  It’s random. Luck of the draw. It has to do with the possibility of kidnapping, one of (I would guess) the many reasons border guards make excellent eye contact and ask questions that seem rude and intrusive.

Another guess is that the likelihood of having a convo with the guard increases for parents traveling alone with their child of another race, a fish in a barrel presentation for asking whether the other parent gave permission for the child to be transported across international borders.

Canada and the US don’t seem all that disparate until you’re crossing the border. The signs, the rules, the “STOP,” the guns, the dogs, the seeing the folks in the car ahead of you being pulled over to the side and all their car doors opened–serious stuff. It took me one garrulous, nervous trip to learn to answer only what is asked.  Nothing bad happened to me–I just had to get over my compulsion to make small talk with someone who is so not interested in small talk.

When my daughter (Ethiopian), my granddaughter (Ethiopian-Latina), and I (white) drove from Seattle to Vancouver, we were asked whether we had permission from my granddaughter’s father to cross into Canada. Before the drive, I had looked at the Canada border crossing info:

If you are travelling with minors, you must carry proper identification for each child such as a birth certificate, passport, citizenship card, permanent resident card or Certificate of Indian Status. If you are not the parent or guardian of the children, you should also have written permission from the parent/guardian authorizing the trip. The letter should include addresses and telephone numbers where the parents or guardian can be reached.

Divorced or separated parents should carry custody or legal separation documents and/or a letter of authorization to facilitate their entry into Canada.

We had our US passports, my granddaughter’s birth certificate, and the custody decree, plus the contact information. We were asked to present them all only going into Canada, and asked for nothing entering the US.

When they were minors, our kids (all transracially adopted) never travelled internationally with us. My daughters travelled with flight attendant escorts from Ethiopia when they came as 6 year olds to the US in 1994.

It occurs to me that if we’d had to present their birth certificates for international travel when the 4 kids were minors, we could have–but those birth certificates are amended, not original, and therefore a legal fiction of sorts. Legally sanctioned, and acceptable.

Final thoughts for parents of transracially adopted children:

How we formed our families is not of interest to border guards. Whether we kidnapped or are kidnapping the child is of great interest.

Interracial families remain novel in most of the world.

Interracial families attract curiosity, smiles, frowns, disdain, questions from strangers, second glances, others of similar circumstance, sometimes none of the above.

Children pay attention to how their parents respond to the questions about the kids from border guards. Or from friends and family. Especially about race and adoption.

Parents are role models for children, whether they like it or not. Showing them good examples for getting through potentially complex situations (such as border crossings where their reality is closely questioned) matters, because it will happen again and again in the lives of transracially adopted children.

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