State Department/CIS Stakeholder Call on Adoptee Citizenship Issues

The Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) of the U.S. State Department and the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) held a “Stakeholder Meeting Call” Monday primarily to discuss citizenship as related to international adoption.

My takeaways:

  • I give credit to State and CIS for holding these public stakeholder conversations.
  • Surely adopted children, who grow up and are now (adopted) adults, must be considered to be the primary and most essential stakeholders in calls and conversations like this.
  • I believe that there were three adult adoptees who called in. I appreciate their sharing their time and voices, as well as personal expertise. There were also agency service providers and at least one adoptive parent (me).
  • The U.S. federal agencies involved with intercountry adoption are understandably focused on adopted children and the legal process for their adoption and citizenship. That said, there is a large community of now adult international adoptees who need the assistance and resources of the federal government to become citizens after their parents failed to do so.
  • The Department of State and the United States Citizen and Immigration Services need to better coordinate their services with and for international adult adoptees. Adoptee groups should receive the same attention and outreach as adoption service providers and adoptive parents. That attention should be evident on their web pages. Their officers should be better educated about the Child Citizenship Act, the Adoptee Citizenship Act, and the genuine experiences of adult adoptees. There should be consistent information provided by State and CIS staff across the country about citizenship issues for adoptees.
  • While there is voluminous information available about how to adopt on the State Department website, the information for adult adoptees is sparse indeed. In fact, the page for adoptees has not been updated since November 2014. It references on-line resources, but there are no live links. I hope they update the page soon, so it is actually helpful for adopted adults.

Here is my unofficial summary of the phone call, with the caveat that there were a number of folks from State and from CIS on the call, and I wasn’t always sure who they were and who was speaking.

General Information Not Related to Citizenship

State has authorized a new accrediting entity, Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity. IAAME joins the only other organization approved for Hague accreditations, the Council on Accreditation (COA). IAAME emerged from the Partnership for Strong Families, a child welfare organization in Florida. State and IAAME are still working out the distribution of labor, and IAAME is not yet accrediting international adoption agencies.

Suzanne Lawrence is taking over for Susan Jacobs as the new Special Advisor for Children’s Issues at State. Ms. Lawrence spoke briefly about her career as a consular officer and how she looks forward to this new position.

Trish Maskew, who handles adoption issues at the State Department, then responded to previously submitted questions:

Croatia: Adoption service providers (ASPs) may soon be authorized to work in Croatia.

China: New regs have not yet been released by China’s Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption on the hosting program and on the one-on-on partnership between ASPs and orphanages.

Ethiopia: It remains unclear why Ethiopia closed adoptions in May 2017, and they continue to work on “cases in progress.” It is unclear what “cases in progress” means, and State is actively seeking more clarity.

Kazakhstan: The Kazakhstan government continues to request post-adoption reports from adoptive families before they will reauthorize agencies to work there. There are some 225 families who have yet to submit post-adoption reports.

Citizenship Questions From People Who Called In

The State Department staffers then took questions live from callers. One question was about a family which dissolved an adoption before finalizing and before getting citizenship for a child who arrived on an I-4 visa. State said that the child would be ineligible to apply for citizenship for two years (I guess that time frame means the child has to be placed with a new family for two years before he/she becomes eligible for citizenship.)

Another question was whether international adoptees needed both a passport and a Certificate of Citizenship (CoC) as proof of citizenship. The State Department said that no federal law requires a citizen to bear proof of citizenship. That said, a U.S. passport is proof of citizenship, as is the Certificate of Citizenship. Someone from State said that one was not better than the other.

That is technically true, I would agree, but in practice, many adoptive parents and adoptees have found that the Certificate of Citizenship (which is approved by the Department of Homeland Security) is increasingly requested to prove citizenship, whether at the Department of Motor Vehicles or to obtain insurance or for other circumstances. I wish the State Department had been more forceful about this, but given that they are the ones approving passports, they may not have strong feelings about the CoC. Anecdotally, we are seeing many adoptees needing the CoC as proof of citizenship. It never expires. It’s well worth getting.

The most powerful question came from an adult adoptee from Iran, who has worked with the Adoptee Rights Campaign (ARC). The State Department folks asked about ARC, saying they did not have their contact information. This shocked me, as ARC is a well-known group leading the charge on citizenship for all adoptees. The State Department folks said they’d be happy to hear more about ARC, and gave the adoption@state.gov email address.

The Iranian adoptee asked how to bring the lack of citizenship to people’s attention—how to create a sense of urgency. She shared that her adoptive father is dead; her adoptive mother is 80 and could die soon. The adoptee is worried about working, about keeping her job, about her finances, and about retirement. She noted that many people working in immigration are unfamiliar with the Child Citizenship Act, and said to the State officials, “We (adult adoptees lacking citizenship) need your department to step up.”

State responded that they held a Congressional briefing a week ago. (I’ve had trouble finding information about the hearing; if anyone has a link or attended the briefing, please let me know.) Maskew said that the Office of Children’s Issues is very proactive on the issue of citizenship for adoptees, and has heard that Congress is planning to reintroduce adoptee citizenship legislation.

Maskew emphasized that State has offered to help adult adoptees, and that they have heard from adoptees with a range of scenarios including children who came here as visitors, or for medical purposes, and then were adopted. State said they cannot respond to hypothetical situations. (I would guess that would be questions like What if I get arrested? Or What if someone tells ICE that I don’t have citizenship?) State said they are doing all they can, and again provided their email address: adoption@state.gov.

A staff person from Hope International agency in Texas asked about the processing times for Certificates of Citizenship. What is the average timeframe for DHS to issue them? Carrie Rankin of CIS told the caller to refer to the website where people can check their case status. Processing times vary by office, she said.

I am hearing that the issuance of CoCs is taking many months, sometimes well over a year. The CoCs currently cost $1,170. Information on how to apply is available here.

A caller asked which federal department tracked the number of intercountry adoptees who are not citizens. Neither the State Department nor CIS has these numbers. The caller asked if there is a list of adoptees deported since 1954. She was told that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) might have a list like that.

The best source that I am aware of for that information is Pound Pup Legacy, which has a wide range of data around international adoption, including deported adoptees.

Then it was my turn. I started by saying I was surprised that the State Department and CIS didn’t know about the Adoptee Rights Campaign, per the earlier conversation with the Iranian adoptee. I reiterated the sense of urgency for citizenship for all adoptees, especially in our current political climate where immigration status is so complex. I then said I was puzzled about why the citizenship issue for legally adopted people is such a controversial issue. Maskew responded that the controversy seems tied to the criminal activity that can result in anyone who is not a citizen–which can include adoptees–being deported. She noted that the numbers of adoptees in need of citizenship are numbers that the adoptee community has put forward–some 15,000 to 35,000 people. Some in Congress may conflate the number of adoptees needing citizenship with the numbers who have committed crimes. I’ve posted many times about the absurdity that international adoptees, whose immigration to the United States was agreed to and overseen by both the U.S. and the sending country, are not all automatically U.S. citizens. It is a shameful part of our government’s responsibility not to provide citizenship to all international adoptees.

I also asked about the comment that the Certificate of Citizenship and the passport being equal, and said that we are hearing increasing examples of adoptees needing their CoC, and not just the passport, as proof of citizenship, for insurance, for the Department of Motor Vehicles, for sport travel team purposes, and for other situations. State and CIS noted again that both are proof of citizenship, but the CoC never expires. I noted also that the CoC is issued by the Department of Homeland Security, and the passport by the State Department. The two databases are not shared, and increasingly the CoC seems to be requested as proof of citizenship. I have written about this issue multiple times as well; information is available here.

A caller from the Korean adoptee group also-known-as asked if there is a clear set of guidelines for adoptees to use in order to get citizenship, beyond sending an email to the State Department. CIS said there are resources available on-line, and suggested that folks should also consult an immigration attorney.

The caller then suggested a case management system for adult adoptees trying to get citizenship, which I think would be a great idea. My take: State and CIS provides resources to Adoption Service Providers and adoptive parents–why not equal resources for adoptees, who are Adoption Services Recipients?

I had the sense, listening to this caller, that he was asking specifically about adult adoptees, but that State and CIS were responding as if to an adoptive parent. State and CIS referred the caller to their website for Adoption News information for adopted children. They said there is a list of low-cost and no cost attorneys, and that there is a CIS office in almost every state. They provided a CIS phone number to call: 877-424-8374, which is the National Benefits Center.

They noted that most legal issues are handled by the Department of Homeland Security, and not so much by State. That is certainly true, as it is officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which falls under DHS, that are in the news for deportation raids and other actions.

An adopted person from Haiti called in, asking when adoptees stop being adoptees. She noted that she is in her late 30’s, and when she is dealing with immigration issues, it is as if she is coming to the U.S. for the first time, not as someone who was adopted as a child by U.S. citizens. Her experience has been that immigration officers often do not understand adoption, or the experiences of internationally adopted adults, and often are unable to help.

The caller also asked about post-adoption reports: Were they supposed to be from adoptive parents or from the adopted persons themselves? My take: I’m pretty certain the caller knew that post-adoption reports are to come from parents, but her point in suggesting that adoptees submit post-adoption reports is an excellent one. It would be great if both the U.S. government and the sending countries were genuinely open to receiving such reports, if not in fact making them mandatory.

Information on post-adoption reports to the State Department is available here.

I welcome comments and responses, especially from others who listened in or participated on the call.

9 thoughts on “State Department/CIS Stakeholder Call on Adoptee Citizenship Issues

  1. Sara has since been given an individual contact within USCIS as an escalation path for her own specific case, but ICAV and ARC still have an outstanding action item from DOS to provide us with her equivalent within USCIS to whom we can liaise directly with about Citizenship issues specfic to intercountry adoptees. To date, we still have not had any commitment from DOS as to “when” this might happen which was why we decided to jump on that call with USCIS and see if we could request this ourselves – but we were sidelined yet again. So our next step will be to see whether the Special Advisor for Children’s Issues will be an advocate for adult intercountry adoptees and help facilitate communication with the correct Govt stakeholders like USCIS and ICE. DOS told us in the very first meeting which I minuted, that these Post Adoption issues are out of their jurisdiction.

  2. USDOS & USCIS Teleconf 18 Sept 2pm EDT (19 Sept 4am AEST) as pertaining to the US Citizenship Issues raised by intercountry adoptees.
    Adoptees who attended:
    Sara, Maline, Lynelle, Joey, Michael, Jenette, Ella,

    Handed to Kerri (USCIS) for Updates
    When a family dissolves the adoption before applied for citizenship, is there a length of time before the child can complete the citizenship .. ?
    Julie Farnham from Field Offices at USCIS answering
    Child isn’t eligible until 2yrs into the adoption – the nationality act requires the child to have 2yrs in adoptive family before applying for Citizenship
    Clarification of Proof of Citizenship; concerns for proof of Citizenship
    USCIS .. no federal law that shows we have to bar proof of citizenship or a certificate of citizenship ..
    US passport is proof of citizenship and you can refer questions to us whether a passport is proof or not; we have info on the DOS website to indicate this both COC and Passport is proof.
    Can USCIS website be updated for expat families to better understand the path for Citizenship – There is a page on the USCIS page and drafting new page with updated language hope to have updated in a couple of weeks
    Dana Durea (DOS) gave an update on Kazakstan brief from DOS
    Sara (ARC) .. adoptees left out of child citizenship act .. explains her situation ..Struggling without citizenship and undocumented .. Asking for Immigration to handle our cases .. I’m currently not allowed to call Immigration to ask about my case .. my mum is allowed; I am considered undocumented in the USA; asking what can be done to have an ongoing conversation with Immigration .. we get deported
    We have been actively pushing at Washington DC level to introduce the Bill .. but it’s a long drawn out process .. How can Immigration handle our cases differently
    Kerri (USCIS) replying .. she wants Sara’s contact details .. Trish is advising she doesn’t have it but to send it DoS email ..
    Sara says – So much miscommunication .. lack of urgency .. Asking for somebody to step up
    Trish says she (DOS) is addressing this .. There are certain things that we can do but we rely on others … have offered to other adoptee groups to give us info so we can update our website properly ..
    Jenette Yamamoto (ACT USA) asks for stats of those without citizenship or deported ..
    Answer from Trish (DOS): No-one captures or keeps stats of children who are not US citizens
    Deportation stats might be with ICE ..
    Maureen Evans (adoptive mother) .. Why isn’t ARC known by USCIS; why is citizenship still controversial .. also asks why CoC preferred over a Passport and the implications ?
    Trish (DOS) says State Dept is aware of ARC .. The numbers cited of those without citizenship are not confirmed says Trish again .. she thinks it confuses the issue; points out CoCs don’t expire whereas Passports do; Trish says she is happy to have as many conversations about Citizenship .. Passport from Dept of State, CoC from Dept of Homeland
    Kerri Rankin (USCIS) refers us to the website again: right hand column about Citizenship shows 2 ways to get proof of Citizenship; the passport or CoC
    Michael Mullen (President of AKA) .. is there a clear set of steps for adult adoptees to have who don’t have citizenship .. the email address at DOS is a very indirect way to have help .. what are the scope of options for these adoptees?
    Kerri (USCIS).. the website has a lot of info avail and every situation is nuanced .. important to read the information with a case in mind. We often recommend seeking advice from Immigration attorneys but we can’t give legal advice .. looking for ways to improve and add ways to the website ..
    Michael points out that we want a point of contact .. our cases require followup .. could we see something more like a case management system .. want guidance to a good outcome.
    Julie from Field Operations (USCIS) answers .. website .. if adoptees review their situation against the information covered and still don’t know what to do .. there are a few options: we can’t give legal advice .. but we have a list of low cost/no cost attorneys who are recommended and can give suggestions; other options are to go to local USCIS office – almost every state has one; speak to an actual immigration officer and see if you can get assistance .. call our 1800 number .. if still having difficulties, go to the NBC.adoption@uscis.dhs.gov or call on 1877 424 8374
    if really complicated go seek legal advice from one of the providers
    Trish (DoS): we have very limited jurisdiction; we are saying it’s important and trying ..
    Maline (ARC) .. when do adoptees stop being adoptees? the entire process has been a complete headache for something I didn’t choose .. being treated as if I was never adopted by citizens ..
    Noone at USCIS answers this and acknowledge it is a good question.
    Maline asking .. file for a CoC or N400? .. which is better? is there a way to update onto the website?
    They understand all the facts of your case and why one route might be more appropriate than another ..
    Maline asks where are the Post Reports, mentioned earlier, coming from? adoptees themselves, agencies, or adoptive parents .. ??
    Trish (DOS) advises the report is coming from adoptive parents as required by some countries to report on the well being of the child. Trish acknowledges they’ve never thought of having the adoptees themselves providing this report. Some reports go via the agency others go direct .. depends on the country ..
    Maline points out the language needs to change on websites when referrign to adoptees .. to include children & adults .. we are not children forever!
    Kerri (USCIS) says first time we’ve heard this raised .. something we can take into consideration on their website.
    Trish ends on answering some other emailed questions.
    Time up ..

  3. The adoptees who participated did so as a result of ICAV and ARC working together on our first private meeting with DOS that I already published. The outstanding item that DOS had committed to was to allow us a forum whereby we could speak directly with USCIS about the US Citizenship issue. We were frustrated by this call which you attended and thanking you immensely for your support! The reason being, adoptees were again given the same “find information on our website” and no personal specific contact given to us to escalate issue to, or to offer to work closer with them on improving processes that intercountry adoptees have to go thru’.

    https://intercountryadopteevoices.com/2017/08/05/meeting-with-usdos-icav/
    We all were on the call this time, but give no roll call was ever done, DOS and USCIS never knew who we were or what we were representing. In totaly, we had 7 intercountry adoptees calling in. Our meeting minutes have been published within ICAV but we are happy to share them here. I’ll post it separately to my comments here.

    ICAV will continue to pursue this at US Govt level, pushing the DOS to fulfil their commitment as per their role as Central Authority to help us connect with the correct Departments and facilitate our voices being heard. We are not going away.

  4. Will there be a follow up call?

    People have been deeply affected. In my case my parents failed to file through inmigration after adoption. It didn’t matter to me since I was given a social security and a foreign birth certificate with the seal of Illinois. I could work and drive. I got married and had kids.

    It all feel apart when I went on a vacation trip and was not allowed back into the country. Because I had no papers with inmigration. I was adopted as a child and I was brought in with a tourist visa.

    Of course I have to pay child support and if I am not on top of it, I will lose driving priviliges. Right?

    Well everything would make sense if I was allowed back into the country with some kind of legal status and be able to work.

    Instead I am working in Mexico earning pesos and have to turn my money into dollars to keep on providing for my children through child support payments.

    I haven’t failed to pay child support weekly in the past three years and had to give a 10 thousand dollar payment. Of course, I am not able to see my children nor I have any kind of rights towards them because I am not in the US nor I am a resident or a citizen.

    If I am lucky their mom will let me speak to them once a week.

    Thank god I have been able to make a living but who is gonna give me back all of those years being apart of my children.

    It doesn’t make sense at all.

    Hopefully you guys can expose my case to consolidate this act which is fair for all people who were brought into the US to be adopted and have a better life.

    ARC is aware of my case.

  5. I suggest the adoptee groups submit a formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for numbers of individuals who have entered the US under the premise of adoption but have not actually received citizenship. They may need an immigration attorney to help formulate the exact criteria of the request, but USCIS will be legally required to respond. Then they can no longer say they don’t have the Metrics.

    • Thank you. I appreciate the suggestion, and I have a response to it. The downside potentially could be giving CIS and the Department of Homeland Security a database that includes adoptees who could be deported or be charged with crimes, such as those who registered to vote not knowing they were not citizens, or who have some offense that would render them deportable. At the end of the day, I’m not sure exact numbers matter. We all know there are likely thousands of adoptees who need and deserve citizenship. They entered the US legally, with the oversight and permission of the US and the sending country, as the sons and daughters of US citizens. Once they are given a path to citizenship, we will know the numbers for certain. I’d welcome your and others’ thoughts on this. Thanks again.

  6. This was a perfect summary and compilation of the call on Monday at 2pm EST. I was also on the call as you know and I was completely surprised at some of the lack of answers and inconsistencies coming from those in charge.

    • Thanks very much. Having your voice in the conversation matters a great deal. We all need to keep sharing information and making sure everyone–all the stakeholders–have a seat at the table, especially on issues of citizenship.

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