Adoptees Still Pushing for Citizenship; Legislation Re-introduced Yesterday

On Thursday, Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J), and Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) resurrected a bill that would eliminate a loophole in federal law that has left thousands of legally adopted international adoptees without citizenship for decades.

Members of the Adoptee Rights Campaign took their story to the Hill for a briefing co-hosted by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), as well as former Rep. Bill Delahunt, who led the effort to pass the Child Citizenship Act in 2000. The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2018 was introduced on March 8. Photo from the Adoptee Rights Campaign.

The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2018 will provide U.S. citizenship for adoptees whose parents failed to finalize citizenship for them during their childhood despite being adopted as young children by U.S. citizens.

“International adoptees who were adopted by American parents and raised as Americans should have the same rights of citizenship as biological children,” said Hirono in a press release yesterday. “I’m proud to work with Senator Blunt to close the loophole in the Child Citizenship Act and right this wrong.”

The loophole has received widespread attention in the last few years with high profile cases like Adam Crapser who was deported to Korea, despite having been adopted by American citizens as a toddler. Crapser, like Korean adoptee Phillip Clay, was deported after an arrest that flagged their citizenship status. Once deported to their country of birth adoptees face any number of challenges, starting with not knowing the language and not being connected to anyone there. At age 42, Clay jumped from the 14th story of a Korean apartment building to his death May 21, 2017.

Despite these high profile cases, The Adoptee Citizenship Act failed to pass during the 114th Congress in late 2016. But adoptees haven’t given up advocating for the passage of this bill.

An estimated 35,000-75,000 international adoptees are impacted and living in the United States without citizenship despite being adopted by American citizens and raised in this country their entire lives, according to statistics from the Adoptee Rights Campaign.

In 2000, the Child Citizenship Act was passed to help remedy this problem for intercountry adoptees, making citizenship automatic for children adopted internationally. But the passage of that law was only made applicable for international adoptions from 2000 forward, leaving all those adopted prior to that without citizenship and vulnerable to deportation if they did not go through the naturalization process while they were minors.

“Closing the existing loopholes in the Child Citizenship Act will ensure international adoptees are treated equally under U.S. law,” said Rep. Adam Smith, in a press release today. This bill will positively impact thousands of Americans, by granting citizenship they should have had in the first place and fostering stability in their lives and communities. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance this important legislation.”

In a 2016 interview with The Chronicle of Social Change, Adam Smith said:

“We’re talking about people who have no connection whatsoever to their birth country. They’re subject to the laws of the United States if they commit a crime, but they shouldn’t be subject to deportation. This is a very small niche issue and doesn’t fit into the larger argument about immigration. It’s a simple injustice. Time is obviously important because there are people subject to this.”

Earlier this year, a group from the Adoptee Rights Campaign took their story to the Hill for a briefing hosted by Hirono and Smith, as well as former Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), who led the effort to pass the Child Citizenship Act in 2000. Among those advocating was 51-year-old Joy Kim-Alessi, who despite being adopted at 7 months old by an American couple, is not a U.S. citizen because her parents didn’t complete the naturalization process for her, and she didn’t even realize she wasn’t a citizen until she applied for a passport at age 30.

Fortunately for Kim-Alessi, she has her permanent resident status, which allows her to remain in this country and be gainfully employed. But she is not allowed to vote, collect government benefits or apply for federal employment.

“This bill is going to monumentally life-changing,” said Kim-Alessi who in recent years had succumbed to the idea that she would remain a permanent legal resident her entire life. “Since I’ve never been a citizen, it’s hard to opine in all the ways this would impact me.”

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Kim Phagan-Hansel
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