Ever hear of Russell Green? Joao Herbert? Kairi Shepherd? I hadn’t either until a few months ago and now, knowing their stories, it’s nothing short of shocking that their names are not more familiar. These three people are only a few of a growing list of international adoptees who have been deported from the US back to their countries of birth or who risk deportation. Joao Herbert was deported back to his birth country, Brazil, where he was murdered a few years later. Kairi Shepherd and Russell Green continue to reside in the US, but their fate is unknown. The scary reality is that many international adoptees may be in danger of being deported back to their countries of birth; countries they may have no clue how to survive in. Imagine being told you had no choice but to go live someplace where you don’t know the language, culture or a single person to help you out. Your entire life would be disrupted. You would have to leave your home, your job, your family, everything. Oh, and the cherry on top, you would be labeled as an ‘illegal immigrant’. All because you did not become a US citizen.
Okay, so citizenship is not the only component to this situation. More accurately, adoptees who lack US citizenship and who have committed a criminal offense risk deportation. Mind you, the term ‘criminal offense’ can cover many a crime. Kairi Shepherd committed fraud due to her struggle with drug addiction. Jess Mustanich, who was deported to El Salvador, burglarized his father’s home at age 18. Many of the crimes in question were committed by adoptees when they were in their late teens and appear to surround drug possession, fraud and burglary. I realize the way I’m phrasing this sounds possibly biased and more sympathetic towards the adoptees, and that’s about right! These crimes do not justify removal from one’s country. To these adoptees, the US is home; the only place they’ve ever truly known and felt comfortable in. The law is stripping them of what they trusted to be theirs. And, oh heck, Blanca Catt? As far as I know, she did not commit any sort of crime and yet she, too, came under fire for her lack of citizenship after being smuggled into the US as a toddler.
It might be easy to jump to the conclusion that the adoptive parents are to blame. However, the lack of citizenship has not come at the fault of the adoptee or, in many cases, even their adoptive parents. Jess Mustanich’s father tried numerous times over multiple years to secure citizenship for his son, only for agencies and resources to fumble around and never do anything about it. Some adoptees ended up passed from place to place, living in child welfare limbo where no one secured citizenship for them. That path to citizenship is not without barriers. Those barriers became fewer when the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 was passed, essentially giving international adoptees automatic citizenship upon arrival in their receiving country. While this is great for many adoptees, it does not protect those born prior to 1983. What is in place to protect the rest? Sadly, nothing that I know of. Not yet, anyway.
I have to admit I was quite ignorant on this entire issue up until fairly recently and now it’s one of those disturbing things that I cannot possibly unlearn. What disturbs me most, however, is how little attention this problem is getting. Kairi Shepherd’s case seems to be the most prevalent in the media, but even her story barely has footing. This is a human rights issue that has been glossed over for years. If this is the first time you’re reading about adoptee deportation, know that it isn’t new news. Joao Herbert was deported over a decade ago! This is an ongoing problem and those at risk need a solution now. Although this situation does not apply to me, these are fellow members of the adoption community hurting in a big way. They need the support of their community, adoptees, APs, friends and all.
So, community, what can we do about this besides get mad about it? (Getting mad is a good start, though!) Get informed. Google the names mentioned in this post. Click this link to find a list of deportation cases. Sign a petition to amend the Child Citizenship Act to help those at risk of deportation. Spread the word about this social issue to whoever will listen to you.
(Special thanks to Land of Gazillion Adoptees for challenging adoptee bloggers to write about this topic in the month of June. Better late than never, right?)