It’s a flaw in current US law that both Republicans and Democrats say makes little sense.
An NBC Bay Area investigation that first aired in January 2019 found tens of thousands of adoptees who now face possible deportation. Adopted as infants from foreign countries and raised in the United States, they may be separated from their families because they are technically not citizens. The reason: their adoptive parents failed to complete all the necessary paperwork decades ago.
The US State Department tells NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit that the flaw in current US immigration law exposes any child born between 1945 and 1998 and brought here, even legally, as infants and children.
Congress did close a similar loophole for internationally adopted children born after 2000 and properly adopted. But NBC Bay Area’s investigation found that for those born earlier, a single document can lead to a life of legal limbo. And many of those children, now adults, don’t even know they aren’t legal citizens.
That investigation has now prompted a new proposed law in Congress, introduced by US Representative Adam Smith (D) who represents the 9th District of Washington state.
If passed, the new law would provide automatic citizenship for certain international children who were adopted here as infants by parents who were US citizens. That would close a loophole first exposed by NBC Bay Area. That loophole leaves some 40,000 people in legal limbo, according to estimates from the US State Department officials and adoptee rights advocates. All of them are now adults living in the US.
“I think it's a good step in the right direction and it's going to fix the problem to a large degree,” said Joy Kim-Alessi of the Adoptee Rights Campaign. However, “we do have concerns.”
Kim-Alessi says there are still certain categories of people who are not covered by this new legislation and she and other advocates want to close those flaws in the law as well.
One of the people who would be covered by the new proposed law, but who, for now, remains in legal limbo is a Bay Area resident named “Liam.”
Liam’s adopted parents brought him to San Francisco from Brazil as an infant in the 1980’s but they never competed the final, formal paperwork to make him a citizen.
He is now 35 years old, married with a young daughter.
Liam lived his life and had no idea he technically was not a US citizen until a DHS background check for a job revealed the missing paperwork.