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.

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.