Thursday, May 21, 2015

Born. Adopted. Sealed. Deported: the Fight for Equality for Adopted People

"Born. Adopted. Sealed. Denied!" was the hallmark chant of the Adoptee Rights Demonstration during my years attending and co-planning the demonstration as the now-former Vice President of the Adoptee Rights Coalition. The demonstration and its simple four-word message aimed to educate  legislators attending the annual National Conference of State Legislatures regarding a near 90-year-old legal practice that seals the original birth certificates of adopted people in all but 2 states and treats adopted people unfairly when attempting to access this certificate in all but 6 states. When we are born, we receive the same birth record as all other people. Following our adoption, this birth record becomes sealed and an amended birth certificate takes its place. A large portion of us are denied fair access to the original birth certificate as an adult--or denied access altogether. Born. Adopted. Sealed. Denied. But, what if I told you that the amended birth certificate--the record that claims your U.S. citizen parents gave birth to you in your state or country of origin at a date and time they were unlikely to so much as know you existed--is not enough to keep you from being deported?

For adult adoptees who turned age 18 prior to the passing of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA), whose adoptive parents and agencies did not obtain U.S. citizenship for them, the threat of deportation is real. And ironically, that amended birth certificate that is otherwise imposed on adoptees as the "real birth certificate" and official confirmation that we are to move forward and forget about our countries, families, and cultures of origin, is not enough to save you from being sent to a country you haven't seen since childhood to be surrounded by people you do not know who speak a language you do not understand.

How did we ever come to practice something as heinous as deporting someone adopted to the U.S. as a child? According to adoptee advocates, adoptee citizenship and deportation is a decades-old issue given little attention. McLane Layton in her interview with Kevin Vollmers noted that inter-country adoptees once did not fit the federal statute definition of "citizen from birth." Layton is an adoptive parent and lawyer who was instrumental in the passing of the CCA. She approached Congress to have this definition amended to include adopted children as her own children were not given automatic citizenship upon their adoption.

The word children is key here. The CCA did not retroactively provide citizenship to adoptees who were already 18 at the time of its passage. In that same interview, Layton explained that CCA proponents originally intended for all adoptees to receive citizenship, regardless of their age, but were forced to compromise and exclude retroactive application for the CCA to pass. CCA proponents were unaware of how to quantify how many adult adoptee might be affected by this, Layton said. At a meeting I attended at Capitol Hill almost three years ago, Layton offered that the compromise was made to "give a choice" to adult adoptees to become U.S. citizens, or not.

Unfortunately, many of these adoptees do not realize they are not citizens until they attempt to obtain a driver's license, a passport, or a voter's registration. Notably, attempting these actions while not a citizen happens to be a crime these adoptees are forced to unknowingly commit. Adoptees like Russel Green and Adam Crapser carry out their lives, have children, and grow a beautiful family without realizing they are at risk of having it all ripped from their grasp.

The movement to rectify this issue is helmed by a small group of adopted individuals and their allies. Adoption agencies who facilitated adoptions during the time when automatic citizenship was not granted to intercountry adoptees have been virtually silent on this issue. Adoptee advocates have looked to the adoption lobby groups that represent these agencies, and organizations that purport to advocate for the best interest of orphaned, adopted, and fostered people--namely the Joint Council of International Children's Services (JCICS), the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI)--but have been met with silence. Adoption lobby organizations tend to take action based on what their constituency finds important, which exposes an even broader systemic lack of empathy and societal ignorance regarding this issue.

Regard for choice does not explain the CCA's separation of adult adoptees from youth adoptees in who was automatically made a citizen because, in human rights terms, a person's autonomy is not defined by their age. What we have is a targeted group of people who must "choose" to become citizens despite not knowing they must make this "choice." Subsequently, they must spend thousands of dollars to secure citizenship for themselves in the face of possible deportation while having none of the rights and privileges that protect citizens that were promised to them by adoption.

Furthermore, being unable to quantify who is effected by a policy gap is never an excuse for that gap to exist. The inadequate tracking and reporting of adoption statistics--an issue in and of itself--is a chronic, over-used excuse to not attend to vital reforms in this institution. We've long been able to say "adoption has no problems" because we've opted not to record and monitor the problems.

At that same Capitol Hill meeting, I learned that some lawmakers may be hesitant to support an amendment to the CCA because immigration law permits non-citizens to be deported for committing certain crimes. In other words, this intersection of the adoptee citizenship issue and immigration law allows the U.S. to ignore its own constitution when passing down consequences to specific vulnerable groups. As the U.S. receives about 50% of the world's internationally adopted children, 81% who are children of color, 59% who are Asian, this issue disproportionately impacts and further marginalizes people of color which overwhelmingly suggests there are racist motivations for favoring and perpetuating this policy gap.

The age distinction and CCA's claim that all children are covered is misleading. Due to poor implementation of the CCA, today's adopted youth are not guaranteed citizenship if their visa type is not covered under the act and their parents or adoption agency did not work on their behalf to secure citizenship for them once in the U.S.

The look on a dear friend's face when challenged not once but twice by U.S.-born adoptees to join the fight for original birth certificates is emblazoned in my mind. "What if I don't have an original birth certificate to fight for?" For those of us born in the U.S., this is a reality for some of our peers born abroad. I realize as I hold brightly colored signs in demonstration,  as I testify, or as I speak privately to legislators that adoptee inequality is so much bigger than the aspects that I personally have experienced. It is in fact my privilege, my citizenship, that protects me when I voice an opinion in the interest of social justice that challenges the status quo.

The CCA is in dire need of an amendment to halt and prevent the deportations of adult adoptees--adoptees adopted in the past, in the present, and in the future. Currently, adoptee advocates wait for Senator Klobuchar to make good on her promise made last year to introduce such legislation. This amendment needs to happen, and it needs to happen now. Adoptee lives depend on it.

You can help. Please take action now.
  • Contact Senator Klobuchar and tell her all adoptees need citizenship and we need it now. This legislation needs to be submitted before July.
  • Join nearly 18,000 other supporters by signing Adam's petition at 18 Million Rising.
  • Tell your story--or--speak out as an ally using #KeepAdamHome.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fifty Shades of Gross: a Feminist Confrontation of the Story's Adoption and Foster Care Themes

I read the Fifty Shades of Grey books at the suggestion of my sister-in-law who has dual degrees in communications and English and is a popular books maven of sorts. She has the uncanny ability to predict whenever any bit of media will become relevant in pop culture. If you want to look like a pop culture genius at your book club, you ask her for a title to recommend to the group. If you want to know what basically unknown lit is going to explode into everyday conversations tomorrow, she can tell you that too. Her suggestion regarding Fifty Shades fell into the latter category.

"I'll apologize in advance," she said. It's the worst thing I think I've read in a long time."

Indeed, it was so bad that I hesitated to write about it at all.

I originally wrote this piece years ago to address the book trilogy. With the release of the movie grossing over $81 million dollars in its first three days, it's time to update the piece and release it anew. Although some herald the franchise as a victory for women in media, my piece joins a chorus of others across the web calling out the Fifty Shades franchise for marketing child sexual abuse, rape, stalking, coercion and other forms of violence as "romance." To add, I ask the chorus, "Why isn't the use of adoption and foster care in the trilogy-turned-franchise included in these critiques?"

Fifty Shades is far more more disturbing than most people realize. This is evidenced by what little discussion--or perhaps little notice--there is regarding why the abusive male protagonist, Christian Grey, stalks, harasses, and rapes his supposed "love interest," Anastasia Steele. According to E.L. James, it's because he was adopted. Not just adopted, but he was adopted and born to an unknown woman whom he labels "the crack whore."

A young and naive Anastasia Steele is smitten when she meets this handsome, disturbed man. Christian Grey, who is written as earning a totally believable $100,000 per hour, is billed by the world around him as an intensely mysterious yet very eligible bachelor. After several scenes of Christian engaging in stalking, harassing, violent, and intrusive behaviors, the trilogy finds him and Anastasia married. In the process of becoming his girlfriend, then fiance, then wife, Anastasia learns the origin of Christian's intense interest in pursuing and controlling her. 

Anastasia looks like Christian's "birth mother." 

Under the guise of what Christian professes to be BDSM, he discloses a lengthy history of targeting and forcing himself on women who remind him of his birth mother. He explains to Anastasia that he discovered BDSM  when sexually assaulted as a child by an older female friend of his family. 

Few adoption stereotypes were missed in Fifty Shades. Christian harbors a deep anger at his first mother; his early life experiences leave him devoid of empathy and with a strong propensity to harm others. His mother is described as a drug addict who neglected him. In contrast, his adoptive parents serve the roles as his saviors who lavish him with love, wealth, and privilege. The final book reveals that the other man stalking--and who finally attempts to murder--Anastasia is fueled by jealousy that he was not adopted from foster care as was Christian, his former foster brother.

This, all of it, was a painful read. Yet I don't regret reading the books to a certain extent because doing so allows me to add to the feminist chorus pushing back against its praise. Reading them has allowed me to call attention to the adoption and foster care "subplots" (if you can identify the story as having any real plot let alone subplots) and implore readers to notice that being adopted and fostered is harmfully and unquestioningly used to explain one man's desire to obsess and rape and another's desire to obsess and murder.

There are few subtleties in Fifty Shades. Words and phrases, such as "oh my" are repeated dozens, even hundreds, of times across the three texts. The male protagonist's eyes are grey, his tie is grey, his last name is "Grey." In the book, "Fifty Shades" is a nickname Anastasia gives to Christian to indicate just how disturbed he is. Although Ms. James might now, on her Twitter bio, boast in all caps that Fifty Shades is "A LOVE story," it was arguably crafted to both disturb readers and leave them unsure of where lines are crossed.

Don't be fooled, Fifty Shades crosses all the lines. Rape is rape. Child sexual abuse is child sexual abuse. Violence is violence. Touching someone after they say "no" is violence. Coercion is not consent. Stalking is stalking. None of these areas are "grey" nor are they romance nor love. Advised by an individual I presume to be an attorney and by a physician who graduated from Yale Medical School,  E.L. James saw fit to develop two characters who would cross these lines and offered both characters' adoption and foster care experiences and mental health issues as explanation. This is beyond relevant in our critiques as feminists and we must not leave it out.

To the people that loved this book or the movie, look into my eyes for a moment. I don't intend to alienate you or make you feel badly. Let the survivor of an abusive relationship speak to your soul. I was in a relationship with a wealthy, gorgeous man who was controlling, entitled, coercive, and abusive. Here's what I know. Your partner should not need to know your whereabouts at all times; nor should you require their permission to be without them. You should not be tasked with "fixing" your partner. "No" means "no." Your partner should never eliminate your resources to force you to depend on them. They may replace what they take, but these are not "gifts" no matter what the expense. What an abuser takes from you, your safety, your sense of self, your innocence, are priceless. No one owns your body but you. This wasn't love. There's nothing thrilling about being scared all the time. My experience was not exciting or entertaining. These behaviors are not romance; they are abuse.

Now let an adoptee speak to your heart. The stereotypes about my community shouldn't be used for entertainment. Adopted and fostered people, and our families, should not repeatedly be used as literary examples of deranged, dangerous people. We cannot simultaneously say that rape and abuse passing in our culture as romance is harmful to women without also acknowledging that using the stigmas of adoption, foster care, and mental health to explain that behavior isn't also harmful to the adoption, foster care, and mental health communities. Critics, including feminists, for the sake of the human beings who live adoption each day, let's no longer let their pathologization in media escape our awareness or our criticism.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy Reunionversary: 9 Things I've Learned in 5 Years of Reunion

My necklace of our matching pair.
I had already known my original mother's name for several months before we reunited. As is the practice in my birth state, most adoptees can have their original birth certificates and know their mother's name using the established government channel. We are forbidden to reach out on our own as the civil and criminal legal consequences of doing so are thoroughly explained and signed off on before our records are unsealed. My mother, my first mother, had given me permission to see my original birth certificate. I received a copy of her handwritten permission letter addressed to the Department of Children's Services. I traced my index finger along the curly writing imagining that she must be so nice.

Saturday marked the 5th anniversary of the first time I heard my mother's voice since infancy. Our "reunionversary" was something that took me a year to put into words. In the past four years, I haven't written much about my reunion because keeping boundaries between my public blogging life and my original family's very private life helps maintain the stasis of our relationship (more on that in a minute). Also, not until now have I had any words of reunion wisdom to offer.

Friday, November 7, 2014

VIDEO National Adoption Month? The Lost Daughters #flipthescript

Headed by @mothermade, Lost Daughters is flipping the script with this awesome round table style video by Bryan Tucker.

Click here for the full length version and remember to share with the tags #NationalAdoptionMonth and #flipthescript.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

PA, Adoptee Rights, and an Amended Bill--What now?

Photo (c) Julie Stromberg
On Tuesday, September 16, 2014, the Pennsylvania Senate Aging and Youth Committee held a voting hearing for HB 162.  As drafted, HB 162 would restore the right of PA-born adult adoptees, nineteen years or older, to access a copy of their original birth certificate (OBC) with the same regard under the law enjoyed by every other PA-born citizen.

When a child is adopted in the U.S., a amended birth record replaces their OBC that lists their adoptive parents as their biological parents.  In 48 states, the OBC is sealed.  Every single state has a law on the books providing for the release of the OBC to the adoptee at the discretion of a judge in addition to other avenues of access. However, only six states honor the right of adult adoptees to access their OBC with the same regard as all other people.

The history of how HB 162 came to be is peculiar. Until 1985, Pennsylvania was one of three states that allowed adoptees equal access to their OBCs.  Following the passing of Roe v. Wade, concerns arose in religious pro-life communities that adoptees accessing their OBCs would increase abortion rates. They first questioned the interpretation of the law. In 1978, the PA Attorney General issued an official statement identifying OBCs as separate from sealed adoption records and confirmed that Vital Statistics should continue to release OBCs to adult adoptees.