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.

 

 

 

 

Does Our US Congress Believe in Adoption?

If they did, the Adoptee Citizenship Act  (S. 2275) would have already passed.

If they believe that adoption is a way that children become part of forever families, there should be no hesitation to support this bill.

If they have ever supported the need for orphans to have families, they should pass this bill.

If they have children and grandchildren they love, they should pass this bill.

Thousands of children were adopted to the US for decades. Some of their American parents failed to get them citizenship. It was not the failure of the adoptees, who came here with the full oversight and the permission of the US government.

The Adoptee Citizenship Act would give retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees brought to the US prior to 2000.

Why is guaranteeing US citizenship for internationally adopted children even an issue?

A small percentage of those adoptees whose parents failed to get them citizenship have gotten into trouble with the law, served their time, and are now subject to deportation, due to an immigration law that should never have included adoptees. Some have been deported. At least one has died after having been deported.

Some in our Congress believe that if an adoptee is convicted of a crime, and serves his time in jail, it is okay to then deport him forever out of the US. That perspective tells us that they do not believe in the integrity and value of adoption.

The bottom line: In failing to support this bill, members of Congress are saying that adoptees–who were promised a forever family, who arrived here legally as the children of American parents–are not really genuine family members, and they thus can be deported. The US government approved the international adoption. The US government should now approve citizenship for all international adoptees.

Many children of our Congressional representatives and other elected officials have gotten into trouble with the law. I hope the children were treated fairly by our justice system and, if found guilty, served their time. I doubt the sons or daughters of our elected officials were then deported away from the only family they have ever known, forever. Adoptees should be treated fairly as well.

There are many adoptive parents and grandparents in our Congress, and many whose staff members have adopted or were adopted themselves. If they are not supporting this bill, they are saying, “It is okay to deport adoptees, because they are not really part of our family.” And that is just not true.

Adoptive parents and adoption agencies should promote this legislation and contact their Congressional representatives. The 161 members of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute–a third of our Congress–tout the value of permanency for children in need of parents, and celebrate Angels in Adoption. Every one of them should be demanding passage of this bill, saying it is long overdue, and it is right and fair for adoptees.

Ask your member of Congress: Do you believe in adoption? Then sponsor and vote for the Adoptee Citizenship Act.

You can find out who your Representatives and Senators are here. You can send a message about the Adoptee Citizenship Act here. Please contact them today.

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Light at the End of the International Adoptee Citizenship Tunnel

Adoptive parents and adoption agency professionals: Step up with adoptees. Insist on US citizenship for all international adoptees. Contact your Congressional representatives. Share this news.

There is now progress and hope that US citizenship will be granted to all international adoptees.

It comes as a shock to many people that, for decades, international adoptees were not granted automatic US citizenship. After all, the children were approved to leave from their country of origin for the purposes of joining US families as permanent legal family members. US agencies and the US government oversaw the process on this end, via paperwork, visas, and more paperwork.

However, until the year 2000, there was no automatic citizenship. If parents failed to file for their adopted children, the children were and are at jeopardy of having uncertain or no status in the US. Despite the intent of adoption–adopted children are part of the family, just like biological children of the parents, right?–and despite the various government approvals, some international adoptees never received citizenship.

Some found that out after they got into trouble with the law, served their time, and then were subject to deportation.

The sweet, cute children who pepper adoption agency ads and whose faces appear on adoption websites grow up. Some make terrible decisions. They deserve their day in court, and they deserve to be punished. They do not deserve to be deported, as adults, to countries to which they no longer have any connection: no language, no family, no friends, nothing, never to return to the US, the place that was supposed to be their forever home.

Many of us in the adoption community are hoping that this situation is about to change. S. 2275, the Adoptee Citizenship Act, has been introduced in the US Senate by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Dan Coates (R-IN), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). This is very good news.

The bill closes the loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000: it would give retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees regardless of when they were adopted. It is highly significant for thousands of adoptees who, through no fault of their own, were not given the citizenship promised to them by the US government, their adoptive parents, and adoption agencies. It’s significant for deported adoptees who’ve had to deal with a lot of struggles for, in many cases, minor mistakes. It’s the first US federal law that is being addressed, crafted, and pushed through the legislative process with huge adoptee leadership.

Please help with the effort to get this bill enacted.

Contact your lawmakers and tell them that they should support S. 2275 . You can do so quickly and easily via 18 Million Rising.

Spread the word. This is not a done deal. The bill has to get through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then must pass on the Senate floor. Please share this news, and encourage others to contact their Congressional representatives.

Many thanks to the adoptees and allies who have worked tirelessly on this legislation. Let’s get this done.

 

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Reflections on the American Adoption Congress Conference: Educate, Advocate, Legislate

I was in Cambridge, MA, recently for the national conference of the American Adoption Congress. Most of the people at the AAC conference looked like me, a white woman. I could easily have been mistaken for an adoptee from the Baby Scoop Era, or for a mother who placed a child during that time. Those two descriptions would fit most of the people there: adoptees or first/birth mothers. As an adoptive parent, I was in the minority. As a middle-aged white woman, I was in the majority.

The AAC has been around since the late 1970’s. Its legislative advocacy has been focused on open records/access to original birth certificates for adoptees. Some AAC members have been working on that goal for decades, and I am in awe of their dedication and determination. Certainly there has been major progress (see Ohio, most recently), though work remains to be done.

I first attended an AAC conference some 20 years ago, in Virginia, when Bill Pierce of the National Council For Adoption was still alive and intensely fighting open records. (This link is to all Bill’s NCFA files on closed records and more, papers which reside now at the University of Minnesota.) Bastard Nation was emerging. Activism then did not have the current (and relative) ease of social media.

Social media has of course changed everything in terms of advocacy, for open records and for many other important causes. One takeaway for me from the AAC conference was this: While opening adoption records and increasing access to original birth certificates remains a priority for AAC, the fight in state legislatures is slowly becoming moot. That’s not because more people are understanding the need for open records. It’s because Facebook is connecting adoptees and birth parents, and because old opponents of open records are retiring or dying. Also, technology around DNA is reducing the need for legislative access–people are finding their previously unknown family members via  databases (genetic genealogy) such as Family Tree DNA, 23andme, and ancestry.com.

Well.

That changes the landscape in a very big way, and suggests that the AAC conference slogan of “Educate, Advocate, Legislate” must open to new possibilities. The fight for open records on the state level remains, and is incredibly important. However, other issues in adoption are vital as well, though I heard about them mostly in conversations between sessions:

  • Rehoming of adopted children (US and international)
  • Retroactive citizenship for international adoptees
  • The adoption tax credit
  • Overhaul of the home study evaluation process
  • Support and resources for transracial adoptees, whether from the US or elsewhere
  • Support and resources for first/birth/original mothers and fathers
  • Support and resources for late discovery adoptees (I met three at the AAC conference, who had found out they were adopted at 18, 35, and 43 years of age.)

All of these are important, and deserve the time and attention of organizations like AAC and others. For what it’s worth, I don’t see these issues explicitly on the schedule for the June conference of the National Council For Adoption and the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. Hmm.

Beyond the policy and legislative actions, there are at least two additional related and complex issues must be addressed, openly and boldly, by all adoption-related organizations: racial realities in adoption and suicide in adoption.

Racial Realities in Adoption

The AAC appears to be making a solid effort at acknowledging transracial adoptees and interracial adoptive families. They have two transracial adoptees on their Board of Directors, Susan Harris O’Connor and Krista Woods. Two of the four keynote speakers were people of color: Rhonda Roorda and Rev. Dr. Nicholas Cooper-Lewter. One of the documentaries shown was You Have His Eyes, the story of transracial adoptee Chris Wilson. April Dinwoodie of the Donaldson Institute on Adoption presented a workshop called “What My White Parents Didn’t Know and Why I Turned Out Okay Anyway.” Mi Ok Bruining, a Korean adoptee, presented a workshop on “The Poetry of International Adoption.” Katherine Kim and Noel Cross facilitated a workshop on “Mixed Race Adoptees;” both are mixed race Korean adoptees. The Adoption Roundtable” featured 4 transracial adoptees. (The audience for this group was unfortunately quite small, though I get it. The potential audience might have been transracial adoptees and white adoptive parents. Neither group was significant in the conference attendees.)

The panel that got a large audience and generated a lot of conversation was “Lost Daughters: Diverse Narratives Within the Collective Adoptee Voice.” This panel included 10 of the women from the online writing collective Lost Daughters, and included same race and transracial infant adoptees, a Korean adoptee, an Ethiopian adoptee raised in Canada, a foster care transracial adoptee, and a Native American adoptee. Given that most of the AAC conference attendees are female adoptees and first mothers, it’s not surprising that the Lost Daughters panel was well-attended.

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The Lost Daughters panel at the 2015 American Adoption Congress conference

 

One of the panelists, Amira Rose, wrote a powerful article on the Lost Daughters site reflecting on her experience at the AAC conference. Her post, “Sight Unseen: Navigating Adoption Spaces as an Adoptee of Color,” is insightful, and invites thoughtful reflection.

My sense is that AAC is moving toward inclusion of adoptees and first mothers of color, and I hope they do so. The challenge is bringing people of color into a group with few people of color: who wants to be the “other,” the “only,” the token? (See Amira’s article above.) I recognize that it is my white privilege that suggests this be done, and that it could be. As the white adoptive parent of 4 black adoptees, I know there is much to be learned from adoptees and birth/first parents of color. We all need to be talking together about realities of race and racism.

Suicide in Adoption

This was not a topic of a panel or keynote, but it needs to be, and at every adoption-related conference. At the AAC conference, an adult adoptee from India talked about having been a mentor to a 16-year-old Indian adoptee who had recently committed suicide. Wrenching and heartbreaking. It’s so tempting to pause, provide sympathy, and then move on. And we can’t do that anymore. Trauma is part of adoption; depression is a reality for many people. Genetics can provide some clues, but too often adoptees do not know their own medical history. Adolescence for adoptees can be difficult in the best circumstances; add the intensity of current climate of bullying and racism, and it’s a dangerous world. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a report saying that adoptees are more likely to commit suicide than non-adoptees. I have known and heard of far too many adoptees, especially in their teens, who have considered, attempted, and committed suicide.

Educate, Advocate, Legislate. The AAC conference provided me with much food for thought (this is just a morsel), plus the joy of meeting old and new friends. I have little doubt that young adopted adults will lead the way in changing adoption policy, and I am heartened that first/birth parents are less marginalized as well. We adoptive parents need to be involved and engaged as well. And we all have to be unafraid of the hard conversations.

Update on Adam Crapser: Fairness and Justice for All International Adoptees

Who holds the power in international adoption: adoptive parents or adoptees? Let’s talk fairness and justice. A case study:

The adoptive parent serves 90 days of jail for horrific abuse of children. The adopted son serves 25 months in jail for burglary (no one was hurt), and then could be deported.

In 1991, adoptive father Thomas Crapser served 90 days after being convicted for 12 counts of cruelty and abuse of children. One of those children, Adam Crapser, got into trouble as a teen and adult, and spent 25 months in prison for burglary.

Adam now faces deportation, because he is not a US citizen. Adam is 40 years old, with a wife and children. He has served time for his crimes, and has worked hard to be a good, productive member of the community.

Thomas Crapser received no punishment at all for failing to get citizenship for his internationally adopted son Adam, who was among the children beaten, burned, clubbed, kicked, gagged, and worse. Thomas also received no punishment for refusing for years to give Adam the documents needed to obtain citizenship.

No one is condoning Adam’s crimes. But let’s be fair. Let’s consider justice: 90 days for horrific cruelty to children. 25 months for burglary and then, deportation.

What a message about international adoption, and what it means to be a “forever family” in the United States. Every adoptive parent should be speaking out about this.

Here’s an article about the 1991 arrest of adoptive parents Thomas and Dolly-Jean Crapser:

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1991 Arrest of Adam Crapser’s parents

According to a recent Columbian newspaper article: The state launched an investigation in June 1991. The Crapsers were arrested in September 1991 and initially charged with 34 counts of rape, sexual abuse and criminal mistreatment across six years. The case went to trial in Marion County Circuit Court in June 1992. Testimony reported in The Salem Statesman Journal was that eight children had been kicked, punched, gagged, bitten, burned, slammed into walls and beaten with garden tools and belts.

Convicted on 12 counts, Thomas Crapser was sentenced to 90 days in jail, a fine and probation; Dolly-Jean Crapser’s 90-day sentence was suspended, and she was ordered to perform community service. An investigation report had recommended years in prison for both. The state unsuccessfully appealed the sentences.

When Adam Crapser was about 4 years old, he was adopted to the US for a better life with a loving forever family. Well, no. He was adopted–twice–by cruel, abusive parents. He was separated from his sister, shuttled around foster care, and grew up knowing far more abuse than love or even safety. There is no doubt that our US child protection system failed Adam.

Among the parents’ cruelties was the fact that the Crapsers withheld Adam’s basic immigration/adoption documents from him. That’s not a crime as such, to refuse to give a child his legal documents. Nor is it a crime to fail to get citizenship for an internationally adopted child. That failure though can result in devastating consequences.

Growing up in troubled, abusive “families,” Adam made mistakes, for which he admits remorse and has served time.

Again according to the Columbian article, Adam Crapser said middle school bullying was so bad that he wound up lashing back and serving time in juvenile jail. By his late teens, he was living in a car and fending for himself.

Over the next couple of decades, he tried to live a good life, he said, but he racked up several more criminal convictions — starting with burglary for breaking back into the Crapser home to retrieve childhood keepsakes like his Korean Bible. For that, he spent 25 months in prison. Back outside and fearing for his safety, Crapser said, he got hold of a gun — strictly forbidden for a convicted felon — and wound up in prison again.

He decided he had to turn himself around. He studied cosmetology and auto mechanics. He earned his G.E.D. and worked as a collision-repair estimator. “I’ve worked so many jobs for 90 days at a time,” he said, because every employer faced a deadline to require proof of legal status. Crapser’s permanent legal status — his Green Card — had long since expired. He couldn’t get a new one without documents that he said the Crapsers withheld.

Once he did finally get the documents in 2012 and applied to renew his green card, Adam’s criminal convictions brought the possibility of deportation. Here in the US, convicted felons who are not US citizens can be deported. That possibility of deportation extends to international adoptees who were brought to the US, without having any choice or say in the matter, by legal US citizens, with the awareness and permission of their country of origin and of the United States government.

Internationally adopted children did not automatically receive US citizenship prior to 2000. Read more here.

Adam Crapser’s initial deportation hearing was held on April 2, and resulted in a continuation until June 18. You can learn more here in the UK’s Guardian, here on MSNBC, and here on CBS News. Google “Adam Crapser” and you will see many major and local news outlets featuring articles and interviews.

The international adoptee community has been tireless in its advocacy for Adam and for changes in citizenship laws, urging retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. Legislation is being proposed in the US Congress to correct the absurdity that children internationally adopted by US citizens do not receive US citizenship as part of their legal relationship with their family.

Fairness and justice.

 

 

The Deportation of International Adoptees Must Stop

Do you think that internationally adopted children should be considered genuine family members, with the rights and responsibilities of other children here in the US? The US Congress appears to disagree. If an adoptee’s parents fail to get citizenship for the child, current immigration law says that the child could be deported when he or she grows up.

Imagine a family which has two boys, one adopted and one biological. Imagine that the sons, as adults, are convicted of the same crime. Both are subject to the criminal justice system and serve their time. The adopted one could then be deported. This has to stop.

Until 2000, citizenship was not automatic for internationally adopted children, when the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) was signed into law. (There are still legal processes to follow, depending on the type of visa.) However, the CCA doesn’t protect those who were adopted prior to 2000, if their parents, for whatever reasons, did not get them citizenship.

Yes: an adoptee, legally brought to the US for adoption by US citizens, CAN BE DEPORTED, never to return to the US again.

Do you know anyone who has messed up and gotten caught smoking weed, or driving drunk, or writing a bad check, or punching someone? Maybe you, or a family member. Maybe your son or daughter has, or will someday.

What if the punishment included deportation, to a country thousands of miles away, where your child had no family or friends, didn’t know the language, and had been in only when he or she was a small child, even a baby?

Immigration laws passed some 20 years ago included provisions allowing deportation of non-US citizens for certain crimes, even after they served their time. International adoptees, brought here for purposes of adoption by US parents (forever families!), surely were not the intended targets of this policy. We all agree that people who commit crimes should be punished and serve their time. It is highly unfair, though, to further punish adoptees because their adoptive parents failed to get them citizenship.

Dozens of other adoptees have faced deportation, to Thailand, Guatemala, Korea, India, Germany, and elsewhere. I’ve written previously about this injustice in “All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees.”

Here are two examples. Joao Herbert was adopted at 8 years old from Brazil, and raised in Ohio by loving parents. Two months after his high school graduation, he sold 7.5 ounces of marijuana to a police informant. For that first time offense, because he had not been officially naturalized as a US citizen, he faced deportation.

From a Washington Post article subtitled “For Children Adopted From Abroad, Lawbreaking Brings Deportation:” Through the thick glass of the visitation cubicles at the county jail where he’d been held since last March, he’d plead with his mother: “I’m your son, right? They can’t take me away, can they? Show them the adoption papers.”

The adoption papers, though, didn’t matter. Joao was deported when he was 22, for the rest of his life. His life ended four years later, when he was shot and killed at 26 years old, in Campinas, Brazil. You can read more here.

Adam Crapser was adopted from Korea in 1979 when he was four years old. His first adoptive family in Michigan subjected him to sexual and physical abuse, and he was placed in foster care at eight years old.  When Adam was 11, he was adopted by the Crapser family in Oregon. Five years later, these adoptive parents accepted plea deals for sexual and physical abuse. You can imagine what Adam’s childhood was like. He talks about it in a Gazillion Voices podcast here. It’s heartbreaking. No child should endure what he went through.

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Childhood photo of Adam Crapser from Land of Gazillion Adoptees

Adam has committed crimes, including breaking into his adoptive parents’ home to get the Korean bible he arrived with. Neither of Adam’s adoptive families got US citizenship for him. Now he faces deportation, like Joao, to a country where he does not speak the language and has no friends or family. Now almost 40 years old, Adam is married and has children. He is remorseful for his crimes, and has served his time. It is an outrage that he should be deported.

You can read more about the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 here. It applies to adoptees who were under 18 as of February 27, 2001, when the law went into effect. For older adoptees, there is no automatic citizenship. Some find out when they go to register to vote or apply for college loans. Some find out when they have been convicted and served time–and are subject to deportation.

Adam has a deportation hearing on April 2. Please listen to the podcast, and share this post. Contact your federal representatives in Congress, and ask them to support an amendment to the Child Citizenship Act that so that adoptees are treated fairly, even if their parents failed to get US citizenship for their children.

Update: There is now a petition to request administrative closure on Adam’s deportation case, which would allow Adam to get his green card and move toward citizenship. Please learn more about this petition here. Already over 7,000 people have signed it, which is great news.

Adoptive families deserve to be treated like other families legally, and adoptees deserve to be treated like the family members they are–not perfect, but protected under the law.

Please help spread the word. Many thanks.

 

 

My Letter to Congressional Reps: Thank You for Not Co-sponsoring CHIFF

The fallout and division that is CHIFF did not have to happen. Tremendous common ground exists: who disagrees that children deserve safe, loving families?

Unfortunately, the folks who crafted CHIFF (Children in Families First, S. 1530 and H.R. 4143) did so in a vacuum, excluding significant constituents: international adoptees and original parents. That short-sighted decision has come back repeatedly to haunt them. Perhaps they felt the rhetoric of “children deserve families” is enough to bring everyone on board. It is not.

Instead, there is an increasing amount of pushback from many corners of the international adoption community, a mounting demand not for shallow rhetoric but for genuine, thoughtful policies that meet currently existing needs.

The legislation, introduced in the House over a year ago and the Senate 6 months ago, has failed to gain traction. It has incurred much controversy, perhaps due to its evangelical proponents, perhaps due to its many supporters who oppose gay people as adoptive parents, perhaps due to its unclear cost (a “modest portion” of $2 billion), perhaps due to its decision to censor those who disagree or question them, or perhaps due to the concern that aid provided by CHIFF to other countries will be tied to the country’s participation in intercountry adoption. For whatever reasons, it has been hammered from many sides, seemingly to the surprise of its supporters.

I’ve been among those criticizing CHIFF. I’m an adoptive parent, and I deeply believe that all children deserve families. I believe in adoption, when it is done in an ethical, transparent way that genuinely meets the needs of all involved, not just at placement, but over lifetimes.

Could this controversy, criticism, and lack of traction have been avoided? Perhaps, had CHIFF proponents reached out to the international adoption community in a meaningful way. Perhaps, had they held hearings on current, glaring needs of internationally adopted adults and children, and of marginalized international first parents. Perhaps, had they insisted on better pre- and post- adoption services, with equity, access, and affordability for everyone.

I am sending a letter to my US Senators and Representative, thanking them for not co-sponsoring CHIFF, explaining my concerns, and providing suggestions for better international adoption policies. Here it is:

As an adoptive parent, I want to thank you for not co-sponsoring the Children in Families First legislation (CHIFF, S. 1530 and
 H.R. 1403). CHIFF’s intent, from their web page, is this: “We protect children by preserving families, reunifying families or creating families through adoption.” Everyone agrees that children around the globe deserve safe, loving families: it’s a laudable goal. Family preservation, domestic adoption, and international adoption are ways to achieve that goal, especially for vulnerable children. I am the parent of four children through adoption: 2 sons from the US, twin daughters from Ethiopia. My children, all in their 20’s now, are my life’s greatest blessings.

CHIFF, unfortunately, ignores many important realities of international adoption.

It fails to include the voices of adult adoptees and of first/original international parents, the people affected most directly by this legislation and the most knowledgeable about international adoption and family preservation.  CHIFF proponents appear to have made no effort in seeking out these groups, especially prior to introducing the legislation. Indeed, the main supporters of the legislation (as listed on the CHIFF webpage) are adoption agencies and adoption attorneys, who have a significant economic stake in increasing the numbers of international adoption, and do not have expertise in family preservation. Internationally adopted adults and international first parents should have a significant place at the table of any international adoption policy. That is not the case with CHIFF.

Several current, glaring problems in the international adoption community must be solved before CHIFF is even considered.

One example is that the US government currently does not provide citizenship for all international adoptees. Adoptees who were brought to the US for the purpose of adoption by US citizens prior to 2000 have been deported to Brazil, Korea, India, Germany, and elsewhere. It is regrettable that CHIFF proponents, especially adoption agencies, have been unable to move the citizenship legislation, which would affect adoptees they placed years ago, and who are now promoting legislation to expand international adoption. I hope that all supporters of CHIFF would be deeply motivated to demand the US citizenship legislation for all adoptees now, in the name of fairness and integrity, and well before advancing an enormous piece of expensive, controversial legislation.

Another example that CHIFF does not address is the huge, gaping need for genuine, rigorous pre-adoption preparation, and for substantive, effective, accessible post-adoption counseling and resources here in the United States. Surely we can craft adoption policy far better than CHIFF, in terms of preparation and counseling of birth/first parents and of adoptive parents prior to adoption, and in terms of post-adoption resources and services for everyone. 

 I’d like to see some degree of equity in counseling and services (before and after placement) for international birth parents as compared to US adoptive parents. One possibility is re-vamping the US adoption tax credit as one means of doing this. No new money–just an equitable, sane distribution of revenue (billions of dollars) that the US federal government is already providing to adoptive parents. So far, the US has given some $7 billion in tax credits, primarily for international and private adoptions, and a fractional amount for the original intent of US foster care adoptions.

 A third example: CHIFF does not address the grim cloud of corruption and fraud over international adoption. Many US families have brought children to the US only to find out the children have families who wanted to keep them, but were trafficked or otherwise brought to the US in unethical circumstances. Adult adoptees have traveled back to their home countries and learned very different stories from what the agencies told their adoptive parents. 

CHIFF minimally acknowledges the corruption that exists in international adoption. The fraud and corruption should be acknowledged, researched thoroughly, and (ideally) eliminated.

 Fourth, CHIFF does not address the tragic and disturbing practice of “re-homing” here in the US, recently cited in Reuters’ articles, which looked at re-homing practices over 5 years. Better preparation and better post-adopt services (including respite, training, access to therapists who understand adoption, trauma, and related issues) surely would have prevented some of these complex cases.

 Fifth, while CHIFF does not meaningfully address current needs here in the United States regarding international adoption policy, it would use USAID and other taxpayer money to increase international adoptions, to create new bureaucracy within the State Department, and to establish new programs around the globe. The CHIFF web page is decidedly vague on the amount: “a modest part of $2 billion” is the amount listed.

Before anything like CHIFF goes forward, before we use additional funds and resources to increase the numbers of internationally adopted children, we need, at a minimum, the following:

▪                Good data, solid research, and substantive information about current realities in the US international adoption community.

▪                Good data, solid research, and substantive information about fraud and corruption in international adoption practices.

▪                Inclusion and buy-in from adult international adoptees and from international birth/original parents, and not solely from adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and adoption attorneys.

▪                Funding and training for pre-adoption and post-adoption resources that are effective and accessible.

▪                Legislation and/or other resources that provides guidance and oversight for families in crisis, with transparency for adoption disruptions and services for children.

 I believe in adoption, when it is done in a transparent, ethical way. I believe in equitable services for all those involved in adoption, including original (birth) parents. I believe we need to address current problems in the international adoption community before undertaking huge new programs around the globe.

 CHIFF excludes vital stakeholders, is expensive, and ignores genuine needs in the US and international adoption community. It should not move forward. Surely we can do far better than this, and truly meet the needs of vulnerable children and families.

 Thank you again, for not co-sponsoring this legislation.

 Sincerely,

Maureen McCauley Evans

 

 

 

 

 

Not Chuffed About CHIFF: Pushing Back On International Adoption Policy

“Chuffed” is British slang for being pleased, mixed with a bit of proud.

CHIFF is the Children in Families First Act. I’ve written here about Why CHIFF Will (and Should) Fail, and here about What CHIFF Lacks, And Why It Must Be Abandoned.

I am not chuffed about CHIFF. Those two posts above explain why.

Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten some pushback from folks at adoption agencies about my views.

Why am I opposed to helping children who need families?

I’m not, it turns out. I believe adoption is a potential, positive option for children in genuine need of families. I agree that children are better off growing up in safe, loving families rather than in institutions. As is often the case, however, this is far more complicated than a warm and fuzzy scenario of homes for orphans. CHIFF is about a new bureaucracy, plus misplaced funding that ignores existing needs, and a blatant failure to include those most affected.

Many years ago, when I was working for the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (I was there from 1995-2000), we worked on several pieces of significant adoption-related legislation. One was the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Two others were part of the immigration bill in 1996, one requiring immunizations prior to immigration to the US, and the other mandating deportation of non-US citizens who were convicted of a felony. The immunizations issue was settled fairly easily, with prospective adoptive parents having to sign a form saying they would get their children immunized here (or get an exemption for religious reasons, for example).

The deportation issue, though, was far more complex. Adult international adoptees who had not acquired US citizenship and committed a felony were deported, regardless of having been brought here by US citizens for adoption, having been raised here their whole lives, and having no connection (language, family, school, religion, etc.) with their country of origin. This absurdity was part of the impetus behind the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which gave (relatively) automatic citizenship to internationally adopted children. More information is available here, in my posts All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees and Citizenship Isn’t Automatic for Internationally Adopted Children to the US?.

All those legislative issues were complicated, and we are still feeling the implications certainly of the Hague Convention and of the deportation/citizenship law. When I think back of my involvement with both, I am aware of two glaring omissions from the discussions and implementation of both: very few adult adoptees or first parents were involved.

By far, it was international lawyers, adoption agencies’ staff, and adoptive parents who were the forces behind the legislative process: the same (mostly white, well-educated, politically savvy, well-off) demographic of those who are supporting CHIFF.

Had adoptees and first parents genuinely and fully been invited to share their experiences  around adoption, perhaps the Hague Convention would have been more smoothly implemented here in the US. Perhaps the Council On Accreditation would have more effective criteria for the accreditation of adoption agencies under the Hague. Perhaps consultation and input from adopted adults would have been more convincing about the need for appropriate and fair citizenship legislation.

I include myself in falling short on insisting that adoptees and first parents have a place at the table during those legislative processes. That’s why I am speaking out as loudly as possible now.

As I look at the supporters of CHIFF, I see a list comprised almost entirely of adoption agencies. Adoption agencies are not focused on family preservation–let’s be clear about that. Theirs is a different mission and focus. Family preservation is expensive, complicated, and labor-intensive. Adoption work can similarly described, though it requires different staffing, skills, evaluation, and funding than family preservation. It’s also easy to see how conflicts of interest could occur, if an agency pursues both.

Look at this, from the CHIFF Facebook page:

The CHIFF Working Group Executive Committee

American Academy of Adoption Attorneys
Both Ends Burning
Center for Adoption Policy
Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School
Christian Alliance for Orphans
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute
EACH
Joint Council on International Children’s Services
Kidsave International
National Council For Adoption
Saddleback Church

CHIFF also has the support of dozens of individual adoption agencies. Why is that, if CHIFF emphasizes family preservation?

About the pushback I’ve received: I heard from one of the above agencies, saying I’d rattled a few cages. Good.

Because here’s the deal: Adoptee groups are more common, more vocal, and more effective than when I was at JCICS and other organizations. I’m not excusing my failure to include them at the time. I am saying, though, that there are plenty of organized groups now across the adoptee spectrum. There are amazing, thoughtful adoptees who are Ph.D’s and MSW’s and LCSW’s who could offer great insights into this legislation, but I don’t see their names or their affiliations on the list of CHIFF supporters. That speaks volumes to me, that the CHIFF Working Group Executive Committee and its list of supporters are predominantly adoption agencies and adoptive parents.

Interestingly, the “Likes” on the Facebook page of the Children in Families First group is 2439. The “Likes” on the “Stop CHIFF” Facebook page is 2507. A few years ago, before the empowerment that is social media, the balance would not have been so close. It’s all changing now.

Here’s another important reality that currently is often ignored. There are plenty of adult adoptees who love their adoptive parents, who are grateful to have been adopted, who recognize that their lives would have been totally different (certainly economically and perhaps otherwise) had they not been adopted. These are among the most powerful adopted adults who are speaking out, demanding change in the international adoption process, These adult adoptees love their adoptive families and they had happy childhoods. They are also speaking out about adoption, seeking change in the international adoption process, demanding transparency and integrity, and insisting on a role for themselves and for first/birth parents in the future of international adoption.

As to the notion that some of the adoptee groups don’t play well with others, and so are not invited to this sandbox: Enough. There are many, many adult adoptee groups and adoptee professionals working in adoption. If the adoption agency groups have insights and inroads to the politicians–and it surely looks as though they do–why don’t they share their skills and experience with adoptee groups?

Is anyone else struck by the fact that some adoption agencies and adoption-related organizations don’t want to hear from, talk with, or work with some adopted adults who are now speaking out? These adoptees were brought to the US by these agencies and organizations.  Have the agencies no ethical responsibility to find common ground? Even (or especially) with adopted adults who’ve struggled mightily with loss and grief, who had horrific childhoods, or who view their adoption as a painful life event?

Is anyone else struck by the fact that the international adoption agencies and adoption-related organizations are not reaching out to first parents to provide post-adoption services to them, the way the services are provided (or at least offered) to US adoptive parents? Where is the integrity in that? For that matter, I’d love to see an evaluation of the pre-placement services provided to international first parents. Do the services match what is available to US birth/first parents? If not, why not?

Is anyone else struck by the fact that CHIFF is “about reallocating a small portion of the $2 billion the US Government already spends on assistance programs for children internationally” but doesn’t say how much that “small portion” is? The US government currently provides billions in the adoption tax credit, a fragment for the adoption of foster care children but primarily allocated to international and private adoptions. Your tax dollars are already hard at work reimbursing relatively well-off adoptive parents for travel and hotels overseas. We are talking huge amounts of money here, that could be spent far more responsibly.

Is anyone else struck by the fact that adoptive parents of internationally adopted children are often able, after placement, to quickly find out the true backgrounds of their children, backgrounds that are all too often not what the agency told them? Should we ignore the fact that increasing numbers adult adoptees travel back to their country of origin and find their truth is very different from what the agency told them, their first parents, and their adoptive parents?

Is anyone else heartbroken about the fact that internationally adopted children are “re-homed” in an underground Internet system, that internationally adopted children are showing up in increasing numbers in the US foster care system, and that some internationally adopted children adopted as teens to the US are thrown out of their families when they reach 18?

I am well aware that adoptive parents and adoption-related organizations hold the most power in adoption policy–for now. I am aware that some (though not all) adoptee groups are adversarial, even hostile. But let’s not dismiss the realities experienced by so-called difficult adoptees. (Arguably, we do that all too often as shown by the dearth of appropriate post-adoption services for adopted children and teens. There could be a correlation.) Let’s not hope that they just go away, now that they’ve grown up. Collaboration, not further marginalization, is the only way to move toward well-grounded adoption policy and reform.

Let’s invite adult adoptees and first families to the table, and stop repeating the same mistakes. Let’s not pour more money and time into international adoption policy that does not adequately meet the needs of current adoptees, prospective adoptees, and constantly-marginalized first families.

 

Citizenship Isn’t Automatic for Internationally Adopted Children to the US? Really?

Children can be brought to the United States by US citizens for purposes of adoption, and the US government (who has to approve all these adoptions) does not provide automatic citizenship to thousands, past and present.

Adult adoptees have been deported. Others are in line to be deported.  Some have committed a crime inadvertently by voting. They have been denied scholarships and lost jobs due to the inability to pass background checks/prove US citizenship.

Citizenship prior to February 2001 was not automatic. And that is a huge injustice to these children (many of whom are now adults), an undermining of the integrity of adoption, and a slap in the face to adoptees.

How did this happen? Adoptive parents failed to follow through on citizenship. Adoption agencies did not impress families sufficiently about why proof of citizenship matters. People got bad legal advice.

Whatever the reason, the bottom line remains: the US government does not provide automatic citizenship to thousands of children brought here legally for purposes of international adoption.

Some sobering statistics: Between 1999 and 2011, approximately 220,000 children arrived to the US from other countries to be adopted. Of those, about 157,000 arrived on IR-3 visas, and about 65,000 on IR-4 visas.

That’s 65,000 internationally adopted children who do not have automatic citizenship, and that’s only since 1999.

Of the 65,000 above, who arrived here on an IR-4 visa, about 40% are from two of the main countries of origin for adopted children. About 8,600 came from Ethiopia and over 18,000 from South Korea. South Korea has been sending children to the US for 50 years: hundreds of thousands of children.

Adoptive parents: If your child came here on an IR-4 visa, s/he must be readopted before s/he turns 18. US citizenship is not automatically granted to them.

If your child came here on an IR-3, after the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, protect that Certificate of Citizenship. It’s incredibly important and valuable, and not to be taken for granted at all.

Hold on carefully and protectively to all adoption-related documents.

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 provides US citizenship to children who arrive here in the US with IR-3 visas after February 2001, with various paperwork and fees. Children who arrive here (as international adoptees) on an IR-4 visa have different hoops to go through. Information is available here. I wrote about this in additional detail here.