In the United States today, about 35,000 intercountry adoptees lack citizenship, according to the Adoptee Rights Campaign.
Before the year 2000, citizenship and adoption in the U.S. were two separate processes. Intercountry adoptees, which describes adoptees who are foreign-born, weren’t guaranteed citizenship in the United States, even if they were adopted by parents who were U.S citizens. Instead, the adoptive parents of these adoptees were responsible for securing their child’s citizenship or green card after adoption, which many had failed to do.
The Child Citizenship Act amended the Immigration and Nationality Act in 2000, allowing foreign-born children—including adopted children—to gain U.S. citizenship automatically. Unfortunately, this act failed to include adoptees who were already adults by the time it passed, putting these them at risk of deportation.
[bctt tweet=”Citizenship and adoption in the U.S. were two separate processes” username=”wearethetempest”]
Although the number is still unclear, it is estimated that there are dozens of legally adopted foreign-born people that have been deported and are awaiting deportation after being convicted of crimes as adults.
In 2011, a South Korean-born adoptee, Phillip Clay, was deported from the United States back to his country of birth on grounds that he had a criminal record. Despite living in the U.S. for 30 years, Clay was deported to a country where he didn’t know the language, had trouble finding work and suffered from alcohol and substance abuse.
In May 2017, Clay took his own life after being uprooted from the only home he ever knew.
Many in the adoptee community believe this tragedy could have been avoided by providing foreign-born adoptees with a better pathway to citizenship. Advocates like Emily Kessel of the Adoptee Rights Campaign said in an NBC News interview that passing a law to prevent adoptees like Clay from being uprooted and deported is crucial to preventing this from happening again.
[bctt tweet=”Dozens of legally adopted foreign-born people have been deported and are awaiting deportation.” username=”wearethetempest”]
More recently, South Korean-born adoptee Adam Crapser was deported back to South Korea due to criminal convictions after living 40 years in the United States. Crasper was a victim of physical and sexual abuse in one of his adoptive households and was also abandoned by several foster families as a child.
After a childhood of turmoil, Crasper had several run-ins with the law in his adult life, but had made an attempt to turn his life around by eventually opening his own barbershop and starting his own family.
This wasn’t enough for an immigration judge. When Crasper tried applying for permanent residency, U.S. immigration performed an automatic background check on him and discovered his decades-old criminal charges, which began deportation proceedings against him. He was ultimately denied deportation relief.
[bctt tweet=”Many in the adoptee community believe this tragedy could have been avoided by better policy.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Unfortunately for many intercountry adoptees without a green card, trying to attain citizenship is risky, especially since they are undocumented. Adult adoptees from South Korea, Haiti, India, and many other countries aren’t afforded basic rights such as registering to vote or receiving financial aid for education because of their immigration status.
Some intercountry adoptees don’t even realize that they’re not citizens until applying for a government-issued document. While some are permanent residents who can openly work for citizenship, others are undocumented and forced to live in hiding out of fear of deportation.
In 2015, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the Adoptee Citizenship Act, which would grant U.S. citizenship to adult intercountry adoptees regardless of where they were born. The legislation would protect the upward of 35,000 adult adoptees left out of the Child Citizenship Act in 2000.
[bctt tweet=”Trying to attain citizenship is risky, especially since many adoptees are undocumented” username=”wearethetempest”]
Although the measure did not fully pass through Congress, the Adoptee Rights Campaign is working to reintroduce the Adoptee Citizenship Act to Congress.
“By marginalizing some adoptees, inequality persists,” said the Adoptee Rights Campaign.