KAAN, NAKASEC, Adoptee Citizenship, and a GoFund Me

The time is long overdue for the passage of adoptee citizenship legislation, and, as understandably tired as some folks are, we need to gear up more than ever.

Action steps:

(1) See how you can help via Adoptees for Justice. You can click on the QR code in the photo below, which shows Jimmy Byrne, a Korean adoptee who spoke about citizenship at the 2023 KAAN conference.

Photo Description : The photo shows Jimmy Byrne, a Korean adoptee wearing glasses, on a panel at the KAAN conference. There is a QR code on the screen behind him, which has information about the work of Adoptees For Justice.

(2) Support deported adoptees, like Mike Davis. Any and all help is deeply appreciated. Please donate; please share the link.

Photo Description: This is a photo of Mike Davis, an Ethiopian adoptee, on the GoFundMe page that hopes to raise money for Mike’s legal costs so he can return to the United States.
He was deported to Ethiopia in 2005.

Some background info for this post: About a week ago I attended the national conference of KAAN, the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network. This was the second time I had attended this conference, and, as before, I was presenting a workshop with the wonderful Astrid Castro and Shelise Gieseke of Adoption Mosaic. I also attended several great workshops presented by others.

One was on Adoptee Citizenship, presented by folks from Adoptees for Justice and NAKASEC, the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium. Both groups have been working on the issue of citizenship for many years, including citizenship for international adoptees.

Adoptees from South Korea make up the largest and now oldest group of international adoptees. As such, they have been active in advocacy work for decades, in South Korea and in their adoptive countries. Around 200,000 South Korean children have been brought to the Unites States for adoption; some 18-20,000 of that group are estimated to be without U.S. citizenship. Some have been deported; some do not know they are not citizens. Some are working on getting through the naturalization process.

The NAKASEC and KAAN efforts are not only for Korean adoptees. Adoptees for Justice (A4J), which has connections with NAKASEC and KAAN, is working for all international adoptees, advocating for full and retroactive citizenship.

At the KAAN workshop, the presenters talked about the legislative history of trying to get citizenship enacted. It seemed possible at the end of the last Congress, but failed again, probably for many reasons. I speculate on some of them here. Certainly there was a lot of time, energy, advocacy, prayers, and hope that went into the effort.

Advocates are working on citizenship legislation in the current session of Congress. It won’t be easy, with so much anti-immigrant sentiment and the upcoming elections. Groups like A4J (and I’m sure other groups) are looking at a variety of strategies, such as state and local government resolutions.

Please contact your legislators. Ask them to support citizenship for all international adoptees. Please help deported adoptees. Please spread the word that deported adoptees deserve to come home, and that all international adoptees deserve citizenship. Many thanks.

The Shameful Reality of America’s Deportation of Adoptees

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 timeā€”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.

The Loneliness of Deported Adoptees

A favor: please keep in mind the many deported adoptees who are alone in a country with which they have little connection. They were adopted by U.S. citizens and raised in America, the place they call home.

They didn’t get U.S. citizenship, due to their adoptive parents not completing the process, or to bureaucratic snafus, or to some other reason beyond their control: they were children when they were adopted into what was supposed to be a “forever family.”

Some adoptees have been shocked to find out, as adults, that they could not prove they were American citizens. While citizenship was granted to international adoptees 18 and younger in 2000, there are estimated thousands who are now in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and older who may not even know they aren’t legal citizens.

And some have been deported, to countries where they don’t know anyone, don’t know the language, are unable to get work, and get little help from anyone.

They are lonely. Some of the older ones have serious health issues, like gout and diabetes, with little access to medications or medical care. They are not eligible for Social Security (regardless of how much they paid into it) or Medicare. They don’t speak the language, and they often have difficulty fitting in or finding a community.

Keep them in your heart, would you? Many feel forgotten. They left their original countries as little children, brought to America and (we hope) an adoptive family that loved them and kept them safe. Some deported adoptees married and have children they haven’t seen for years, and possibly never will again. I know one adoptee who has never met his own grandchildren. Some haven’t seen their siblings or parents or friends for decades, and every day can be very hard.

International adoptees should NOT be subject to deportation. It was not their fault that they did not get citizenship as children, when they were brought legally here to the U.S. (It is very hard for them to gain citizenship once they are adults.)

It’s their loneliness that haunts me, and keeps me advocating for legislation that will allow them to come home.

Meanwhile, please do not forget them.

Deported Adoptees: NAAM

This is day 17 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

Most people, when they think of international adoption, think of cute little babies and children (mostly Black and Brown) arriving at the airport and then living forever with their loving adoptive American families.

They don’t think of an 8-year-old Korean boy abused repeatedly by his adoptive father, who chained the boy outside on a dog’s metal leash stake and beat him, then locked him back in the closet where he was given bread and water. The boy grew up and served in the U.S. military, including a tour in Kuwait, defending America’s interests.They don’t think of the 10-year-old Ethiopian boy adopted by an American soldier, a single dad. who brought the boy to the US where he had his own pizza business as a young man. They don’t think of the 6-year-old boy from Morocco who grew up in the South and now speaks with a Texas drawl. And they don’t think of the little girl born in Jamaica whose leg was amputated due to cancer when she was in high school. All of them have been deported back to their birth countries, because they are not, to their surprise, U.S. citizens, despite having entered the country legally as the children of U.S. citizens.

Mike Davis, adopted from Ethiopia in 1976, deported in 2005. His wife and children live in the U.S.

The rest of the story here is that they, as many young Americans have, committed crimes and then served their time in U.S. jails or prison boot camps. Unlike the biological children born here, the adoptees were deported because, through no fault of theirs, they had not been given citizenship. The wrong paperwork was filed, or their parents thought they had automatic citizenship, or someone (not the adoptee) dropped the ball and maybe didn’t even realize it until too late.

Imagine being 30 or 40 years old, and suddenly ending up in a country where you don’t speak the language, can’t get an ID, can’t get a job, and have no family or friends. That soldier who served in Kuwait ate garbage for a few weeks after he arrived in South Korea, living under a bridge for weeks. He’s now 50 years old, rejected by his birth country for not being Korean enough, and by the U.S., for not being American enough.

Also-Known-As, an adoptee-founded, adoptee-led nonprofit, is among the organizations working to change this. They recently held an online event “Deported, Not Forgotten,” where four adoptees talked about their lives before and after deportation.

Also-Known-As created this brief YouTube video so you can hear their voices and see their faces. Listen to them tell their stories.

Then contact your Congressional representatives and Senators and ask them to sponsor the Adoptee Citizenship Act. You can find information here via the Adoptee Rights Law Center, which is led by an adult adoptee.

Advocating for citizenship for all international adoptees will take only a few minutes.

Also, if you can, please donate to the fundraiser for deported adoptees. Any amount will help, of course. $25 could pay an adoptee’s Internet for a month. $900 could pay for an airplane ticket so a wife, son, daughter, or sibling can visit their family member. Imagine the psychological and emotional hardships of being sent away from the country you thought was yours; the financial hardships are tremendous as well.

If you support adoption, and believe in National Adoption Awareness Month, help pass the Adoptee Citizenship Act for all adoptees, and also donate to support those who have been deported.

International Adoptee Adam Crapser Sues His Adoption Agency for Negligence And Fraud

Adam Crapser, adopted from South Korea to the US, had a horrible, abusive childhood that involved two sets of adoptive parents, neither of which ever got him citizenship. He was deported to South Korea after serving time for criminal charges. He is now suing Holt Children’s Services and the government of South Korea for gross negligence, fraudulent paperwork, and failure to adequately screen adoptive parents.

The amount of money Adam is seeking is relatively negligible ($177,000). The case could take years to get through South Korean courts. According to the AP article, Adam “said the amount of money is less important than forcing Holt and the government into a courtroom to face questions of accountability.”

Adam Crapser in Seoul, per AP https://www.apnews.com/12472d8f87944f12ae63f74a2829a410

And that may well be the most pivotal outcome of this suit: adoption agencies looking at their accountability, rather than their good intentions, and hopefully creating a dialogue with adoptees about their practices, services, and outcomes. For far too long, adoptees have been considered solely as children, despite the fact they grow up. For far too long, adoption has been considered with fairy tale wistfulness, romanticized and glossed over, the traditional narrative being win-win-win. Yes, adoption can be positive. Yes, everyone’s experience varies. Still, for far too long, there have been not just whisperings but lawsuits regarding fraud, corruption, and negligence in adoption. We are beginning to see the next wave of adoption awareness, as voiced by adoptees themselves.

I am not aware of adoptees who have sued their adoption agency, though I’ve long thought that the possibility was genuine. A class action suit would not surprise me, Adoptive parents have sued agencies multiple times, often for fraud. There have been cases of adoptees who have annulled their adoptions.

I wrote in Slate about Adam Crapser. I’ve been writing about the need for citizenship for all adoptees for years. The Adoptee Rights Campaign has been actively working on legislation to get citizenship for ALL international adoptees. There will be, once again, legislation introduced in Congress to achieve this: it’s been a struggle.

Of course, the struggle has been extremely difficult for international adoptees deported from the US to their original countries, places where they don’t speak the language, have no family or friends, and are utterly alone. Joao Herbert was killed in Brazil. Philip Clay died by suicide in Korea. Deported adoptees, adopted by American families ostensibly forever, are living in Germany, Guatemala, India, Costa Rica, and elsewhere. They truly deserve better, and it is shameful that the US government has for years allowed adoptees to be deported. These adoptees were brought here with the oversight of the US and the sending government and legally adopted by US citizens.

Adoptive parents, make sure you have all possible citizenship documents for your children, especially if they are minors. Immigration laws are in flux: protect your children fully. Adoptees, make sure your papers are in order.

Melanie Chung Sherman, a therapist and international adoptee, shared this on her Facebook page:

“I strongly encourage international adoptees over the age of 18 years old to obtain your original (not just a copy), file in a safe and secure place, OR (at a minimum) ensure that you know who and how to access the following (each birth country will have different documents that I have not listed):

–US Naturalization/Certificate of Citizenship
–US Passport
–Birth Country Passport (when you immigrated to the U.S. through international adoption)
–US Visa Approval papers
–Alien registration number 
–Adoption Finalization Decree 
–SSN card
–Amended birth certificate 
–Copy of birth certificate given by birth country
–Court papers from birth country
–Social history/referral papers (these will have the name of the agency/caseworkers/representatives in your adoption)

Far too many international adoptees do not know these documents exist. Many have been openly denied access by their adopt parents well into adulthood. Many have learned that their documents were lost, destroyed or incomplete. 

International adoptees will need their documents to prove citizenship as well as the fact that they were adopted and immigrated through international adoption. 

These documents are more than just legal papers, but a connection to their story and sense of self. It is a generational connection should they become parents and grandparents to their history as well. These documents are property of an adoptee’s life.”

My thanks to Melanie, and my best wishes to Adam for an appropriate outcome to the absurdity of his deportation. I think about the many deported adoptees often, and about those who are without citizenship here in the US. I can only imagine the conversations going on in adoption agencies and among adoptive parents.

It is past time to drop the aged adoption narrative. We must listen to adult adoptees.