Opinion | Adoptees Have the Same Right to Citizenship as Biological Children

The risk of deportation for all noncitizens was heightened by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which injected the era’s tough-on-crime logic into immigration enforcement. Even civil violations or misdemeanors can be the basis for sending immigrants to a country they’ve never known. (Photos of seven adoptees who have been deported or are facing deportation appear at the end of “Blue Bayou”; many other adoptees are unhappy with the film and have accused Mr. Chon of unfairly appropriating the story of Adam Crapser, who was deported to Korea in 2016.)

To make “Blue Bayou,” Mr. Chon consulted with several noncitizen adoptees, including Anissa Druesedow, who was deported to Jamaica in 2006 and now lives in Panama. In 2003, while working in retail, Ms. Druesedow allowed someone she knew to return stolen items without receipts. She pleaded guilty and was sent to prison for forgery and theft. There, she was flagged by ICE and learned that she was not a U.S. citizen. Her adoptive parents had applied to adjust her status decades earlier, but because the government had taken six years to approve her green card, she had turned 18 and become ineligible for citizenship. Today, she works in a call center and uses WhatsApp to communicate with her daughter in Salt Lake City; she has a prosthetic leg but lacks health insurance.

In 2000, Congress passed the Child Citizenship Act, which granted automatic citizenship to most categories of transnational adoptees. It was nicknamed the Delahunt Bill, after Representative William Delahunt of Massachusetts, the adoptive father of a daughter born in Vietnam. As Mr. Delahunt told the House, the law would cure “heartbreaking” instances of “forced separation” of parents and children, including those caused by bureaucratic delays, as in Ms. Druesedow’s case. Representative Lamar Smith of Texas co-sponsored that bill, stating, “after an adoption takes place … the child should automatically be considered a citizen.”

But the law applied only to adoptees who were 18 years or younger on Feb. 27, 2001, when it went into effect. This arbitrary cutoff has left as many as 50,000 transnational adoptees like Ms. Druesedow without U.S. citizen status. “Adoption promises us a family, and we should have the same rights as biological children,” she told me by phone last week.

There is a solution. The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2021, introduced by Republican Roy Blunt in the Senate and Democrat Adam Smith in the House, would eliminate the exclusions of the 2000 law. It would give transnational adoptees — both those still in the United States and those who have been deported — a chance at naturalization. Since 2015, three other versions of this bill have been introduced in Congress, with bipartisan support and the backing of a wide range of advocacy groups. But it has repeatedly stalled in committee. A representative for Mr. Smith told me that he is actively courting bipartisan support, but as of now there are only four Republican and four Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate.

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