75,000 Adopted Kids Become U.S. Citizens

ByABC News

Feb. 27, 2001 -- Four-year-old Emily Maness has spent nearlyall her life with her adoptive family in Massachusetts. But in theeyes of the U.S. government, she's still a South Korean.

Her parents, Donna and Andrew Maness, brought her home from thetown of Kyungsangbuk-Do in 1997, then waited a year for theImmigration and Naturalization Service to schedule an interview forcitizenship. The couple from Falmouth canceled the interviewbecause of a family funeral, then completed paperwork toreschedule.

But another year has passed and they've had no response.

Now they won't need an answer. That's because Emily andyounger brother Jack are among an estimated 75,000 adopted childrenacross the country who will become citizens simply by waking up.

The Child Citizenship Act, passed by Congress last year, grantsautomatic citizenship to most adopted children born abroad,provided they are under 18 and at least one parent or legalguardian is a U.S. citizen. There are about 20,000 such adoptionsevery year and the average wait for INS citizenship processing hasbeen two years.

The new law removes a bureaucratic and psychological hurdle forparents who may well have waited years and paid up to $25,000 forinternational adoptions.

"It's the best thing that could have happened to people in ourposition," Mrs. Maness said. "The whole adoption process isfilled with obstacles. We justify ourselves over and over again. Weget FBI checks, state and local checks. We reveal everything aboutourselves to government agencies."

And that's before the INS application, which seeks similarpaperwork on parents and kids, including birth and marriagecertificates, photo identifications, alien registration cards andcertified English translations of documents written in otherlanguages.

A Personal Interest

Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., wrote the new law fromexperience. He has an adopted daughter, Kara, 26, who became acitizen several years after leaving Vietnam as a baby.

"Most people are totally unaware that a child adopted fromoverseas does not become a citizen automatically," Delahunt said."Many of my colleagues were surprised to learn that this wasn'tthe case already."

He will celebrate today with a ceremony at Boston's historicFaneuil Hall. Senators who helped pass the law, among them DonNickles, R-Okla., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., plan to join him anddozens of adoptive families, including the Manesses. Smaller eventsare planned elsewhere in the country.

In Fort Worth, Texas, Don and Belinda Siperko plan to throw aparty for their four adopted children from Russia, ranging in age from 3to 10. Andre, the oldest, has a basic understanding of what ishappening, but won't fully appreciate it until he's older, DonSiperko said.

"Right now, it's something for my wife and me," Siperko said.

The selection of Faneuil Hall for the celebration in Boston isno coincidence; it's where Delahunt's daughter became a citizen in1980.

"For some," Delahunt said, "it's probably difficult tounderstand the significance and meaning on a human level of yourchild becoming a U.S. citizen. Our children are as American asanyone else and contribute to this country significantly. It's aday of real joy for a lot of people."

Making Adoption Easier

The estimate of affected children — 75,000 — is conservative,Delahunt's office says. Not included are the tens of thousands ofchildren born to U.S. citizens living abroad, who alsoautomatically receive citizenship under the law.

Delahunt and others say numbers don't tell the whole story.

"It means we as a country are fundamentally changing the way weview these people and how we view ourselves," said Adam Pertman,author of the book "Adoption Nation" and father of two adoptedchildren.

Delahunt said the citizenship bill generated more e-mails andletters from citizens than any other he's been involved with duringhis 30 years in office.

"This is as much about promoting adoption as it is reducingbarriers," he said. "There are children everywhere, home andabroad, in need of a family."

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