It’s somehow fitting that this story – about the pending deportation of yet another American who was adopted into his family – is occurring during the 50th Anniversary of the Selma march.
I’m not suggesting the two are exactly analogous. I am pointing out that there are many areas of civil rights in which injustices remain and in which we need to make significant progress.
The last time I wrote about this issue, the deportation of adopted people who were born in other countries and who had committed crimes in the U.S., was for the Huffington Post over two years ago. I said then, and I repeat in light of this new case today, that criminals should absolutely be punished. But sending them to a place where they know no one and don’t speak the native language is simply appalling and over the line.
Imagine that your daughter, whom you raised from infancy, was convicted of forgery in an attempt to get money to feed a drug habit. You certainly wouldn’t be surprised if she were prosecuted for that , and while it would be heart-breaking, you’d expect her to be punished, probably even jailed.
How would you feel if instead, she was deported to another country where she knows no one and doesn’t speak the native language?
I am not making this up. It happened about ten years ago to a woman named Kairi Abha Shepherd, and it is a vivid example of the unfairness and inequality that still sometimes exists in the world of adoption.
Here’s the core of the case: Shepherd was adopted from India into the United States in 1982, when she was three months old. Her mother, a single woman in Utah, died of cancer eight years later, so Shepherd went on to live with guardians for the remainder of her childhood.
In short, Shepherd’s adoption took place before 2000, when a new federal statute conferred automatic U.S. citizenship on most children adopted internationally into this country. The law included a retroactive provision, but she was adopted a few months before it kicked in. The adults in her life were supposed to fill out paperwork for her to become a citizen, but that never happened.
When Shepherd was convicted in 2004 of forgery, a crime committed to help feed a drug habit, U.S. authorities did what they do to many felons who don’t have documents showing they are Americans: They started deportation proceedings. It didn’t seem to matter that Shepherd has lived as an American for all but a few months of her life, and it is an extraordinary price to pay for a bureaucratic oversight made by the adults who raised her.
In my book Adoption Nation, I write about a young man who was adopted into the U.S. as a child, convicted of car theft and credit card fraud, and deported at age 25 to Thailand, where (same story) he knew no one and didn’t speak the native tongue. Can you imagine anything comparable happening to someone born into his or her family, whatever the offense? Of course not.
People who break the law should unequivocally pay an appropriate price for their offenses. But I think it can fairly be argued that the reason some are being ejected from the only country they’ve ever known is not because of the crime they’ve committed – but because they were adopted.
This feels grievously wrong. We should be shocked, we should be outraged, and we should do whatever is necessary to halt the cases already in progress and to prevent this from ever happening again.
Nothing seemingly has changed during the last couple of years, legislatively or administratively, to remedy this problem. Here’s hoping the media, legislators and advocates of equal rights and social justice finally step up, give this issue the attention it requires, and then actually do something about it.
Adam Pertman is the CEO of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency
Written By Chronicle Of Social Change
Deporting International Adoptees: Unfair And Over The Line was originally published @ The Chronicle of Social Change and has been syndicated with permission.