citizenship for all international adoptees

We have a problem folks—a serious problem. Thousands of our fellow Americans, adopted from abroad as infants and children by American citizens, are being denied US citizenship. They were adopted by Americans, raised in America, and told they were Americans. Most had no idea they were not citizens until something triggered this information in adulthood, such as applying for a passport, replacing a lost social security card, or applying for retirement benefits. This is a tragedy—no, this is a travesty! After reading this blog, commit to doing one thing to help them–at the very least share this blog with everyone you know! #citizenshipforalladoptees

America can do better.

We don’t know exactly how many adult adoptees are impacted, but some estimates are as high as 35,000*. Regardless of the exact number, even a few are way too many.

These are real people who are living as undocumented aliens in the country that welcomed them with open arms. If discovered they risk losing their jobs, they can’t travel outside of the US, they can’t vote, and they may be ineligible for social security benefits even though they contributed all their lives. Most important, they live in fear of being deported to countries they left as children, with no family, no language, and no way to support themselves. They did nothing wrong; they made no mistakes; they don’t deserve this.

America can do better.

Sara’s Story

Sara’s** father was a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Airforce and POW in WWII and employed in Sara as a baby close to the age when she was adoptedIran as an engineer in the early 1970s. Moved by the deplorable conditions in the local orphanages, a heart for kids, and the desire for a child of their own, they adopted 2-year-old Sara, and moved back to the US the following year. Her adoption was finalized the next year. They hired an attorney to file “all the necessary paperwork” for citizenship. They got Sara a social security card, and as the daughter of a service member she also had military ID. They never gave it another thought.

Sara was well loved and well raised. “It was difficult looking different then all my classmates and my parents and standing out with my dark features, but all in all, I had a good childhood.” She did well in school, worked hard, went to college, and got a great job. Life was good. She was living the American dream.

In her late 30s, Sara applied for her first passport and was shocked when she was denied. Apparently, some of the papers that were filed or supposed to be filed by the attorney over 30 years ago were missing. There was no evidence that Sara was a US citizen.

Sara immediately went to an immigration attorney who told her that the hard truth was that she was undocumented and could be deported at any time. No standard protocol and no computerized databases existed for filing orphan citizenship 30 years ago, so it was impossible to know what went wrong. Sara broke down and cried.

“All my life I had walked the earth as a US citizen—it was a key part of my identity. I grew up being told that I was a US citizen ‘just like everyone else’. The US is my home; I am immensely proud and thankful to be here. It never occurred to me that I would be deported back to Iran.”

It was fairly easy to push it out her mind because talk of deportation was not front-page news back in 2007. She has had a social security card since childhood, a driver’s license, and a savings account– all the documents necessary for everyday life. She continued to work and rise up the ranks of corporate America. But all the while, she felt the weight of keeping a secret.

Secrets complicate your life.

Without citizenship, adoptees have limited work and travel options, cannot access public benefits or qualify for home loans and certain student loans. It also complicates their emotional life.

Secrets force you to live day-by-day.

The burden of carrying a secret takes a toll on your health and mental wellbeing.

“Knowing that you are undocumented and deportable touches you every single day. It’s hard to plan for the future. It’s a race against technology and legislative changes to immigration laws. There are bills being introduced now that impact my ability to get citizenship and technological advances in programs like e-verify will mean that adoptees who are undocumented will be denied employment and be denied retirement benefits. We are the most vulnerable adoptees due to these issues and worst yet deportation. We are fast approaching retirement age and I have seen older adoptees left destitute and homeless. Knowing that our government has allowed this to happen and is a window into my future scares me! I never imagined I would feel such fear and abandonment by the U.S. government.”

sara and her mother shortly after adoptionBy 2015, the news was full of talk about deporting aliens, and it was becoming increasingly hard to ignore her undocumented status. This fear was brought to a head when she heard on the news about Adam Crasper, an adult adoptee and father of 4, who was deported back to South Korea because his adoptive parents had failed to file his citizenship paperwork. Now she was really scared.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) told her she would need to move back to Iran and apply for a visa to come to the US legally. The current wait if you are even able to get in line for a visa from Iran is over 10 years. Add to that the worry of the travel ban limiting entry to the US from people traveling from Iran, which might prevent Sara from ever returning to her home, her job, and her life.

“I have no memories of Iran and I was an orphan with no living relatives. I don’t speak the language and I was raised in the Christian faith. I would have no way of supporting myself, even though I have a very good job in the US. And as an American woman I would have a very hard time adjusting to the restrictions on woman in Iran. I was raised as American, not Iranian.”

Sara is currently working with another immigration attorney. Her father is now dead, but Sara is attempting to get citizenship through her elderly mother. It’s a complicated case and so far not much has happened. It is almost impossible to get good information because Sara is not allowed to talk directly with USCIS because her mother had to file the case on her behalf, and her mother is often confused by the calls. And what happens if her mom dies before citizenship is obtained?

America can do better.

Living in the Shadows

While she waits, she lives in the shadows, fearing drawing attention to herself, fearing people finding out, fearing losing her job, fearing a knock at the door. “It is mind boggling that this is happening to me. Every adoptee in this situation, and there are many of us, is so very scared. I’m stepping forward to tell my story because someone has too and because carrying this huge secret is so hard.”

America can do better.

“My parents offered me a better life when they adopted me. I fully understand everything I was given by growing up as an American. I don’t take that lightly. I’m daughter of a Lieutenant Colonel and a POW. I understand his sacrifice for our country and I respect that. My dad made those sacrifices, but as his daughter, I’m being denied citizenship and my basic human rights. The freedom and rights that my father fought to protect but that I’m now being denied.”

America can do better.

Are Adopted Kids Really Equal to Bio Kids?

The way our country is handling the situation of adoptees without certificates of citizenship is particularly troubling to me. For the last 10 years, Creating a Family has been educating and supporting people trying to adopt. We tell people that adoption is a great way to create a family–that the love we feel for our adopted children is the same as the love we feel for the children born to us. We say loud and proud: Family is more than DNA.

But we as a country are not backing up our words with our action. We are not treating our children by adoption the same as we would treat a child born to us because a child born to us is automatically a citizen and has all the rights and protection of citizenship from the moment of birth.

In Sara’s case, her parents thought they had filed the paperwork for her citizenship. Probably more often in other cases where adoptees are being denied citizenship, their parents simply forgot to follow through with this paperwork. Before the passage of the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) in 2001, the burden (and cost) was on the adopted parents of getting a Certificate of Citizenship for their foreign born adopted child. The CCA changed that making by citizenship automatic for adopted children without the need to file for a Certificate of Citizenship, but specifically excluded people adopted from abroad who were 18 years of age or older on the day the CCA became law-February 27, 2001. Sara, and thousands of others, were older than 18.

After an adoption, life gets busy, parents are tired of paperwork, and are ready to just be a family. Papers aren’t filed or are filed incorrectly. Mistakes happen. We shouldn’t, however, punish children for the mistakes of their parents.

America can do better.

We are not treating our adopted kids in a way that reflects their full and complete membership in our families—we are not showing by our actions that family is more than DNA. And this hurts.

“What people who aren’t adopted don’t understand is what it is like to spend your entire life trying to fit in somewhere. I was loved, but I didn’t really fit in with the Midwest where I was raised because I looked so different. As an adult I moved to a place with more diversity and where my looks fit in, but I don’t really fit in here either because I don’t share the same culture. The one thing I’ve always known is that I’m an American regardless of fit, but now that are telling me that I truly don’t belong anywhere.”

America must do better.

What You Must Do Right Now

international adoptees being denied citizenship

If you’ve read Sara’s story and are outraged, there is something you can do. The Adoptee Citizenship Act was first introduced in 2015 to grant retroactive U.S. citizenship to all international adoptees regardless of when they were adopted, addressing the issue that left thousands of adoptees who were born before 1982 unprotected by the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) of 2000. We need your support.

  • Call your representative. You can of course call any representative, but you will be most effective by contacting legislators who represent you directly. To find out contact info for your senator, click on your state here. To find out contact info for your representative, enter your zipcode here.  Or you can just call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your senator or representative’s office.
  • Come to Washington DC on the Adoptee Citizenship Act Days of Action on October 4th and 5th. The Adoptee Rights Campaign needs our help to ensure that legislators understand the urgency of this act. All adoptees, adoptive parents, or those who care about justice are welcome. For more information contact Joy Alessi at:
  • Sign the petition of support for the Adoptee Citizenship Act. (It take less than a minute.)
  • Spread the Word via social media by sharing this blog on all your social media. Please use the hashtag #citizenshipforalladoptees.

Do you have a story of an adoptee being denied citizenship because their parents never got their Certificate of Citizenship? Please share it here and on the Adoptee Rights Campaign Story page.

*This estimation is based on 20,000 Korean adoptees without citizenship reported by the South Korean government along with an extrapolation of the 354,000 intercountry adoptees brought to the U.S. since the 1940s, since citizenship information remains underreported or unknown from other countries.

**An alias to protect her identity from ICIS.