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.