A Day on the Hill – Adoptee Citizenship Act Day of Action

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Over the past year, the Adoptee Rights Campaign, adoptees, and their allies have been fighting for the Adoptee Citizenship Act. This legislation would close a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which granted citizenship to all international adoptees under the age of 18 at the time of the bill’s passage and all future international adoptees adopted to U.S. parents. Since international adoption to the U.S. had been occurring en masse since the 1950s, several thousands of adoptees were not covered by the Child Citizenship Act.

The Adoptee Citizenship Act would grant retroactive citizenship to adoptees who were not covered under the previous bill. Although the onus of securing citizenship for adoptees was previously on adoptive parents, there was no clear and standardized communication to adoptive parents about the need to naturalize their adopted children. As a result, many did not know that they should naturalize their children. Instead, they assumed that their children would share in their American citizenship. Even for those who did begin the process to naturalize, due to the chaotic and disjointed system, communication between parents and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services was irregular and infrequent. Currently, there are an estimated 35,000 adoptees without citizenship.

On Thursday, December 1, I joined about 20 other adoptees and allies on Capitol Hill to lobby for the Adoptee Citizenship Act. Throughout the day we had briefings with Representatives’ and Senators’ staff and held a press conference featuring two adoptees without citizenship, Joy, adopted from Korea, and Chris, adopted during the Vietnam Baby Lift.

As I listened to Joy and Chris’ stories, I was both saddened and shocked. Saddened because they are both in precarious positions and risk being separated from their families – the families they were adopted into and the families that they have started. Shocked because of the utter disorganization, misinformation, and mixed messages of the U.S. government and adoption agencies. While I understand that it was parents’ responsibility to find out if their children had U.S. citizenship and then to naturalize their child AND I get that adoptees, who are now adults, could pursue naturalization on their own, there is a deep feeling of displacement that I feel as an adoptee when thinking about this very material evidence of our liminality.

Transnational transracial adoptees often share this feeling of being between spaces, places, and people. In the case of adoptees without citizenship, these feelings take a palpable form. It feels as if it is not only our American-ness that is in peril in this very concrete way but also our place in our own families.

By the end of our day on Capitol Hill, I felt proud of the ongoing work that the Adoptee Rights Campaign is doing and that I was able to contribute. Lending my voice to raise awareness of the Adoptee Citizenship Act is part of the responsibility I have as a fellow adoptee. Here’s to continuing to fight for our rights to U.S. citizenship.

Get involved! Visit the Adoptee Rights Campaign for more info!

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Abuse in Adoptive Families

In the U.S., approximately four to seven children die each day as a result of child abuse or neglect. The abuse of children is horrific in any instance but takes on added scrutiny when it is at the hands of adoptive parents. High-profile cases of child abuse by adoptive parents, such as the death of Hana Williams or Madoc O’Callaghan, raise questions of the responsibility of adoption agencies in safeguarding children, particularly the role of in-depth background checks of potential parents.

Child abuse can cause long-term health effects to the victim’s life expectancy, mental health and stability, and physical well-being. These effects may be further compounded among adoptees, who also have the added trauma of separation from their first family and, in the case of transnational adoptees, birth culture. Comprehensive post-adoption services are needed to help adoptees’ process the trauma associated with adoption, however these services are not readily available and are often cost-prohibitive. Similarly, the services needed to address child abuse and neglect are often limited.

While it is unclear if there are differences in the rate of child abuse within adoptive families compared to families overall, it is important to be aware of the signs of child abuse. To learn more about child abuse statistics and how to identify it and intervene for child safety, see:

 

 

 

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Rehoming

Rehoming is the non-legal term referring to the practice of placing an adopted child in another family’s home. This is typically a situation occurring outside of the scope of the law, legal professionals, or child welfare agencies and/or practitioners. High profile cases of rehoming have brought media attention to this practice. For example, in 2015 Arkansas Republican Representative Justin Harris and his wife, Marsha, came under scrutiny for rehoming the two sisters they adopted. One of the girls was repeatedly sexually abused her new ‘father.’ In 2010, Tennessee woman, Torry Hansen, sent her seven year-old adopted son alone on a flight back to Moscow. Her son was then met by a stranger, who she solicited on the internet and paid to take her son to the Russian Education and Science Ministry. The child remains in Russia although he is an American citizen and, under Tennessee law, still considered to be Hansen’s son.

Some statistics estimate that up to 5 percent of adoptions are dissolved, where the parent-child relationship is severed after the adoption is finalized. However, because rehoming occurs outside of the law, accurate statistics on this practice are unknown.

Rehoming is among one of the worst case scenarios for adoption and points to the need for more pre-adoption training for parents and post-adoption services for both parents and children. Parents who have rehomed their children often cite the lack of services or the cost of services as barriers to keeping their children. Additional post-adoption services would help ease the transition of older children and children with special needs, who are among the most frequently rehomed.

For an in-depth investigative series on rehoming, see:

 

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War Brides, Yellow Fever, and a Korean Adoptee

I remember the day I transitioned from cute Korean adoptee to sexualized Asian American woman. It was the weekend, and like many other families, my father and I were doing our weekly grocery shopping. The checkout line was wrapped around the frozen food aisle. My father and the white military serviceman behind him had struck up a conversation. Then I heard the question to my dad, “Is that your wife?”

I was barely a teenager.

Were my father and I of the same race, I doubt that question would have been asked. Were I of a different race, still not white but not Asian either, again I doubt that question would have been the one asked.

Instead of one of the countless Asian adoptees in the U.S., the questioner lumped me into the category of the countless Asian military brides of U.S. servicemen. Some might try to rationalize this assumption, we were on a military base’s grocery store, the questioner was a military serviceman, and the families all had military ties. But, there was nothing rational about this question.

I was barely a teenager.

A couple decades later this same scenario played out as my father and I joined an afternoon boat ride around the Wisconsin River. We sat on the lower deck near the captain, a white man at the later years of middle age. As the boat left the dock, the captain urged us, “Don’t be shy. You two can cuddle.” I quickly retorted, “I love my father, but not like that!” The captain apologized and then later flirted with me.

Transnational transracial adoption adds children of color to white families with the promise of a family just like any other. In many ways, this form of family-making creates families similar to blood family relations, but in countless others, transnational transracial families face distinct challenges. Adoptees are often seen as adorable children in need yet we do not remain children forever. We have some understanding of what the adoptee child means or looks like but far less understanding about what it means to be an adoptee as an adult. Children by birth simply grow up and continue being daughters or sons, sisters or brothers. Children by adoption grow up and become, or continue to be, outsiders among their family – assumed ‘wives,’ ‘husbands,’ or ‘romantic partners’ at best, sexualized objects prime for the taking at worst.

What happens when the adoptee child grows up?

Do promises of forever family hold true?

Who do adoptees become in the context of family?

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