Update: As of December 23, 2016, the cost for a Certificate of Citizenship is $1,070. More information is available here.
In the eyes of federal immigration law, internationally adopted babies and children are immigrants. Not beloved sons and daughters. Not forever family.
We are living in a decidedly anti-immigrant culture now, one that is leery of legal and illegal immigrants, that often lumps them together with a snarl, that often is particularly suspicious of those immigrants who are not white. Proof of citizenship is vital.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) just announced potential fee increases in the Certificate of Citizenship (CoC). You can read about it here. Scroll down to “Section IX Proposed Fee Adjustments to IEFA Immigration Benefits.” The fee for the CoC could go from $600 to $1,170, a 95% increase.
The CoC applies to anyone who would like to document their U.S. citizenship status based on U.S. citizen parentage. It pertains especially to those born outside the U.S., and thus internationally adopted children.
Depending on when children arrived in the U.S. and on what kind of visa, they may automatically receive a CoC. Some have to be re-adopted here in the U.S. and then file separately for the CoC.
Adoptees who arrived in the U.S. prior to enactment of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 did not have any automatic citizenship options: their parents had to apply for citizenship for them. The Child Citizenship Act (CCA) of 2000 applied to adoptees who were under 18 years old as of February 27, 2001, the effective date of the law. Adoptees who were over 18, and had not become U.S. citizens, did not qualify for the automatic citizenship granted by the CCA.
Yes, it’s complicated. Add in immigration laws from the late 90’s that allow for deportation of non-citizens who commit felonies. There have been and will be adoptees deported back to their countries of birth, with no language, family, friends, work, or other connections there.
Some adoptive parents get passports for their kids, and don’t get the CoC. Here’s my non-lawyer take on it.
The passport is issued by the U.S. State Department. It is a proof of citizenship, allows one to travel, and can be used as a form of identification. It expires and must be renewed.
The Certificate of Citizenship is issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It never expires. It is the most definitive proof of citizenship that the U.S. offers.
Different federal and state agencies, in my experience, use different databases to confirm citizenship. It may be easier to prove citizenship for Social Security benefits, state ID’s, financial aid, voter registration, health insurance, medical benefits, and passport renewal (especially if the passport expires) with a CoC, than with a passport.
It may be that some federal/state agencies use only the Department of Homeland Security’s database in determining eligibility for certain benefits: hence, the CoC can ease eligibility and confusion, delays, etc. It may be that, in the future, a passport will not be sufficient to proving citizenship for certain state or federal programs.
I am firmly in the camp of having both the passport and the CoC for our internationally adopted children. I get that they may never need the CoC–until they do.
Further, given the current political climate, and what we may move toward in the next decades, why not have definitive, government-recognized, US Department of Homeland security–sanctioned proof of citizenship?
Our U.S. Congress is slowly moving toward granting US citizenship to international adoptees who arrived here before 2000. The adoptees are seen as a class of immigrants, not as the children of U.S. parents, until proven otherwise, despite all the levels of paperwork that international adoption entails.
I think a lot of adoptive parents did not and do not see their kids as immigrants. But that’s what they are for US government status purposes. Certainly many in our U.S. Congress do not see them as genuine family members: otherwise, retroactive citizenship would have been enacted, and adoptees would not have been deported.
Given the political climate currently, ensuring an international adoptee’s solid legal status seems compelling. Getting the Certificate of Citizenship is expensive now at $600. It will be even more so if the increase is enacted.
At the end of the legal day, I urge all adoptive parents to get the Certificate of Citizenship for their children. Average the cost over the lifetime of your child, who will have permanent proof of his or her citizenship. I urge adult adoptees to get the CoC for themselves if their parents did not. It’s no small matter these days. Who would have thought that adoptees, beloved sons and daughters, who committed crimes and served their time in jail would then be deported? But many have been.
And who knows what the future might hold?
Update: Here are some insights shared with me from members of the national immigration bar.
From one attorney: “The Department of Homeland Security’s computer systems don’t know that a U.S. passport has been issued. If a foreign-born person doesn’t get a Certificate of Citizenship, the DHS computer will never get updated to show that the person is a U.S. citizen.”
Federal agencies do not necessarily share databases. Actions taken by the State Department might not be on the radar of Homeland Security. As you might guess, information might also not be passed on to state or local agencies. The burden will be on the individual to prove citizenship.
From another: “And frankly, adoptive paperwork could also be forged/fraudulent. And passports are obtained from the Department of State. Therefore, the best way to deal with this issue is to work directly with the Department of Homeland Security. In other words, get the damn Certificate of Citizenship and be done with it!”
And yet another: “The Certificate of Citizenship puts the Department of Homeland Security on notice of the claim of citizenship. They will update their records and hopefully verify the claim to citizenship when the local constabulary inquires.”
And of course, we hope the local constabulary has no need to inquire, and that there are no law enforcement interactions. But if there are, far better to be able to quickly and definitively prove citizenship than to expend time, money, and other resources in a stressful legal situation.
You can get U.S. passport information here.
You can get Certificate of Citizenship information here.