US State Department Invites International Adult Adoptees to a Town Hall

The U.S. State Department recently sent out this invitation for international adoptees to participate in a virtual Town Hall to talk about their lived experiences. If you are an adult international adoptee, I hope you will consider attending. Please, everyone, share this invitation.

From the U.S. State Department:

Invitation to Adult Adoptees: What would you like policy-makers to know about the lived experience of intercountry adoptees?

Event:     Town Hall: Adult Adoptee Lived Experience
Date:       November 13, 2020
Time:      12:00pm to 1:30pm EST
RSVP:     Adoption@state.gov  (NLT November 10, 2020) – Response should include your name, email address, and if willing to share, the country from which you were adopted. Participation details will be sent by email on November 12, in the afternoon, to those who RSVP’d. 

The Office of Children’s Issues, U.S. Department of State, invites interested adult intercountry adoptees to a virtual town hall meeting with Marisa Light, Chief of the Adoption Oversight Division, on Friday, November 13, 2020, 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. EST

In adherence with the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation on Intercountry Adoption, the Department believes that children “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding;” that priority should be given “to enable the child to remain in the care of his or her family of origin;” that intercountry adoption should be considered only when “a suitable family cannot be found in [the child’s] State of origin;” and that measures should be taken “to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children.”  

We are the U.S. Central Authority for the Convention, and we uphold these principles in our day to day work. As policy makers, we place a priority on ensuring that persons with lived experience have a seat at the table in discussions that inform and impact the development of public policy that impact the adoption community. Adult adoptees are important stakeholders whose voices and varied perspectives are critical to our work.  

We appreciate wide dissemination of this invitation to internationally adopted persons who may be interested in participating. We are particularly hoping to reach adult intercountry adoptees who may be unfamiliar with the role we play in intercountry adoption or whose voices we haven’t heard before.  

We recognize that some adult intercountry adoptees are also adoptive parents and/or professionals working to facilitate intercountry adoption. While we respect the integration of these multiple aspects of an individual’s identity, we request that participants in this situation limit their sharing to their experiences specifically as adoptees since we have other venues for sharing perspectives more focused on adoptive/prospective adoptive parents and adoption professional experiences. We thank those participants in advance for their understanding of the importance of providing an opportunity to focus on adoptee concerns and feedback.  

In recognition of the sensitive nature of the topic for some, this meeting will not be recorded. Those who cannot attend are welcome to submit comments in writing to Adoption@state.gov. We look forward to hearing from you. 

Sincerely,

Office of Children’s Issues
Adoption Oversight Division
U.S. Department of State

This invitation was from the Adoption Notices that the U.S. State Department sends out to those who subscribe: you can subscribe to the Notices here.

Adoptee Remembrance Day: Today

The last couple years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of adult adoptees writing blogs, speaking at conferences, posting on Facebook and Instagram, creating groups, and otherwise sharing the truths of their lived experiences and professional qualifications. There have, of course, been adult adoptees vibrantly active in adoption for decades: their voices, however, were often drowned out by the dominant force of adoptive parents. That is changing, and that is wonderful.

Today is Adoptee Remembrance Day, an event created by Adoptees Connect. I applaud Pamela Karanova for her incredible hard work, including the way she has partnered with many other amazing adoptees and adoptee-led organizations.

Adoptee Remembrance Day is a day to reflect on loss in adoption. The traditional narrative is the warm, fuzzy version of orphans finding loving, forever homes: end of story. The reality is far more complex. Many adoptees were not orphans at all. Some ended up in brutal, abusive homes. Many struggle with grief, trauma, and depression, including those with loving adoptive families. There can be a lot of love in adoption: there can be a lot of sorrow as well, and we must acknowledge that.

So today, on Adoptee Remembrance Day, we have an opportunity to reflect on the complexity of adoption from the perspective of the experts: adult adoptees.

We can remember adoptees who have died by suicide, a painful reality. We can remember and honor adoptees who have died at the hands of their adoptive parents. (I’ve written often about Hana Williams, the Ethiopian adoptee whose adoptive parents we’re convicted for her murder.) We can act to help provide citizenship for all international adoptees, and to end the deportation of adoptees. We can listen to adoptees, and rise their voices.

I invite my fellow adoptive parents, and everyone in and out of the adoption community, to join me in spending time today listening and learning about Adoptee Remembrance Day.

Here is the link to the Adoptee Remembrance Day site.You will find loads of information, an incredible agenda, podcasts, music, and more. I am deeply grateful to everyone who is speaking out on this important day. These adult adoptees are sharing their genuine and profound truths. May this be another big step toward creating adoption policies that are fair, transparent, and focused on adoptees.

US State Department Imposes Sanctions, Fines on Ugandan Officials Involved in Fraudulent Adoptions

The U.S. State Department has imposed financial sanctions and visa restrictions on Ugandan officials involved in fraudulent adoption schemes. This is a highly significant and public declaration. You can read State’s press release here. The State Department press release includes a link to a U.S. Treasury Department press release as well.

Adoption Agency Staff of “European Adoption Consultants” Charged By Federal Grand Jury With Fraud, More


A federal grand jury today charged Margaret Cole, Robin Langoria, and other employees of European Adoption Consultants (EAC) with fraud, money laundering and bribery in connections with adoptions from Uganda and Poland.

EAC had been granted accreditation under the Hague Convention for Inter-Country Adoptions by the Council on Accreditation. That accreditation is considered a sort of gold standard in the realm of international adoption agencies: it involves a substantial amount of time and work and fees to receive.

In 2015, EAC had a complaint lodged against it for a case in China. In December 2016, the State Department debarred EAC, and their Hague accreditation status was revoked. The IAMME website (IAMME became the sole Hague Convention accreditor in 2018) states this: “Nature of the Substantiated Violations: The Department of State temporarily debarred adoption service provider, European Adoption Consultants, Inc. (EAC) from accreditation on December 16, 2016, for a period of three years.  As a result of this temporary debarment, EAC’s accreditation has been cancelled and it must immediately cease to provide all adoption services in connection with intercountry adoptions.

The Department found substantial evidence that the agency is out of compliance with the standards in subpart F of the accreditation regulations, and evidence of a pattern of serious, willful, or grossly negligent failure to comply with the standards and of aggravating circumstances indicating that continued accreditation of EAC would not be in the best interests of the children and families concerned.”

The FBI raided EAC in 2017, and the agency closed. Cole had founded EAC in 1991.

Grand jury documents were unsealed today in Ohio, where EAC was located. EAC had worked in adoptions in Bulgaria, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Honduras, India, Panama, Tanzania, and Ukraine, in addition to Uganda and Poland.

It’s impossible to know how much heartache has happened to families and children as a result of this.

Here is the full article from Cleveland.com.

Korean Adoptee Wins Right in Korean Court to Meet Her Korean Father, And Be Registered on Family Registry

This is a breakthrough ruling for Korean adoptees. A Korean court June 12 ruled in favor of adoptee Kang Mee-sook, adoptive name Kara Bos, who was raised in the U.S. She now has the legal right to meet her Korean father, and be listed on his family registry. She had originally searched for her mother to no avail, and then found through DNA that she had a 99.99 biological connection to a Korean man named Kang. He and his family, however, refused to meet with her, and so she took action through the Korean courts. 

This ruling means that she can be registered on her father’s Korean family registry as “a person acknowledged,” which is a significant part of the Korean family law system. She was born out of wedlock, and still hopes to meet her mother. She will meet her father on Monday in Korea.

As an adoptive parent, I have long held that adoptees should have the right to their own identity as a civil and human right. This is an enormous groundbreaking ruling for Korean adoptees, who make up the largest segment of international adoptees, and could set a precedent of sorts for other international adoptees seeking access to their identity and information. I wish Kang Mee-sook/Kara Bos all the best.

I had previously written about the case here.

You can read an English version of the story from a Korean newspaper here.

Here is a link to a New York Times story about the case.

This is a landmark case for international adoption adoptee rights and could perhaps have ramifications for other adoptees searching for their truths.

Wow Was I Wrong About Laura Ingraham

In my post yesterday about an international adoption conference held by the State Department, I briefly mentioned that conservative Fox channel host Laura Ingraham was a keynote speaker. I said the decision to have Ingraham there was “unfortunate.” I was wrong. I should have been far more forceful.

One of the first tenets of being a good accomplice for white accomplices in social justice work is to change your lens. My lens is that of a white Cisgender abled woman, the type that has traditionally held power and privilege in the world, second only to white Cisgender abled men. My lens is firmly socialized and established; I am a work in progress around reframing it. Another tenet for folks like me is not to center ourselves because (see the first tenet) we are pretty much always centered in history, advertising, opportunities, credibility.

When I wrote about Ingraham’s speaking at the adoption conference, I looked at it only through my lens, and centered my own experience. Ingraham wasn’t talking about me or for me or to me. I am an adoptive parent, as she is; beyond that, we have little in common. I can easily dismiss her and her impact. While I called her remarks about possibly moving migrant children into the U.S. adoption system “horrifying,” I shrugged my shoulders, and moved on.

Then I read a post by Melanie Chung-Sherman, a highly regarded therapist, a woman of color, an adopted person. Here is what she had to say about the choice of Ingraham as a speaker at the State Department conference:

“Did you know?? The U.S. Department of State felt it necessary and ever-so relevant to bring in Laura Ingraham to keynote before a closed adoption symposium addressing ‘adoption reform.’ Yes, that Laura Ingraham. 

Even worse–DOS invited fellow transracial adoptee advocates (friends of many) to speak about ‘reform’ while knowingly putting this known white supremacist, xenophobe, homophobic, transphobic, and ableist (who happens to be a TRIA parent) up on stage for them to sit and listen to from the beginning. 

It was aggressive, harmful, violent, and completely demeaning for those who have committed their lives to social justice, equity, and adoption reform. 

Yeah, I’m pissed.”

My eyes and mind were opened as I read this. I had not thoughtfully reflected on what hearing Ingraham speak might have felt to the international, transracial adult adoptees there. Once I did reflect, prompted by Melanie’s words, I realized how cloudy my lens was, and how I had centered myself.

I’ve subsequently heard that perhaps the State Department did not select Ingraham as a speaker; maybe the White House did. I don’t know much more than that. I recognize that disparate voices and varying opinions are part of politics. I understand that there were those in the audience who supported Ingraham’s remarks, and those who found them odious.

Anyone genuinely involved in adoption today should be aware that, for far too long, adoptive parents have held the microphone in adoption policy and practices, in media articles, and in the traditional, tired narrative that adoption is win-win-win and full of only happy endings. Of course there are wonderful outcomes and good decisions. Often, though, there are rough roads, lots of confusion and grief, and grappling with identity, loss, and unattainable information.

Handing the microphone, literally, to Laura Ingraham showed an astonishing lack of knowledge about what adoption conferences today should be: they should be focused on adoptees, and on birth parents. They should be the prominent speakers and guides that the government and media go to first. Having a controversial adoptive parent with anti-immigrant views at an adoption conference that for the first time centered international, transracial adoptees tainted but probably did not ruin other notable accomplishments. Next time, or at any adoption conference, there are many amazing, powerful adoptees who could be (should be) at the podium. Still, adoptees are now at the table for State Department policy formulation, and that is laudable.

As an adoptive parent, I’ll close with my promise to keep my eyes, heart, and mind more open to the voices and insights of adoptees and birth/first parents, and to keep working on my lens. I’ll close this post with the powerful words of Reshma McClintock on behalf of herself and other international adoptees who attended the State Department conference:


“Transracial/Inter Country Adoptees are one of the most resilient and determined people groups. At the US State Department Adoption Symposium we addressed adoptee voice elevation, citizenship, family preservation, rehoming, adoptee rights, and other important topics.

I used the opportunity I had to address attendees with this message: Adopted adults are the most valuable and untapped resource on the subject of adoption. We must be recognized and involved in adoption conversations. 

I‘m proud of my community and thankful for those who support the good work we are doing collectively. It is emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially exhausting, yet WE ARE OUT HERE.”

#AdopteeMovement

First Hearing Held on Adoptee Adam Crapser’s Lawsuit Against Holt, Korean Government

This is a very significant event: the first hearing in a court case brought by an international adoptee against an adoption agency and the country in which he was born. Adam Crapser, adopted from South Korea and deported back as an adult, has filed a suit against Holt Children’s Services and against the Korean government, arguing that both committed “gross negligence.”

The Korea Herald today posted “First Hearing in Holt Lawsuit by Korean adoptee deported from US highlights fight for transparency, adoptee rights.”

I’m disappointed to read that, at the hearing, Holt’s lawyer said that “the statute of limitations on Crapser’s adoption had passed, regardless of Holt’s responsibility.” 

That could prove to be accurate legally. Morally and ethically, though, I hope that Holt and all adoption agencies don’t just shrug their shoulders about responsibilities towards the children brought to the U.S. or elsewhere. 

Adam Crapser was abused horribly, sexually, physically, and emotionally, growing up in the family Holt placed him with. Surely there is some ethical obligation by adoption agencies, which received fees for salaries, travel, overhead, documents, and more, toward the ongoing outcomes of the children they placed for adoption. The children grow up. It is unjust and immoral for agencies not to acknowledge the role they had for the children they accepted into their care and whose adoptive parents they vetted. Agencies cannot accept the gratitude and donations of adoptive parents without also serving the needs of the adoptees whose lives were not better as a result of adoption, but were filled with abuse and neglect.

One aspect of how Adam was failed, and this pertains to thousands of other international adoptees, is that none of his various adoptive/foster parents got citizenship for him. It is an outrage that our U.S. Congress has still not passed legislation for all international adoptees, though there has been significant progress due to the efforts of Adoptees For Justice, Adoptee Rights Campaign, and others. Please take a look at their websites, gather information, and join the effort to pass legislation granting citizenship to all international adoptees.

Photo of Korean adoptees with signs written in Korean to support Adam Crapser's lawsuit against Holt and Korea.
Photo ©: Korea Herald

We in the adoption community are at an eye-opening time: finally, more adoptees’ voices are being heard and listened to (though we still need to do much better), and the traditional narrative of adoption as win-win-win is being both questioned and exposed as far more nuanced and complex than its Hallmark card reputation. We need to hear from so many more voices.

This lawsuit, regardless of its outcome, is a bellwether for the work that needs to be done in Adoption Land. People around the globe, including adult adoptees, the U.S. State Department, embassies, adoption agencies, and governments in sending and receiving countries (the U.S. both sends children outside the U.S. for international adoption and receives them for the same) are watching this case carefully.

Suicide, Adoptees, The Military

Is there any correlation or intersection among adoption, military service, and suicide? I don’t know. Here’s some sad news: 25 year old XinHua Mesenburg, adopted from China when he was 8 years old and a Senior Airman in the US Air Force, died by suicide on January 5.

XinHua’s adoptive father posted about his son’s death on his Facebook page. The family is, of course, devastated.

https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your-air-force/2019/01/07/father-posts-heartbreaking-note-after-andrews-airmans-apparent-suicide/

Did you know that 20 military veterans/active service members die by suicide every day? An incredibly tragic statistic. More information is available here.

I’ve written a lot about adoptee suicide, and about resources. Hard as it is, we need to keep listening, learning, and speaking out about suicide prevention.

May XinHua’s family find peace and healing.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

CrisisText Line: Text to 741741

When International Adoptees Grow (Way) Up—and Apply For Medicare

For international adoptees now in their 50’s and 60’s, here’s a potentially disastrous concern:

When applying for Medicare, naturalized citizens (such as international adoptees) need to present their naturalization documents and birth certificate to the Social Security Adminstration.

Why could this be a problem? Some international adoptees nearing Medicare age (65) do not have U.S. birth certificates. They may not have needed them as kids the way that schools and sports teams require them today. Their adoptive parents may not have applied for one for them.

And then, of course, there is the much larger issue for international adoptees whose adoptive parents failed to get them U.S. citizenship.They do not qualify under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which provided citizenship only for adoptees 18 and under at the time of enactment. Some international adoptees could have great difficulty getting enrolled in Medicare when they are in their 60’s and older, and in need of prescriptions, surgery, and other medical care. As U.S. citizens, they are entitled to apply for Medicare like everyone else: if they have the right documents.

My experience around immigration-related issues and the Social Security administration is that different federal offices in different states can have different requirements for paperwork. It’s not unusual for one person to need documents in one state that are not requested in another state, or even within the same state. Very frustrating, and not unusual.

Here is advice from licensed Medicare broker, and Korean adoptee, Kara Min Yung, who alerted me to this issue:

“Please start the process at least 3 months prior to the month you will turn 65. Don’t wait, in case you are required to do anything additional. You must start part A. You can also start part B, but there is a premium. You can opt to delay part B until coverage through an employer ends. Then choose either a supplement plan and a drug plan, or a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan. Don’t wait. There are certain late enrollment penalties you will want to avoid.”

Kara recommends that adoptees nearing 65 make sure they have their U.S. birth certificate and their naturalization/citizenship papers. She has helped naturalized citizens who have had problems getting Medicare, whether adoptees or not. You can contact Kara at Kruh@seattleinsgroup.com.

Korean adoptees first began arriving in the U.S. in the 1950’s. Many are in their 50’s and 60’s (or older) now. They and other international adoptees are applying for Medicare benefits now, and some are encountering unanticipated problems. This will only continue as the adoptee population continues to age.

You can check out the Medicare site for further info.

Adoptees and parents of minor adoptees should check with the Social Security Administration to be sure they are listed as U.S. citizens. Our federal government agencies don’t share databases, so even if you have a passport (U.S. State Department) or a Certificate of Citizenship (U.S. Department of Homeland Security), the SSA may not have you listed as a U.S. citizen.

Additional Resources on Citizenship for All Adoptees: Adoptee Rights Campaign

I am calling on the U.S. Congress, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Social Security Administration to perhaps finally understand the need for U.S. citizenship for all international adoptees. Deportation is a risk. Criminal charges for (unknowingly) voting without citizenship is a risk. Being unable to apply for financial aid is a risk. Being unable to access Medicare if you are applying at 65 is a risk. It’s an outrage.

 

Great News: Adoptee Citizenship Legislation Introduced in US Congress

Thousands of now-adult international adoptees whose parents failed to get them citizenship when they were children might now become U.S. citizens. On March 8, a new Adoptee Citizenship bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate, with bipartisan sponsors. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced the Senate version, S. 2522.  On the House side, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced H.R. 5233.

Both bills have been referred to the Judiciary Committee in their respective chambers. The text is not yet available, though it should be soon. I will post it as soon as possible. The description of both says the bill will “provide for automatic acquisition of United States citizenship for certain internationally adopted individuals.”

The Child Citizenship Act (CCA) of 2000 provided citizenship for adopted children under the age of 18 at the time the Act became law. Those who were over 18 were not included in the bill. According to a press release from Sen. Blunt, “The Child Citizenship Act (CCA) left thousands of international adopted children, who are now adults, in an untenable position, facing everything from difficulty applying for a passport to possible deportation…By fixing current law to meet the original goal of the CCA, we will help ensure these individuals have the security, stability, and opportunity their parents intended for them when they welcomed them into their families.”

The legislation would grant citizenship to international adoptees unless they have been found guilty of a violent crime and been deported. This exception has been a point of much discussion and contention around the legislation. Some 20+ international adoptees have been deported, some due to serious crimes, and some due to relatively minor crimes such as selling small amounts of marijuana. Others are under the eye of the Department of Homeland Security because they are without citizenship, but have not committed any crimes. There currently exists no easy or clear path for these adoptees to become citizens once they are over 18 years old. Some did not discover they were not citizens until they applied for a passport or for security clearance at work.

The Adoptee Rights Campaign (ARC) estimates that 35,000 international adoptees are without citizenship, and they will be helped by this much-needed legislation. ARC has been among the leaders on this legislation, along with many others who have urged Congress for years to enact this into law.

Next steps could be hearings, then passage in both the House and Senate, and then signature into law by the president. No one knows the timeframe, but many folks are optimistic that the bipartisan, bicameral introduction of the Adoptee Citizenship Act will help it pass expediently.

That’s certainly my hope. That thousands of international adoptees, brought to this country to join new families, did not automatically receive citizenship because their parents failed to get it or because of bureaucratic errors, has been an untenable, unfair reality that the Congress has taken far too long to rectify. This new legislation would provide a long overdue correction, one wanted by the sending countries, by the adoption community, and by the adoptees.

You can follow the progress of the House bill here, and the Senate bill here.