Adoptee Citizenship

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The Anti-Immigrant Climate in the United States of America

An Intercountry & Transracial Adoptee’s Perspective

by Rachel Kim Tschida

Special Guest Blogger on ICAV

I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in public affairs, and I’m taking a course on immigration policy. A recent question that was presented to our class was, “How has the anti-immigrant climate in America affected people you know?” I immediately thought of the impact it has had on intercountry (and often transracial) adoptees.

Speaking from my own lived experience, it was actually startling for me when I first realized that I was an immigrant. This might sound crazy but growing up in an American family with American parents, it just never crossed my mind. Yes, logically I knew that I was born in Korea and came to America when I was 6 months old, and my first passport was issued by the Korean government for my first plane ride aboard Northwest Airlines from Incheon to Seattle, and then Seattle to Minneapolis-St. Paul. I have photos and newspaper clippings from my naturalization ceremony when I was 1 year old (my mom dressed me in a red white & blue dress for the occasion). I even received a hand signed letter from U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz, congratulating me on becoming a citizen (and how he also immigrated to the U.S. as a child). However, “immigrant” was never part of my self- identity.

This all started to shift a few years ago, when I heard about a Korean adoptee who was in deportation proceedings. At first, it didn’t even make any sense to me – how could an adoptee, someone who was adopted by Americans like me, be deported? At the time, I didn’t realize that not all adoptees were naturalized – either their parents didn’t know or for some reason or another, just didn’t complete the process. After reading the case of this adoptee, and going down a Google rabbit hole, all of the pieces started to come together. The next time I stopped by my parents’ house I thanked them for following through on all of the steps of my adoption and naturalization. I also asked to get all of my documents, including my certificate of naturalization and adoption file, just in case.

Through conversations that I have had within the intercountry adoptee community, I have realized that I am not alone on the complex path of self-discovery around adoptee/immigrant identity. There are some intercountry adoptees who do not identify as immigrants, while there are others who proudly and adamantly claim their immigrant status. I have also realized that I had one of the better possible adoption outcomes, with regards to how seriously and diligently my parents went through the adoption and naturalization processes. In the massive folder of adoption paperwork from my parents, I found notes in my mom’s handwriting with reminders like “call attorney” or “don’t forget to file naturalization paperwork”.

Throughout the past 2 years, I have seen an increased level of fear and anxiety within the community. As anti- immigrant policy proposals have increased in number and frequency, related discussions within intercountry adoptee community groups and online chats have proliferated. Everything from whether or not we need a certificate of citizenship AND a certificate of naturalization, to stories of naturalized Asian American citizens who have been de- naturalized for spelling mis-matches in their application (which can be prevalent when translating Asian names from their native characters into Romanized letters), to the impact the proposed removal of birthright citizenship would have on the American-born children of non-naturalized adoptees. This particular issue adds even greater distress around family stability to adoptees whose very lives were impacted by the separation from their birth families. Adoptees have given each other advice such as carrying proof of citizenship at all times, having copies of adoption certificates and naturalization certificates when traveling abroad and re-entering America, immigration and border control, and hiring immigration attorneys.

This has also led to many philosophical debates around the positioning of intercountry adoptees on the immigration hierarchy – especially Asian adoptees. In stark contrast to the exclusion of Asian immigrants through the 1875 Page Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917, and the quotas of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, the adoption of Korean children by (usually) white American families began in 1953 – more than a decade before the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This exceptionalism narrative – that adopted children of American parents are “good immigrants” yet at the same time almost never viewed as immigrants by their families, the immigration process, or society at large, is probably why I also did not identify as an immigrant myself. There was the assumption (and expectation) that we would be easy to assimilate into American society via our American families. It poses an interesting question; how can America view an Asian, African, or Latino child who has crossed the border with his or her Asian, African, or Latino parents so differently than an Asian, African, or Latino child who was adopted by (white) American parents?

Adoptive parents and adoption agencies successfully lobbied for the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which granted automatic and retroactive citizenship to some (but not all) intercountry adoptees. Now, adoptive parents would only need to ensure the adoption was legally finalized based on the type of visa issued, and they would no longer need to go through the naturalization process. This seems in theory like a clear victory for the adoptee community that would close a gap in our immigration system. However, it continues to reinforce the exceptional immigrant narrative.

That said, even in 2000 concessions were made to the Child Citizenship Act in order to get it through Congress. The most notable and damaging was that it excluded adoptees who were already 18 on the day the law was enacted- February 27, 2001. There was an assumption that adoptees over 18 could easily navigate the immigration system and apply for citizenship themselves. Despite the “forever children” narrative that is also often placed on adoptees, this was an abrupt shift in suddenly viewing us as adults and transferring the responsibilities (and failures) of adoptive parents onto adoptees. This also seemed to define the shift toward placing adoptees in the same category as all other immigrants, at least in the eyes of immigration enforcement.

Unfortunately, there are many intercountry adoptees who have no viable path to citizenship, for various reasons. They may have entered on a non-immigrant visa, or their parents did not keep their adoption files which are the only proof that an adoptee entered the country legally via adoption. Despite the air of “exceptionalism” in the passage of the Child Citizenship Act, one could also argue that adoptees had no agency or self-determination in their adoption whatsoever – they didn’t choose to be separated from their birth family and be sent from their birth country, nor choose to be adopted by Americans. Therefore, those who hold the most power within this adoption system should also bear the responsibility – American parents, adoption agencies, and the American government. For better or worse, the premise of adoption is built upon the promise of offering a “better life” and “creating a family” – and the denial of American citizenship is a complete contradiction to this promise. For many adoptees, their American families, homes, and lives are all they know.

Since 2000, there have been numerous attempts to amend the Child Citizenship Act, in order to grant retroactive citizenship to those who were excluded. The most recent attempt, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2018, has not yet passed despite being bipartisan and bicameral. The Adoptee Rights Campaign (ARC), a national organization led by adoptees without citizenship, will continue to advocate for a legislative solution. Other adoptee organizations and community organizations such as Korean American or other Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) social justice organizations have also mobilized around the country, in an effort to raise awareness and engage with their local, state, and federal elected officials. It is worth noting that the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2018 has been specifically positioned as a family and human/civil rights issue, and not an immigration issue – and that previous attempts to add adoptee citizenship to other immigration reform bills failed.

A small group of us in Seattle have come together and formed a joint committee between a Korean American nonprofit and an Asian Adoptee nonprofit organization. We continue to discuss how, when, and where we can contribute to these efforts and what our sources of funding will be. We have had many late-night debates about the framing of adoptees as immigrants, not as immigrants, as adults, as children of American parents. We have struggled with the implications of positioning adoptee citizenship as an immigration issue, family issue, and/or human rights issue. We have debated if we should try to build alliances with other impacted immigrant groups, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, or if we should proceed separately.

We are at the end of November – National Adoption Awareness Month and the anti-immigrant and xenophobic climate has forced many of us to have uncomfortable conversations with our families and even ourselves, as we process what it all means for us as the adopted, immigrant, (people of color) children of our (white) American parents.

To keep up to date and support the work of American adult intercountry adoptees fighting for their right to automatic US Citizenship, see Adoptee Rights Campaign.

10 Replies to “Adoptee Citizenship”

  1. Hello Rachel! I am a former Peace Corps volunteer in Korea active in the ARC and Family Coalition for Adoptee Citizenship. We know many of the same people. Friends of Korea, an organization primairly made up of former Peace Corps volunteers who lived in Korea, would like to publish your article in their on-line magazine. Could we have your permission, and can you tell us if it was published elsewhere?

    An Intercountry & Transracial Adoptee’s Perspective
    by Rachel Kim Tschida

      1. Thank you! We are very pleased to do that. I assume that you have (or don’t need) Rachel’s permission in addition. I’ll share a copy with you when distributed. Thanks again.

    1. Just read the fist 5 pages. Family Coalition for Adoptee Citizenship will be delivering letters to members of the Senate and House Judicial committees within the next ten days. May we include this (the report on the first five pages)?Doing this in collaboration and cooperation with Joy and Raana at ARC, by the way.

      1. Yes Richard .. happy for you to include the first 5 pages just please acknowledge me as author and website again. And yes. I work with ARC Joy & Raana .. we went to the State Dept together with some others who are impacted .. it was disappointing to say the least .. all the State Dept could focus on was the “numbers” .. they were denying it impacted so many! And to date, they’ve done nothing to help facilitate adult intercountry adoptees who are impacted by connecting us in with Immigration and allowing us to present our case (educate) the Immigration Dept so that they can devise much more humane processes and questions that help flag intercountry adoptees from other types of people being flagged without citizenship. It’s disappointing how little “care” factor US State Dept has, to say the least given they have overall authority of intercountry adoption into America! Here was the minutes to our meetings

  2. 350,000 people have been forcably taken to the US, stripped of citizenship in their countries of birth and issued falsified documents to ensure that they would never be able to resume living under their authentic identities and to ensure that they would never be able to go home as a citizen of their own countries. High Treason and adoption are the only two reasons any country will turn its back its natural born citizens, leaving them stateless with their fates to be decided by whatever country will open its doors to the wretched. High treason is a crime considered tantamount to capital murder in every country in the world. Adoption is just an unfortunate reduction in human rights necessary to recycle existing people for service abroad in various capacities, but primarily to serve weathy people in the roll of their children when they cannot have any of their own or desire more than they have already had. People exported for adoption are scrubbed clean of their identities, provided with a reasonable amount of nonthreatening history and relational context, to assuage the guilt of the individuals taking the person, but leaving them not quite enough information to give them someplace or someone definate to run to and if they do try to run they will drown trying to navigate the literal and figurative ocean that separates them from their countries of origin.
    350,000 people forcably taken and recycled when all they needed was food, shelter and clothing for a while while they were minors; 1 yr, 5, maybe 10 or 17…however long it would take their family to get on solid ground enough for them to leave their carers and go home. The idea that the carer somehow becomes their parent is the problem since they are then viewed as born to that carer abroad as if they were that carers own child. That gain of US citizenship is at the forced loss, not just of citizenship in their own countries but also of their identity and their legal rights in their own families. These are individuals who could easily receive the same level of care either at home or abroad in an international host family, foster family or extended guardianship situation without changing their identities and taking away their natural born citizenship.

    American’s are so vain we think that people will be happy to swap their citizenship for ours even if its done, without their permission and before they fully understand the lifelong implications of renouncing your own government, leaders and country in favor of the United States. That is not the kind of decision we should be making on behalf of anyone other than ourselves. It is unconscionable that we are forcing something of such gravity on a person before they are old enough to conscienciously protest denouncing the government in the country where they were born even if that government and country really does suck it is an encroachment on that person’s very basic human rights afforded by the laws of all countries.
    We should have immigration laws that make application for citizenship easy and unremarkable for people who come to the US as minors who have either not been able to go home or if they did decided to return and permanently take up residency in the US. We should not, however, force people to give up their allegiance to their own countries or families in exchange for food, shelter and clothing while they are minors and have no say in where they are going or who they are going with. Normalizing this behavior is the very definition of global imperialism and it violates the tennents of human decency and respect for fellow man.
    And for those who think forced American citizenship of our foreign neighbors indigent children is just fine, how do they feel about the 3,300 US born children forceably adopted abroad who have lost their citizenship here in the country of their birth? Or do those American citizens really not count because their parents were black or poor white trash? Let’s take a second look at what we are outraged at in the discussion of citizenship as it impacts the globally adopted person. You just are not looking deeply enough or are not looking at what is going on right on the surface under our noses.

    1. Of course I fully support any effort to secure citizenship for adult people adopted from other countries who were placed in families who did not process all the requried paperwork to secure them US citizenship. The law should be changed to make that a easy and unchallenged matter as quickly as possible and nobody should be facing deportation due to it. But the very tiny sliver of a silver lining is that those having to go through the process themselves as adults WANT to do it knowing all the implication. Of course the frustrating part is that their identities have already been changed and their trutful identifying documents have already been seized and sealed so it’s not so much of an option as it is a necessity because they could be deported to their own country and not be a citizen there either. This all points to leaving people a fkg lone when we offer them aid in times of crisis. That is offer the aid without messing with who they are as people or with the rights they have and may some day wish to exercise. People are not soda cans, they are not actually recycleable

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