Adoptee Deportation: An American Injustice.

My Name Is Monica Ross from Gregory Luce on Vimeo.

Until 2000 children adopted internationally by US citizens were required to undergo a naturalization process prescribed by US law. Depending on the type of visa the child traveled under to enter the US, some were granted automatic citizenship while others gained citizenship only after their adoptive parents “re-adopted” them in the US following procedures outlined by federal and individual state law.

Unfortunately, many adoptive parents did not research or verify citizenship status at the time of adoption or follow through on the citizenship process. Some say they were unaware of naturalization requirements and believed citizenship was automatic upon adoption finalization. Some claim to have been misled about citizenship procedures by their adoption agencies, courts, lawyers, or federal immigration authorities. Some believed that it was up to the adoptee, at the age of majority, to choose their citizenship status. In some cases, adoptive parents disrupted the adoption, and either “rehomed” the children they brought to the US or turned them over to the state foster care system where they lingered with no legal closure.

Decades later these misunderstandings and failures led to legal problems—including deportation proceedings– for international adoptees years after their adoptions were assumed “finalized” and citizenship granted. Some of these adoptees are now in their 60s and 70s. Most had no idea that they were not US citizens until they attempted something as simple as registering to vote,or were convicted of minor crimes—even misdemeanors—and fell under the gaze of government authorities.

The passage of the federal Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (text) (CCA) attempted to remedy this situation by granting automatic citizenship to those born on or after February 27, 1983, the effective date of the legislation.

Those adopted before that date were left behind, subject to federal investigation and possible deportation under the old system. The situation became worse after 9/11 when legal identity and proof of citizenship came under critical scrutiny by federal, state, and local governments. Since then, the number of international adoptees deported or in the deportation pipeline has grown dramatically Most, before and after 2000 have been convicted of minor non-violent offenses particularly controlled substance possession; others reportedly investigated and threatened with deportation for simply applying for a Pell Grant or Social Security benefits such as Monica Ross..

The federal government keeps no statistics on the number of adoptees who have been deported or how many adoptees are in the US without US citizenship. We are therefore forced to rely on media reports on individual deportation cases or activist-researchers also hampered by poor official statistic keeping. The most complete documentation is located on the website of the adoption watchdog Pound Pup Legacy. Other stories are collected on adoptee citizenship activist web pages run by the Adoptee Rights Campaign and Adoptees for Justice. A general article on Korean adoptee deportation can be found on Wiki. Some researchers believe that the number of “illegal adoptees” in the US is about 15,000. but the number could go as high as 35,000. Perhaps more. According to activists. many probably are not aware of their “illegal” status and some may not even know that they are adopted. To make matters worse, those who learn they aren’t citizens are fearful of coming forward to apply for citizenship because under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996 they can be charged as undocumented by INS/ICE and subject to deportation. The law gives judges little discretion to stay deportations.

Currently, America’s “illegal adoptees” cannot gain permanent resident status. They cannot legally hold jobs or driver licenses or register vehicles, open bank accounts, join the military, receive security clearances, apply for US passports, or receive any number of government entitlements or funds—including Social Security that they or their spouses have contributed to and are eligible to collect.

Adoptee deportees have little or no memory of their countries of origin. They have no native-language skills and no family, friends, or support system in their first countries. Most have no means of employment in their original countries due not only to those limitations but because those governments severed citizenship when the child was adopted to the US. News reports indicate that deported adoptees often end up in homeless shelters and the streets—or worse– when returned to their countries of origin.


Since the passage of CCA 2000 three attempts have been made to close the pre-2000 “loophole,” but have met with resistance even by members of Congress who “get it.” A major stumbling block has been a concern over a “pathway to citizenship” for those convicted of crimes and deported to their country of origin. The bills are a hard-sell with adoptee citizenship being conflated with immigration controversies. Reportedly. some conservative legislators who actually supported earlier attempts to amend the ACA are hesitant to step forward for fear of being perceived as ‘pro-immigration.”An amended, inclusive ACA they say, can be the camel’s nose under the tent regarding immigration loopholes even though international adoption is not an immigration issue and is, in fact, deeply promoted by US foreign policy. In general, then, international adoption has been caught in the crosshairs of current and proposed immigration policy and controversy.

HR1593/S967 [PDF Copy]  The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2021 is he fourth attempt to fix this terrible injustice. The House bill is currently in the  House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.and the Senate bill is in the Committee on Judiciary. So far it ihas close to 70 sponsors in both houses but needs many more, and it is essential that leadership be on board.

Summary of HR1593/S967

These bills provide for the automatic acquisition of citizenship for certain individuals adopted by a U.S. citizen.

A child born outside the United States and adopted by a U.S. citizen shall automatically acquire citizenship upon meeting certain requirements, regardless of when the adoption was finalized. Currently, adoptees who were over the age of 18 on February 27, 2001, do not automatically acquire citizenship.

An individual born outside the United States and residing in the United States shall automatically acquire citizenship if the individual (1) was adopted by a citizen before becoming 18 years old, (2) was physically present in the United States in the citizen parent’s custody pursuant to lawful admission before becoming 18 years old, (3) never acquired citizenship before this bill’s enactment, and (4) was lawfully residing in the United States on this bill’s enactment date.

An individual born outside the United States and residing outside the United States but who otherwise meets all of the requirements shall automatically acquire citizenship upon being physically present in the United States pursuant to lawful admission. Such an individual shall be subject to a background check. If the background check reveals the individual has committed a crime that was not properly resolved, the individual may not receive a visa unless the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State have coordinated with law enforcement to ensure that action was taken to resolve the issue.

What you can do
  • Contact your Congressional Representatives and Senators in Washington and urge them to support and sponsor HR1593/S967.
  • Join us in asking Senator Chuck Schumer and his colleagues in the Senate and House to work together to fix this injustice. Getting leadership on board is essential to passage.
  • Contact your local legislators and ask them to introduce and pass state resolutions in support of ACA and citizenship for all adoptees.
  • Urge organizations to which you belong to support adoptee citizenship
  • Follow social media pages that advocate adoptee citizenship; participate in actions such as petitions, tweet storms; subscribe and respond to action alerts.
Selected Resources


Sponsored by Also Known As
Deported, Not Forgotten: Four Deported Adoptees Share Their Stories
November 16, 2021

Bastard Nation maintains a Citizenship  page on its website.




Day 9 of 30–
22 to go




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *