International Adoptees (Immigrants): Proving Citizenship for Social Security

Yesterday a 28-year-old international adoptee went to the Social Security Administration (SSA) office to get a replacement Social Security card. The worker there told her that she was not listed as a U.S. citizen according to Social Security. What? She has a passport and a Certificate of Citizenship, and has been a citizen for decades.

The situation was resolved easily with the passport, and the SSA now considers her to be an American citizen. She will get her replacement Social Security card in a couple of weeks.

Still, it was a surprise, that a major U.S. federal agency did not know that someone with a U.S. passport and a Certificate of Citizenship had been a citizen for years.

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Adoptive parents and internationally adopted adults: Unless you show proof, the SSA may not know you’re a citizen. While it might not complicate things like the paperwork for college, financial aid, citizenship verification for jobs, tax matters–it surely could.

A few thoughts:

  •  You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to get a Social Security number. A Social Security number does not prove or mean citizenship, though you do have to be in the U.S. legally (or born here) to get one. The SSN is primarily for job/salary/ income tax purposes. International adoptees, as children, can get social Security numbers prior to citizenship by showing their adoption records. Information from SSA is available here.
  • The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 made citizenship automatic for international adoptees under 18 who arrived in the U.S on an IR-3 visa; they receive their CoC automatically. Those who arrive on an IR-4 visa receive a “Green Card” and are lawful permanent residents who must complete their adoption in their state, and then will receive the CoC. You can read more about the process from the State Department site here.
  • When an adoptee becomes a citizen, or more precisely, has proof of citizenship, he or she needs to show that proof to the SSA, in order that the SSA lists the adoptee as a citizen for its purposes. The passport or Certificate of Citizenship (CoC) will work, and can brought in or mailed to the SSA office. I’d be nervous about mailing a passport or a CoC, but I recognize that a second trip (after initially applying for the Social Security card) to an SSA office can be time-consuming and difficult for some folks.
  • When the proof of citizenship has been seen by the SSA, the SSA will confirm in its records that the person is indeed a U.S. citizen.
  •  Federal government agencies do not appear to share databases (Department of State and Department of Homeland Security, for example). Federal, state, and local government agencies often use different policies and databases for proving citizenship and verifying identity.

That last point is important. As kids grow up, they need different paperwork for school, college, sports, internships, travel, and jobs. All adoptees should have proof of their citizenship. Adoptees who were over 18 when the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) became law because and so did not qualify for citizenship under the CCA should definitely make sure they have proof, since they are subject to deportation if they are not citizens. The Certificate of Citizenship, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, is considered by many to be the gold standard for proving citizenship. One government agency might accept a drivers’ license, and another might insist on a passport. Another might use the Department of Homeland Security database and only accept the Certificate of Citizenship. Different states have different requirements and databases.

Government paperwork has a lot of permutations: U.S. birth certificates are issued to international adoptees, listing adoptive parents as the ones who gave birth, and are not proof of citizenship; the certificates are legal fictions. Drivers’ licenses from some states will  no longer be accepted for airline travel in years to come: you will need REAL ID. Who knows how citizenship identity requirements will change in the future, for immigrants, for international adoptees–for everyone? I strongly recommend getting your paperwork house in order.

 

The deadline to apply for the Certificate of Citizenship before it doubles in price is December 23, by the way. I’ve written about it here: Internationally Adopted Children in Our Anti-Immigrant Culture. Info about the increase is here.

 

 

 

 

 

More Progress on Adoptee Citizenship Legislation

There may be some more light in the tunnel for international adoptees in the form of U.S. citizenship. Legislation was introduced June 10 by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), and co-sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), on the House side (H.R. 5454), to provide retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. The bill is companion legislation to S. 2275, introduced on the Senate side by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) last fall. Both bills have been referred to their respective Judiciary Committees. Next steps could be hearings in those committees, though nothing has been scheduled yet. These bipartisan bills represent significant progress on citizenship for all international adoptees. The work is not done yet by any means, but having bills on both the Senate and House side is significant.

In a press release, Rep. Smith said “Adopted individuals should not be treated as second class citizens just because they happened to be the wrong age when the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 was passed.” You can read the entire press release here.

Today is the second Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) Day of Action, and international adoptees and allies are on Capitol Hill to advocate for passage of the legislation. The first Day of Action was on April 19. The National Korean American Service and Education Consortium is among the leaders of today’s event. Their press release includes this story:

“Kris, an adoptee from Washington who is impacted by the ACA, said: ‘The US is my home and I am an American citizen of the United States, even if a piece of paper says otherwise. I attended college, raised 2 children, and paid my taxes as a citizen. I worked for Fortune 500 companies as a highly successful database engineer and project analyst. Now I am in a precarious state and am concerned about my citizenship and employment status. I was born in Vietnam and was to be brought to the United States with other children through the Operation Babylift during the Vietnam War. My parents who are U.S. citizens were stationed there at Anderson Airforce Base in Guam while volunteering for the Red Cross and adopted me in 1975. Somehow, my adoption paperwork was lost during the naturalization process. My parents thought the process had been completed, as there was no indication of a problem. This loophole needs to be fixed for the thousands of others who are living, like me, without citizenship.'”

It seems amazing that, for decades, international adoptees were not granted automatic citizenship when they were adopted by U.S. citizens and arrived in the U.S. You can learn more here.

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Some folks might forget that international adoptees are immigrants, with all the complexity that immigration involves. I urge all adoptees and their families to make sure they have a Certificate of Citizenship. A passport is a limited means of proving citizenship, can expire, and is issued by the U.S. State Department, The Certificate of Citizenship is issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and does not expire. State and Homeland Security use separate databases, and so having a passport may not be adequate proof of citizenship for some purposes.

You may never need the CoC. I get that. But the parents of deported adoptees (those convicted of a felony and without citizenship) probably never envisioned their children subject to deportation either. Nor, of course, did the adoptees themselves, including those who have been deported to Germany, Korea, Brazil, and elsewhere, who are sitting in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, or who are unable to vote or get financial aid because they have no proof of citizenship. Why risk it?

 

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.

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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.