Photo by Geoff McKim/Flickr (Creative Commons)
An "examination room for adopted children" in Guangzhou, China, April 2010
Q: How does someone adopted legally as a baby by American parents get deported?
A: Relatively easily, and it's happened to several one-time adopted kids.
The case that's been getting media attention lately is that of Kairi Abha Shepherd, a 30-year-old Utah woman who was adopted from an orphanage in India when she was three months old. In spite of her legal adoption when she was an infant, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld an immigration court's decision that Shepherd is in the United States illegally and is deportable.
How and why? It's tricky, but it's a situation that quite a few adoptees have fallen into over the years. Shepherd's adoptive mother, who also adopted other children, died from cancer when her daughter was eight years old. At the time of her death, she had not completed her daughter's application for U.S. citizenship, although the girl was in the country legally.
Adoptees face a long list of questions as they grow up, not only who their parents were and why they were put up for adoption in the first place, but who they would have been had they not.
Nelson DeWitt, born in El Salvador, adopted in Honduras and raised in the United States, has gotten more answers than he bargained for. DeWitt, who is making a documentary about his experience, learned that he is one of the hundreds of now-adult children who went missing during the civil war in El Salvador, which lasted from 1980 to 1992.
Many of these children wound up adopted after they were torn away from their families by soldiers, who sometimes kept them, other times funneled them into the lucrative adoption industry. DeWitt, who was raised by his adoptive parents in the Boston area, learned that he was one of these children after receiving a phone call from a long-lost family member. He learned that his birth parents were both revolutionary operatives in El Salvador. After his mother found herself hunted for by authorities, she fled with him to Honduras. She was likely killed soon afterward; by age two, he had been adopted out of a Honduran orphanage, en route to the U.S.
KoreAm magazine beat me this week to an interview I'd been looking forward to, and they did a great job with it. The magazine featured a profile of Emile Mack, one of the top-ranking firefighters in the Los Angeles Fire Department. What is unusual about Mack's story, which I learned of recently, is that he is a Korean-born adoptee raised by African American parents.
When Mack was a toddler in a South Korean orphanage, Undine and Clarence Mack were shown his photo at their church and decided to adopt him. Mack grew up identifying with the culture of his parents and peers the Crenshaw district, defying outsiders' expectations and stereotypes. From the story:
“There were people who didn’t know me or my family, and they didn’t tease me because I had black parents, but they teased me because I looked Asian. So it was the typical thing, ‘Hey Chinese, hey this, hey that.’ And then my friends would respond, ‘He’s black!! His parents are black, leave him alone!!’” said Mack, his face lighting up at the memory.
“In fact, that still happens today. There are times when I walk into a room with black friends, and they’ll walk up to someone I don’t know, and say, ‘Hey man, he’s cool. He’s a brother.’ And they’ll immediately accept me just because my friend says, ‘Oh, he’s one of us.’”