Upon passage into law, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019 would provide automatic citizenship to adult adoptees in the United States who were adopted before the age of 18 to at least one U.S. citizen parent and are residing in the United States on the day of enactment of the Adoptee Citizenship Act (H.R. 2731). Adoptees who meet all other criteria, but who are not present on the date of enactment, would be eligible for automatic citizenship of the United States on the date they lawfully re-entered the United States (H.R. 2731). The Adoptee Citizenship Act also states that the grounds of inadmissibility outlined in the larger Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S. Code §1182) would not apply to adult adoptees seeking citizenship. The proposed bill does have certain limitations on citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act would not grant citizenship to adoptees who entered the country illegally, do not currently possess legal status, or who have committed an unresolved crime (J. Fleischer, R. Yarborough, S. Jones, 2019). This means that some adoptees who have been deported to their original countries would be able to return and become U.S. citizens, but others would not.
One of these forgotten adoptees was Adam Crapser, who came to the attention of the media in 2015 after he received a notice of deportation. Crapser was adopted from Korea when he was three years old by one set of abusive parents, who relinquished him after six years, and then by the Crapsers, who were later criminally charged with neglect, rape, and child maltreatment (Jones, 2015). Crapser was told by his first set of adoptive parents that they had completed the citizenship paperwork, but in reality, they had not finished the process. Crapser, a married father of three, found out as an adult that he was not a citizen and applied for a green card (Jones, 2015). His green card application paired with his prior criminal record was what prompted an ICE investigation, which ultimately led to his deportation in 2016.
Crapser is not alone. Dozens of international adoptees who were legally adopted as children to the United States have been deported to Vietnam, Thailand, and Brazil (Choe, 2017). Some adoptees have even been removed from the U.S. for minor violations, such as unpaid parking tickets (Shim, 2019). The Korean adoptees have received the most attention because their cohort is so large. There are at least 10 – 12 known Korean American adoptees who have been deported to Korea, many of whom have experienced significant mental health troubles (Choe, 2017; Associated Press, 2019). Crapser is unique as the first deported adoptee to sue Holt Children’s Services for fraudulent adoption paperwork as well as the Korean government for negligent adoption practices (Associated Press, 2019).
Following the news of Crapser’s deportation and lawsuit, adoptees across the United States and repatriated adoptees living in Korea energized and lobbied U.S. politicians to amend the Child Citizenship Act, so that no more adult adoptees who grew up in the United States will have to face what Crapser and others have experienced. Their work paid off when Senator Klobuchar introduced the first iteration of the Adoptee Citizenship Act. Her state, Minnesota, has one of the highest numbers of Korean adoptees per capita in the world (Glover, 2010). The proposed bill was first introduced into the Senate and House of Representatives during the 2015-2016 cycle as the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2015 (S. 2275, 2015; H.R.5454, 2016). Despite the Adoptee Rights’ Campaign’s fundraising and publicity efforts, the Adoptee Citizenship Act did not pass into law during the 114th Congress. The Adoptee Citizenship Act was again introduced in the 2017-2018 Congress. H.R.5233 was sponsored by Representative Smith along with 46 additional co-sponsors, a substantial increase from the previous attempt, which had 7 co-sponsors. South Korean representatives came to the United States to testify in support of the Adoptee Citizenship Act to Congress in the spring of 2017 (Choe, 2017). Yet, the Adoptee Citizenship Act again stalled in Congress.
Despite bipartisan support, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019 has a very limited legislative history. The bills, H.R.2731 and S.1554, have made it as far as the previous renditions. In the Senate, S.1554 was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. In the House of Representatives, the identical bill has progressed slightly further. The Committee on the Judiciary referred it to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. These actions were taken in June of 2019, and there has not been any movement since the early summer. In the current political climate, the Adoptee Citizenship Act is being read as an immigration bill, not an adoption bill. In recent years, there has been a growing fervor of anti-immigration sentiment nationally. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has stopped legislation that would benefit migrant children at the border, bills that would protect “Dreamer” immigrants, and blocked immigration efforts during the Obama administration, as well (Carney, 2019; Pace, 2014; Vogt, 2019). The President’s director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Cuccinelli (2019), recently said, “no one has a right to become an American who isn’t born here as an American.” This sentiment was acted upon in August of 2019, when a new policy was released, no longer granting the children born to or adopted by U.S. military service members stationed abroad automatic citizenship (Alverez, Browne, & Sands, 2019). While the ruling will affect only a small number of people, estimated at 100 annually (Alverez, Browne, & Sands, 2019), a precedent of limiting citizenship has been set which will make further action on the Adoptee Citizenship Act during this administration unlikely.
The Adoptee Citizenship Act would bring justice to some deported adoptees, who would be able to obtain citizenship upon their return to the United States. Those who were deported would not have been had they automatically received citizenship on February 21, 2001 along with the child adoptees at the time. Dr. Diane B. Kunz, Executive Director for the Center for Adoption Policy (2019), remarked, “the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019, if passed, will rectify this gap and right an injustice to adoptees that has existed for too long.” Passage of the Adoptee Citizenship Act cannot undo time away from families and the total uprooting of lives. Being able to re-enter the United States as citizens would be a semblance of justice.
Lastly, the Adoptee Citizenship Act recognizes the function of a democracy and that adoptees, who grew up in the United States, are American. Without citizenship, adoptees cannot apply for a passport, driver’s license, and student loans (Wang, 2015). They may be unable to find meaningful employment, receive promotions at work, or open bank accounts, all of which would add to the economy. Most critical to a democracy, adoptees who know no other country cannot vote and have a political voice on policies that affect them. Senator Collins (2019) argued, “Individuals who were legally adopted by loving U.S. parents, raised with American values, and are now contributing members of our society should not be denied citizenship due to a technicality in current law.”
The bill additionally excludes adoptees who have a felony on their criminal record from being able to gain citizenship (Fleischer, Yarborough, and Jones, 2019.) Some Republicans like Cuccinelli (2019) believe that immigration is a “privilege” for those “who can stand on their own two feet, self-sufficient, can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” They might argue that adoptees were deported due to a felony, and having a criminal record may indicate that they could be a public danger or a drain on the government if allowed citizenship. According to this set of values, deportation may be seen as justice. The question remains for adoptees, like Crapser, who have served their time in jail for their crimes, when will they stop being punished?
The Adoptee Citizenship Act would give equal citizenship to some adoptees, correct injustices to some deported adoptees and grant some adoptees who have not been able to enjoy the rights and privileges with American status the ability to fully participate in their country. The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019 does not apply the values of equality, justice, and democracy equally among this group of adoptees; however, the bill is a needed starting point to begin to address the gaps in the current law that have tragically failed international adoptees.
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