Yes, the United States of America has welcomed thousands of children for international adoption. Americans love the stories of the orphans rescued, lives saved, futures secured.
The United States of America is also fine with deporting international adoptees, dumping them back to countries where they don’t speak the language and have no job, family, or friends.
Some talking points about deported international adoptees:
- They entered the USA legally with the paperwork, oversight, and approval of the sending country and the United States.
- They were legally adopted by at least one U.S. citizen; often both parents were U.S. citizens. Many were adopted by U.S. military officers or veterans.
- They were over 18 years old when the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) of 2000 was passed, which granted citizenship only to adoptees 18 and younger. International adoption began in the US in the 1940’s and 50’s; thousands of adoptees who were adopted in the decades before the CCA were excluded from acquiring automatic citizenship.
- The responsibility for citizenship is with the adoptive parents, not with the minor child being adopted. Adoption agencies share some responsibility for ensuring that the children they have placed acquire citizenship, even if the agency is not legally required to do so.
Why didn’t the parents get citizenship for their adopted children? There are many possible reasons. They didn’t know they were supposed to do so. They thought citizenship was automatic. They filed the papers but not correctly. The U.S. government made errors on the paperwork. The parents were estranged from their children, or abusive toward their children, and decided not to follow through with citizenship.
Why don’t the adoptees just file for citizenship as adults? If (and it’s a big If) they know they are not citizens, and they are over 18, they can file for naturalization. It is a lengthy, expensive process, and many adoptees do not have the documents required to file. The parents might have lost, thrown out, or misplaced the documents. The parents may have died, and no one knows where the documents are. The parents may refuse to give the documents to the adoptee.
Why would an adoptee get deported? Adoptees who cannot prove citizenship can be deported if they commit a crime. The type of crime can be relatively minor or a serious felony; that determination often depends on state law. It’s a felony for non-citizens to vote in elections (even if they don’t know they are not citizens). Adoptees have been subject to deportation for writing bad checks, burglary, firearms possession, marijuana possession, and so on.
If they commit a crime, shouldn’t they be punished? Of course. If an adoptee commits a crime and is convicted, they should serve their time—just like any American, like any family member.
They should not though then be deported. Deportation of a legally adopted person should not be allowed by the United States. It is unethical, inconsistent with the values of “family,” and is a slap in the face of the adoption community.
Do adoptees subject to deportation get legal representation? Yes. That’s a basic tenet of our judicial system. The reality is that many adoptees are inadequately represented, because knowledge of adoption law and of immigration law are not always part of an attorney’s expertise, including public defenders. Some adoptees, after serving their sentence, are then detained by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) for long periods of time without a trial. Some give up. Some have great difficulty hiring and paying for an attorney who can actually represent them effectively. Some get terrible advice from their lawyers, who may not have any familiarity with the adoption laws in place at the time the adoptee entered the country (in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, etc.). Some are detained for months far from family. Some give up hope.
Once deported, it can be near impossible for an adoptee to find an attorney who will take a case pro bono. Most adoptees have great difficulty finding legal work once deported: they don’t speak the language, they don’t know the culture, they have trouble getting legal permits.
Once deported, the adoptees, welcomed as cute children at the airport with balloons and happy smiles, receive no help or support from the US government, including at the US Embassy. They have to depend on family and friends back home, and on strangers in the country.
Once deported, they cannot receive Social Security, even if they earned it for years, nor Medicare nor Medicaid. Many older deported adoptees have serious medical issues for which getting treatment is difficult.
Many deported adoptees go into deep depression, experience tremendous loneliness, and feel forgotten by the country they love and grew up in. Many feel forgotten by family and friends, and many are correct about that.
Why doesn’t Congress help them?
Strong anti-immigrant views have been pervasive in our U.S. Congress for decades. International adoptees, fairly or unfairly, enter the U.S. as immigrants, with all the legally required paperwork. I would argue that adoptees, as children being adopted by US citizens, should be considered separately. This is admittedly a controversial position in the immigration community and in Congress.
Why has Congress has failed to pass an Adoptee Citizenship Act that would grant citizenship to adoptees not included under the 2000 CCA?
Congress has failed to do this for years, since 2015 at least. Beyond the sweeping anti-immigrant feelings, here are some reasons:
- Some Members of Congress don’t consider adoptees to be real members of a family, and thus may feel it’s no big deal to deport them.
- Some Members of Congress don’t recognize or don’t care that international adoptees did not have agency in being brought to this country, nor in their acquisition of citizenship, despite being adopted with all the required paperwork and government approval.
- Some Members of Congress are afraid of a slippery slope of “illegal immigrants” being allowed to remain in the US.
- Some Members of Congress have no sense of ethics, nor an understanding of adoption.
- Some Members of Congress feel if someone has committed a crime, then deportation is what they deserve, regardless of how they arrived in the US.
I struggle with this question, to be honest. I’d love to hear someone explain it to me in a way that shows honor and decency on the part of our Congress.
That said, I am grateful to those in Congress who have sponsored adoptee citizenship legislation, and who recognize it as fair and appropriate. I wish there were more of them with the courage and patriotism to do so.