Tag Archives: Oprah Winfrey

An Unnerving Reality: We’re Deporting Adoptees

May 29, 2012

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/K9NYiR.

Imagine that your daughter, whom you raised from infancy, was convicted of forgery. You certainly wouldn’t be surprised if she were prosecuted for that felony and, while it would be heartbreaking, you’d expect her to be punished, probably even imprisoned. Now let’s add one more element to this real-life scenario: How would you feel if the penalty imposed on your 30-year-old child – who suffers from multiple sclerosis – was deportation to another country where she knows no one and doesn’t speak the native language?

I am not making this up. It is happening today. It is obviously devastating to the woman facing a jarringly disproportionate punishment for the crime she committed, but it is also much more than that. It is a vivid example of the unfairness and inequality that sometimes exist in the world of adoption.

What may be most unnerving is the fact that this is not an aberration; while it is hardly commonplace, it has happened again and again. And there has been virtually no media attention, or public outrage, or embarrassment on the part of immigration officials, or concerted effort to reform law and policy so that people who were adopted into their families are placed on a level playing field with their biological counterparts.

Here’s the core of the case: Kairi Abha 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. More details are in this news story from last week: http://bit.ly/KzkIP5.

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. So the adults in her life were supposed to fill out paperwork for her to become a citizen – but, like many others, they either didn’t know or, for whatever reasons, never got around to doing it.

As a consequence, when Shepherd was convicted in 2004 of forgery to 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, which are now coming to a head. It doesn’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.

Again, this is not an aberration. Last year, a 31-year-old mother of three, who was adopted from Korea when she was eight months old, was held at a federal detention center in Arizona and faced deportation after a second theft conviction. It’s unclear what happened to the woman, who was not named (http://bit.ly/KiQ65Q) but the bottom line was the same: Her adoption took place before the period covered by the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, and neither she nor her parents ever applied for citizenship for her. So, even though she had lived in the U.S. nearly all her life, had given birth to three children on our nation’s soil, had never as much as visited Korea and didn’t speak the language, federal authorities wanted to send her “back.”

There are more examples, too, dating back at least 15 years; indeed, 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.

Lessons from Harvard, B.J. Lifton . . . and Oprah

February 1, 2011

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/gRuGHW

I attended two events over the past weekend that, in very different ways, made me think of Oprah Winfrey (who is on the minds of many of us inside and outside the adoption world of late).

On Friday and Saturday, I participated in a national conference at Harvard University that focused on ideas to help the high number of African American children in our country’s foster care system. The conference didn’t address adoption much, but some speakers talked about the importance of children and youth maintaining biological ties, others touched on identity issues, and yet others broached the impact on parents and siblings of separating children from their families of origin. Those are all big, universal themes that affect tens of millions of Americans to varying degrees at various times of their lives. And, of course, they’re all significant concerns within the adoption community.

For a couple of hours in the middle of Saturday, I excused myself from the brain-straining conversation at Harvard to attend to a matter of the heart: I crossed the street in Cambridge to join a packed room of people paying tribute to B.J. Lifton, a spectacular human being and cherished friend whose recent death I still cannot quite believe or accept. It was a powerful, moving memorial service during which speaker after speaker directly addressed one adoption issue after the other, in particular B.J.’s passion for greater openness, honesty and restoring the right of adoptees to access their original birth certificates.

Oprah’s name didn’t come up at either event, but it was impossible for me, and I’m sure for many others, not to feel her presence. That’s because the media superstar’s revelations last week – that her mother had placed a child for adoption nearly 50 years ago, that she had now reunited with her half-sister, that she had herself given birth to a baby when she was 14 – along with the commanding images and emotional words of all three women, brought myriad adoption issues into the homes of a huge number of Americans to an extent they probably have rarely, if ever, experienced before.

At their core, of course, they were the same issues that resonated at both events I attended over the weekend. What one of the most famous and respected women in the world did was provide televised testimony for some essential truths: that people who create lives never forget them, and deeply grieve their loss; that everyone wants to know from where and from whom they came, regardless of their circumstances; that sibling relationships are innately powerful magnets, rivaling those that draw together parent and child; and perhaps most pointedly and poignantly (and certainly most clichéd), that truth and honesty beat all the alternatives, in adoption as in other aspects of life. Without question, they lead us onto the road to healing, however difficult and complicated the journey might be. Continue reading