When Sonya Fultz adopted her son Marty from Guatemala in 2004, she set to work securing his re-adoption in her Ohio county, getting his Social Security card and ensuring his American citizenship. Fultz adopted under an IR-4 Visa because she was the only parent who traveled, so automatic citizenship wasn’t granted until the re-adoption paperwork was completed. She was diligent in her attention to all of those paperwork processes and has traveled internationally with her son many times with his American passport. But life happened and Fultz delayed on getting Marty’s Certificate of Citizenship — until 2016.
Watching the political climate change with regard to immigration, Fultz began to worry and when it was announced that the N-600 for the Certificate of Citizenship price was doubling at the end of December, Fultz knew she didn’t want to wait any longer.
“The election scared me,” Fultz said. “Immediately we decided we needed the Certificate of Citizenship. We have a very strict sheriff on immigration policies and Marty has faced issues. We’ve had too many moments not to recognize our kids are at risk.”
Fultz wasn’t alone. Adoptive families across the country have been filing for a Certificate of Citizenship, checking on status with the Social Security administration and just doing their due diligence to ensure their child’s citizenship is secured.
“My office did more in the month of December than we did in the previous five years,” said Kelly Dempsey a private attorney in North Carolina who has been working on adoption issues since she adopted internationally several years ago.
The rate hike coupled with current immigration policies means, more and more people are filing for a Certificate of Citizenship, causing a backlog at the State Department. Estimates are that it will take six to nine months for families to receive their Certificate of Citizenship for their child.
“This is just part of it and you need to get it all sewn up,” Dempsey said.
Adopted Before 2000
Prior to 2000, adoptees were required to be naturalized citizens and were viewed as immigrants to this country. It was a cumbersome process that ultimately about 30,000 adoptees didn’t go through. That has left many of them undocumented and without the proper paperwork to prove citizenship. This causes numerous problems for these individuals, such as being unable to get a job or even a driver’s license. For some, it can even mean deportation.
Late last year, Adam Crapser was deported to Korea after a highly publicized case. Adopted at age 3 by American parents, Crapser was abused by his adoptive parents who neglected to file for Crapser’s American citizenship. Later adopted by another abusive family, no one ever took care of the paperwork necessary to get his citizenship complete and when Crapser ended up with a criminal record it put him on the radar screen of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. After losing his court case, he decided to no longer await deportation, but to take his chance in Korea, a country he hadn’t been to since he was a toddler.
“We as a country have been deporting adoptees from a long time,” Dempsey said. “[Adoptees] They’re bearing all the responsibility of fixing it.”
Stories like Crapser’s are unfortunately not unique and the Adoptee Rights Campaign has been seeking to raise awareness about the situation and fix it through legislation that was proposed in the last legislative session, the Adoptee Citizenship Act. Unfortunately, that legislation failed to pass and the Adoptee Rights Campaign is currently regrouping.
“We’re doing more strategic planning on how in our current political climate we can move forward,” said Emily Kessel who has worked with the Adoptee Rights Campaign for a while now. “We just want to make sure we can take this across the finish line.”
In the meantime, the Adoptee Rights Campaign is supporting adoptees who don’t have their citizenship paperwork in order by helping them find attorneys who can assist. While some are trying to go through the naturalization process, Kessel said others are more fearful and prefer to try to exist quietly without drawing attention to their citizenship status. The organization is working to educate all adoptees and hopes to roll out a full Know Your Rights campaign at a later time.
“We’re just informing everyone to be cautious,” Kessel said. “There’s a lot of fear right now. The energy that was there last year has transformed to a heightened fear.”
As the Adoptee Rights Campaign supporters continue to advocate for a new introduction of the Adoptee Citizenship Act in this congressional session, they’re seeking help from others in the adoption community to support the cause and raise more awareness.
“This is an issue we want to have become a top priority,” Kessel said.
Adopted Post 2000
The Citizenship Act of 2000 changed the way the immigration system looked at the adoption process. Instead of the children being viewed as immigrants and having to go through the naturalization process, they were granted automatic citizenship per adoption completion in their birth country. For children with both parents present in the international country an IR-3 Visa was filed and adoptees immediately became citizens. However, adoptive parents were still required to file for a Social Security card and Certificate of Citizenship once they were back in the United States. And if a child’s name changed, an amended birth certificate must be secured.
For children who were adopted under an IR-4 Visa, where only one adoptive parent traveled to the country, a re-adoption was required upon returning home and then the additional documents like the Social Security card and Certificate of Citizenship could be secured.
In the last few weeks some adoptive parents have called the Social Security administration to check on their child’s status only to discover they are not listed as a U.S. citizen, Dempsey said. This has resulted in many calls to her office and other attorneys across the country to fix the problem.
Dempsey also encourages parents to get these important documents and processes taken care of now. Once a child reaches age 18, the entire process becomes more difficult, requiring consultation with an immigration attorney. If you discover problems with your child’s status, Dempsey said, “Find an immigration attorney who understands adoption and can help determine what options there are.”
Even among adoptees who have all of the proper paperwork and whose citizenship is finalized, a level of concern has crept in. Concerns about racial profiling and being able to prove citizenship if asked by government and law enforcement officials is a semi-regular conversation on many of adoption Facebook groups.
“There is great uncertainty and fear running rampant through the adoption community,” Dempsey said. “Families are suddenly focused on doing what’s required to ensure their child’s citizenship status.”
While some have criticized what seems to be documentation overkill, Dempsey said it’s important for all adoptees to have a birth certificate, passport, Social Security card and the Certificate of Citizenship.
“You need all four of them for your foreign-born adopted child,” Dempsey said. “They are expensive and sometimes impossible to replace.”
And it doesn’t stop at just obtaining the documentation. Dempsey encourages parents to teach their children how to talk about their legal status and how to advocate for themselves.
“It’s a scary time for our kids,” Dempsey said. “Our kids need to understand their legal status and how it was obtained.”
Fultz echoes Dempsey’s message of education. “It’s not about fear — it’s about preparing my child to be an adult male of color. It’s about how he engages with authority in his life. It’s important to have a conversation so they’re comfortable talking about their citizenship.”
And for those considering traveling outside of the country, Dempsey encourages a couple of extra safeguards. Having copies of all documents is imperative and she said it’s essential the child travel under their U.S. passport, not the one from their birth country.
“If you don’t have citizenship secured, don’t leave the country — even if you have a green card.” Dempsey said.