The Life of a Non US Citizen adopted by US Citizens
As a black Haitian, I was always perceived as a threat to society. Haitians in general, due to poverty, are willing to work harder and longer hours for less pay, to feed their families. Adopted at around two years old, my new mother loved the attention she received for adopting a “black” baby. This forever marked her as a non-racist because she was willing to welcome a black child into her home. I learned early on that my adoption was never about me, but about how I made her look. From the day I was taken, I knew that the next many years were going to be rough. I was not going to bow to this woman. Over my dead body!
And literally it was over someone’s dead body. I was trafficked and given the name and papers of some child who passed away. My Adoptive Parents were so desperate to have me that they were willing to go to any length to get me. Even at my real mother’s opposition, they were happy and financially able to purchase the birth certificate of a dead child. Their claim? I didn’t have any papers. While this could very well be true, the proper process would have been to make sure I got the right papers. My real mother and father were alive. My birth siblings were alive and well. My mother came to visit me at the orphanage. But the path to destruction is paved with good intentions. The intentions were to get me out as soon as possible, no matter how my birth family felt.
Even though I was now “legally” theirs, I was never fully theirs. I never fully belonged. I was not a priority because they never did the right thing. From day 1(one) I knew I didn’t have US Citizenship. I knew this because I was told. I knew this because traveling with them was always difficult. I knew this because each time I wanted to travel outside the country, I had to get prior visa approval. I knew this because returning to the country I was being raised in required me to get prior visa approval as well. I had no home really. I felt like a wandering nomad at the mercy of two white people who saved me from the depths of Haiti’s soil. I depended on them for everything. And they provided, but nothing came free: like freedom. Part of adoption is the promise of rights. I was never given the same rights as their biological children. I was stuck in the middle. I was stuck between long term joy and temporary happiness. I was caught between loving them, but feeling not fully a part of them. I was stretched to my limit when I was held up at the airport or when I had to wait in the two hour immigration line. I was drained of my intelligence when I had to apply for a student visa to the USA even though my adoptive parents were American born. Dependency was my middle name. I could do nothing without their help. That is how they wanted it. I knew from day one that I did not posses the passport to the world.
Living without US Citizenship has greatly affected me. I never felt like I truly belonged to this family who went through lengths to make me theirs but chose not to take the final step. But practicality? I couldn’t get a job. I had a social security number but on the reverse side, the card read “Not Valid For Employment”. So it was used to claim me on their taxes. But I couldn’t work. I couldn’t really own property, I couldn’t take out a loan, and I couldn’t really get financial assistance. I was at the mercy of my adoptive parents who federal-expressed me checks, or money orders while living in the USA for school. Keeping me at a distance, just far enough to make me feel like I was on my own, but close enough to make them feel like they did the “right” thing in saving a poor black child. I had to watch what i was going to say at the airport. I could never tell them that I was attending school. And when I did, I could only stay a few months at a time because my visa would expire. I lived my life under the radar thanks to American parents who didn’t see me as a priority.
My practical life involved depending on those around me. My practical life without citizenship involved not being protected by the state, or country that allowed adoption to happen in the first place. Haiti no longer considered me Haitian, and the US didn’t want to claim me as their own. I was in this state of mental limbo. Never fully fitting into any people group. My creole was not good enough to make Haitian friends, and I was never black enough to be part of the black community. The white people I grew up with turned out to be people who took advantage of their privilege and stepped on the heads of those who were not privileged.
Living without citizenship meant being tied to a country that didn’t like me because of the color of my skin. I was not free to work, start my own business in the US, or collect social security in the future. I was not free to travel the world. I was grounded. But that is how I believe my adoptive parents wanted it. Because full citizenship meant I would receive a level of privilege that meant they could no longer force me to depend on them. Even getting my green card was a struggle. They didn’t want to sign the paperwork. They didn’t want to contribute. They wanted to save me as a child and then blame my inability to rise to the top on me.
Like so many adoptees, I thought I was alone. I grew up isolated. I had never really met other adoptees. But in 2015 I met more. I met adoptees and not just adoptees, but i met adoptees who were in the same situation I am in. They also don’t have citizenship. This greatly speaks to the lack of public awareness on the citizenship issue. Adoption agencies deny responsibility and immigration policies fail to comprehensively solve the overwhelming number of case-breakdowns caused by previous ambiguous and unregulated adoption laws. I learned that adoptees like myself who were left out of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 lack protection and are unrepresented by both national and international conventions. This was not a “mistake” by any means. A compromise had to be made and the decision was to keep certain people out. Furthermore, since our central authorities do not support this issue, legal communities are largely unfamiliar with these complexities. This places psychological, emotional and critical burden of resolution on the impacted adoptee. Other adoptees and myself are working now on presenting another bill that will grant citizenship to those left out of the Child Citizenship Act. It will put thousands of adoptees at ease and feeling what they knew all along: that US citizenship belongs to them.
Personal Insight on my Intercountry adoption
Intercountry adoption won’t work if it is not done correctly. Thousands of adoptees didn’t choose the path they were put on. They didn’t choose to be adopted. Decisions were made for them but one of the most important decisions that were made for them actually harmed more than did any good. I don’t believe that intercountry adoption should be allowed if both countries are not on the same page. Currently, the sending country is under the impression the receiving country is doing the right thing but instead, they are being misled. America is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. But it is not. Just like the intention was never for blacks to receive freedom, the anthem does not speak about them. They were not free. In adoption, the adoptee is very seldom free. They are tied to a new entity, with a name change, a birthday altered, the location of birth redone to represent how good the adopters were, and their life and mind forever masked to represent a people who never existed in the first place, they…we…were never free. But we were brave. So if anything, citizenship should be for us who were brave to weather the change of language, religion, culture, name, age, identity, insults, racism, hate crimes, and abusive adoptive parents. We were brave. America is not just for the free, but it is for the brave. Giving us citizenship, because we were promised this with the packaged adoption deal will make us free. We speak up because we are brave. Because of our exclusion three decades later, adoptees are surfacing to remind the world that we continue to be fearless in a country built on fear. We are the least recognized Americans in the claim to our civil rights and yet we are the ones to close the gaps in our adoptive parents relationships, infertility, depression, fear of loneliness. At the risk of losing ourselves, we are here to provide comfort to others. Citizenship should be ours.
My message to Congress
My lack of citizenship does not just affect me personally but it affects my offspring. I too adopted from Haiti and had I had citizenship, I could have passed that onto my child. I am blessed to finally have a green card. But it is not something that I should have to fight for. It is not something I should have cried over. I should not have gotten knots in my stomach whenever I would get new notifications online with the knowledge that I would have to meet the requirements and part of meeting the requirements meant i had to resume contact with people who stole me. I should not have had to plead for a signature. I should not have had to spend months being depressed after finding out that the adoption papers were never signed by my real mother. Had I had citizenship, I would have been able to find all this stuff out but resting assured that I would be secure and safe and supported by the USA. I would have had a job, been able to own property, been able to travel the world without pre-approved visas. I would not have been detained because I forgot to bring my Sevis. I would not have been humiliated in Haiti for sounding like a white American but not possessing the identity of one. My daughter is now in her teen years and soon she will want to work. Because I do not have citizenship, she needs to go through a very rigorous process to be able to work legally in the USA. I have always done everything by the book. I have NEVER broken the law but I feel the law has broken me. In my case and in so many other adoptees’ cases the law bent away from those most vulnerable. Congress, when you were ok with benefiting from my adoption, you were also agreeing to giving me the freedom. The adoption freed my physical body and removed me from a country and culture I knew and experienced. You brought me to a world where the color of my skin does matter, how I talk does matter and the way I wear my hair may affect the odds of me getting a well paying job. Can’t you at least give me the citizenship I deserve? Congress, fulfil your promise to the people you saved. Grant us the citizenship we have in our hearts but not on paper. Create a pathway so that we can continue to feel we are loved and free because I promise you, we are all very brave.
Recommendations for other Adoptees
It is critical that all adoptees understand their adoption stories, legal status, especially citizenship status. If assistance from the primary adoption agency is unavailable, utilizing the Freedom of Information Act will provide access to records with USCIS. Understand that just because you have a SS# does not mean you were registered properly. Check to make sure your adoptive parents have given you ALL of your adoption paperwork and check vigorously for inconsistency which may hinder the process of receiving citizenship. If you have committed any infraction, be aware that this may affect your ability to receive citizenship even though you should have had it in the first place. Adoption advocacy groups can provide guidance and will often provide Pro-bono legal services. Immigration Attorneys with credentials from the Board of Immigration Appeals specialize in the most current immigration policies. Contact the AdopteeRightsCampaign.org. or find us on Facebook. You can also find a lawyer who is part of the AILA who may be willing to help you with your case.