Excited about turning 18 during a presidential election year, Jenna Johnson registered to vote with her high school classmates and cast her first ballot. She canvassed her local Minnesota neighborhood as a volunteer signing up voters. Then four years later, while sharing stories with other Korean adoptees who remembered their naturalization ceremonies, Jenna couldn’t recall ever experiencing her own. A few days later, she phoned what was then the Immigration and Naturalization Service to check on her status and was shocked to learn that she was not a U.S. citizen. Her green card, which she kept as a memento from her adoption as a 2-year old, had expired.
As a permanent resident, she had unknowingly committed voter fraud, a crime punishable by deportation.
The story of Jenna Johnson (name changed at source’s request) might sound unusual. But she’s actually one of thousands of adult adoptees who were not grandfathered into the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA), which as of February 27, 2001 grants automatic citizenship to children who arrive in the United States on IR-3 visas. Parents whose children travel on IR-4 visas, which in recent years constitute almost half of all inter-country adoptions, finalize procedures by re-adopting their children in their states of residence at which time citizenship attaches.
Although an estimated 75,000 adopted children were protected on the bill’s enforcement date, adoptees who had already reached the age of 18 were left vulnerable. In this past decade, the media has reported on about 30 of the most urgent cases in which adult adoptees face removal and forced overseas separation from their families in the United States.
Although the CCA exempted adult adoptees like Jenna from losing permanent residency due to voter fraud, it still failed to make her and all other adult adoptees citizens. Why are adult adoptees, who are their parents’ legal children and heirs, any less American than those whose birthdays qualify them for CCA eligibility?
Still hoping for change
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