Internationally Adopted Children In Our Anti-Immigrant Culture

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.





39 thoughts on “Internationally Adopted Children In Our Anti-Immigrant Culture

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  5. Hello, we adopted our son in 2010 from India. He should have automatic citizenship, right? Do I still need to apply for a separate certificate?

    • He would have qualified for automatic citizenship, yes. Whether he automatically received a Certificate of Citizenship depends on that kind of visa he entered on, an IR-3 or IR-4. If he entered with the IR-3, he became a citizen son entry, and he should have received the Certificate (in the mail) automatically. If he entered with an IR-4, he would have received a green card as a Permanent Resident. He would then need to be re-adopted in the US, and then would receive full citizenship. He would then be able to get the Certificate of Citizenship.

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  8. I applied for the CoC for my daughter adopted from China. A note to other parents who are applying for the CoC. The USCIS cashed my check after I sent in all the required documents. USCIS never sent her CoC and now I have a huge problem trying to get them to do what is right. They need to provide the CoC after taking my money which I have proof of.

  9. My daughters were adopted from China in 1996 and 1998. I had to apply for their CoC and their passports. Do not assume that this government will give you the benefit of the doubt; get your paperwork in order asap. I also got GOES cards (Global Online Enrollment System) from US Customs and Immigration) as an extra level of identity which allows them to use TSA PreCheck Security.

  10. Thank you for this! GET THE CoC!!! Our son came home from Kazakhstan in 2002 and did not automatically receive the CoC. It is my understanding that children between 2000 and 2004 kind of “fell though the cracks” and were told upon landing (as we were) by Homelands Security that our son was a citizen- no worries. So I didn’t worry. He has a birth certificate that says “foreign born” and a SS# card. We didn’t have any problems until I misplaced his SS card and went to replace it and COULD NOT. He didn’t come up in the system as a citizen, or an alien, but an undocumented sort of code. So even though he had a card before, and all the paperwork, he couldn’t get a replacement card, which meant in NY he couldn’t get his drivers permit or license. We got the CoC before he turns 18, because with current potential policy changes, I didn’t want to take any risks. Sad that our children are ever considered anything but, OUR children. Get the CoC.

  11. The proof that I am a US citizen is my US birth certificate and a US passport. My internationally adopted children also have a US birth certificate and a US passport. Why would they need the CoC and not myself? Does Homeland Security not recognize US birth certificates as proof of citizenship?

    • No they do not. Your child’s US birth certificate lists their place of birth as somewhere other than a US state so it is NOT proof of citizenship.

    • Your child likely does not have a US birth certificate. Look at it closely, in Illinois, BC’s for internationally adopted children list their place of birth as their birth country. In our case, China. And across the top of the certificate, where mine says “birth”, their document reads “foreign birth”. It’s a “Certificate of Foreign Birth” not a birth certificate, although they’re printed on the same paper. They’re issued by state government, not the federal government, and not universally recognized as proof of citizenship. Passports expire. CoC’s do not.

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  14. Has anyone applied for COC for child adopted in 2000 with an expired IR3? Her card expired in 2011. I thought because of CCA she did not have to renew IR3 . I know feel a COC is important for her future and when filling out N-600 can not figure out if I am suppose to list the expired IR3 or do I have to apply for a new IR3. She has a passport but COC would make me feel she is safer. Thanks for the great information and any suggestion would be great

  15. We have our child’s CoC. We are planning to legally change his name though – will we need to get a new CoC or will the old one suffice?

    • My understanding is that the Certificate of Citizenship must be in the child’s legal name. I’d check with a lawyer to be sure, of course, but my strong sense is that the old one will not suffice.

  16. We had to go to court to meet with a judge in 2002 to receive a foreign adoption decree that stated our child was either a permanent resident or a naturalized citizen of the United States This legal document was signed and dated by the judge and recorded at the district judiciary offices. If you have this it should be proof of US citizenship shouldn’t it?

    • I am not certain what that document is. It may be recognized by your state, but may or may not be acceptable for federal immigration purposes. Different agencies and programs require different proofs of citizenship.That’s what makes things so confusing. I’d check with a lawyer, and I’d recommend the Certificate of Citizenship as the best form of proof.

  17. Yes, an adoption myth and adoption propoganda proven incorrect. As if born to is not synonymous with born to. As if born to is not the same as born to. And born out side the United States, or it’s territories, is not the same as born in the United States even with citizen parents. It used to be that a only a passport, whether it had expired or not, was sufficient. Since the creation of Homeland Security a Certificate of Citizenship is now required. Where does naturalization come into the equation?

    • My understanding is that the Certificate of Citizenship is specifically for individuals born outside of the U.S. and who acquire citizenship because of being born to or adopted by U.S. citizens. Naturalization (again, I’m not a lawyer, just trying to work this out) means getting citizenship by completing the process under immigration laws, and not specifically related to having U.S. citizen parents. Immigration got a lot more complex after 9/11; so did showing proof of citizenship.

  18. I’d say the federal government is looking for ways to boost its revenue. Its always saying there aren’t enough funds to subsidize education, welfare for the poor, that it always needs more welfare for the wealthy. Perhaps abolishing the Adoption Tax Credit is overdue? And going after more corporate tax havens in the “loophole”?

    And please, fundraising to pay for the higher costs in adoption? Tacky, selfish entitlement, and narcissistic. Save your money (a LOT more of it) and sponsor/support families to NOT have to deal with lies/trafficking/separation/discrimination/unequal power distribution that are pervasive in adoptions. Adoption is a modern day practice of taking from the have-nots and distributing to the haves.

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  20. We obtained our daughter’s CoC when she was 4 years old. She’s now 18. I had read somewhere that it was also a good idea to apply for a new CoC after the child turns 18, but now I can’t find any info about that. Anyone here know anything about this topic?

    • No idea where you might have heard that, but it is wrong. You only ever need ONE – they won’t issue another one at age 18 (unless you lost it and need replacement). No matter how old you are, or how old when you got the CoC, it is all you need to prove US citizenship no matter how old you are now.

  21. Great read, and important info to know. Sadly, the situation reveals something much more sinister, which is the role adoption plays in a racist and class-based white settler nation-state. This ties into the colonized mentality of our source nation-states as well, and their racism, sectarianism, and rejection of us as children. The point being that even established, our “citizenship” remains a vague (and removable) thing. More here, if you are interested: Citizen, Denizen, Alien |

  22. Maureen, this scared me — Holy Cow! I’m so glad that we did this for our kids when they first came home. In our playgroup, I made sure that all our members knew of this and I believe most of them did this. I wish agencies and families would have taken this more seriously. It’s crazy how the fees have increased.

    • It is scary, Mary. Thanks for getting the word out to your playgroup, and making sure your kids got all their valuable paperwork. The fees are high, no doubt, much higher than when our kids were little. Overall costs of adoption have increased enormously as well. Still, and I know you agree, the CoC is vital.

  23. Actually, children adoptsee before 2000 did receive citizenship after the law was signed by President Clinton (my daughter was adoptd in 1999). What they didn’t receive was anything saying that they were citizens (no COC). I was able to obtain a passport for my daughter after that law was passed. I did get a COC for later by applying for it and paying the fee. I thought the fee was outrageous when I went through the process for her; the proposed fee is even worse.

    • Thanks for your comment, Laurie. To clarify, 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. Information about the CCA is available at the State Department’s site here:

      Because the CCA was did not include adoptees over 18, there is legislation currently pending in Congress (S. 2275) to make U.S. citizenship retroactive for those adoptees.

      The Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002, and began issuing Certificates of Citizenship at some point after that. Here’s hoping more parents get the CoC for their children, and that the legislation on retroactive citizenship is enacted.

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