Adoptee Citizenship

 In Telling a Better Story

By Elizabeth DeVore

July 8, 2019

On Valentine’s Day, 2003, my husband and I stepped off a plane after over 20 hours of travel. In my arms was an 18-month-old boy we’d met a few days before. He didn’t know we had spent three years, countless hours in paperwork and training, and all-told $25,000 to bring him to our family. All he knew was that strange people had taken him from the only mother he remembered.

Our son did not have attachment disorder. His strong attachment to his foster family eventually transferred to us completely. He knew we were his parents and he was always secure as our son. Despite a few moments of adolescent angst, wherein he declared he’d go live under a bridge, his attachment is just as strong today as he approaches his 18th birthday.

It wasn’t the paperwork or even the judge who ultimately made him our son. It was God who directed us to the adoption agency and then to the country, and then directed the foreign government to match this baby with this clueless American couple. Our families validated God’s choice and instantly and completely accepted him as their own. Every phone call with my grandma started with, “How’s my baby?”

The government made him our son legally. After several years of meeting state and federal requirements, a state judge declared that he belongs to us and we to him. At that moment, the federal government declared him to be a citizen of the United States. He has a social security number, a passport, and this week he will test to get a driver’s license.

Everything is done. That’s what we thought, at least.

Our son is a citizen, but we never got the piece of paper that states that fact. His American passport should be enough. Lately, the political climate has changed. Sporadic reports are coming in that international adoptees who are citizens but do not have the official form are meeting resistance when applying for a passport or renewing their driver’s license. Our son turns 18 in September. We don’t know how far down the rabbit hole this is going to go.

So, last week, we filled out another fifteen forms and (thanks to family) wrote a $1170 check to get the piece of paper that says he is a citizen.

We’re lucky this is all it takes. Before the year 2000, internationally-adopted children were not automatically granted citizenship. This wasn’t always made clear to the parents. Other parents didn’t have the energy or the money to follow through. Their child was a legal resident, with a green card, but many couldn’t get social security numbers or passports. Some couldn’t get jobs. If the adoptee left the country or was convicted of a felony, they were vulnerable to deportation.

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 was designed to fix this. Any international adoptee under the age of 18 on February 27, 2001, automatically became a citizen. Our son falls under these parameters, but many older adoptees are still vulnerable. Adam Crapser, for example, who was adopted from Korea at the age of three. After two families abused and rejected him, he went into the foster care system. In the course of an understandably troubled youth, he earned himself a felony unlawful weapons possession conviction. Years later, as a stable family man, he tried to renew his green card so he could legally work. Homeland Security saw a deportable non-citizen with a felony conviction and deported him to Korea. Government agencies and private citizens made him a son, but not a citizen. Then they broke him. And when he acted in that brokenness, they didn’t try to make things right. They deported him. They deported their shame.

This is not God’s way. Four times, the Bible tells us that believers are adopted by God as His children (Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). But that transfer of allegiance doesn’t stop at the family level. We are also citizens of the kingdom of heaven (Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20). It makes no sense for a child to be adopted into a family but be refused citizenship into that family’s country. To an extent, the US government realizes this, but they didn’t take it far enough. Automatic citizenship needs to apply to every international adoptee.

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 must be fixed. Members of both the House and the Senate are proposing the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019. These bills will automatically ensure international adoptees whose adoption was finalized before they were 18 will receive retroactive citizenship regardless of how old they were in 2001.

Just as every adopted child of God is a citizen of His kingdom, every internationally adopted kid should automatically become a citizen and should automatically get the documentation that proves it. Please back these bills.

Beth served as an Air Force officer, a church secretary, a drafter, and a stay-at-home mom. She’s now an editor and writer for Got Questions Ministries. A native of Portland, OR, she now lives in Colorado Springs with her family.

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