Protecting Citizenship for International Adoptees

It’s a frustrating and tragic reality that some international adoptees have been deported from the only country they consider home — they’re separated from the only family they’ve known, their homes, friends, jobs, and the lives they’ve built. These adoptees have then been sent to the country where they were born, but they often have no relationship to this country. They may not know anyone there, and they often don’t speak the language.

How did this happen? Could this happen to you?

When an internationally adopted person’s adoption isn’t correctly finalized by one country’s standards or they aren’t re-adopted on U.S. soil, their U.S. citizenship could be called into question. Adoptive parents must complete their child’s citizenship paperwork and obtain proof of citizenship for the adopted child, or deportation could be possible, even decades later.

Cases like those of Phillip Clay, Adam Crasper and Viviana Cogswell Hill have made headlines in recent years and have drawn greater attention to the alarming possibility of deportation for international adoptees who are citizens of the United States in all but legal terms. Here’s what you need to know about adoption and immigration and how to protect yourself and your family:

How to Get Certificate of Citizenship for Adopted Child

Too often, adoptive parents will adopt internationally and think that they’ve done everything that they were supposed to. But their child still isn’t actually a U.S. citizen because they didn’t obtain a certificate of citizenship. This could go undiscovered for years.

Even if a child should be covered by The Child Citizenship Act of 2000, there may still be legal loopholes that adoptees could fall through. If an international adoptee was issued an IH-3 or IR-3 visa, they are assumed U.S. citizens. But obtaining that Certificate of Citizenship upon the adoption finalization is the best way to protect yourself and your family.

To do this, adoptive parents will need to file Form N-600 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

International adoptees who have discovered that they are not technically U.S. citizens have to apply for citizenship, unfortunately. You can learn more about the USCIS naturalization process here.

The best tactic is still to prevent these issues from arising in the first place by adoptive parents properly completing their child’s adoption and ensuring their status as a U.S. citizen. Legislation is still slow-moving to help international adoptees who have already been unjustly affected by citizenship technicalities, which has had tragic consequences.

Why U.S. Citizenship for Adopted Children is So Important

A finalized adoption and a one-way trip to the United States doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a citizen in the eyes of the law. Your parents can be American, you can have been raised as an American and consider yourself nothing but an American citizen, but if you don’t have that adopted child citizenship certificate, you could face legal difficulties even much later in life.

The consequences for failing to obtain proof of U.S. citizenship for adopted children can include:

  • Difficulties obtaining driver’s licenses, applying for jobs, passports, etc.
  • Having to go through a lengthy naturalization process
  • Arrest and/or being held in a detainment center to await legal action
  • Deportation to your birth country
  • And more

You could go through much of your life without you or your parents ever knowing that you’re not legally a U.S. citizen. Many international adoptees find out that their parents failed to obtain their adopted child citizenship when they apply for a government document like a U.S. passport or driver’s license, or if they are arrested for an unrelated offense and the police look into their citizenship status.

How to Protect Yourself and Other International Adoptees from Potential Deportation

The best protection is prevention. Adoptive parents must secure their child’s adoption citizenship correctly.

However, for international adoptees who are worried about their safety, there are a few things you can do whenever possible:

  • Check your citizenship status.
  • Have copies of your final adoption decree and other adoption records.
  • Start the naturalization process immediately if you find out that your parents never filed for your citizenship — waiting longer could increase the possibility of deportation.
  • Urge others to properly complete their international adoptions, and to file Form N-600 to firmly establish their internationally adopted child’s citizenship.
  • Help raise awareness about the unjust deportation of international adoptees.