This could have been any adoptee. Any adoptive family. That’s the messages adult adoptee and adoptee advocate Emily Kessel wants to convey in regards to the Adoptee Citizenship Act, a bill that was introduced into the House in June. “My adoptive parents naturalized me,” Emily says, “but there are thousands of international adoptees who were adopted by U.S. parents who don’t currently have citizenship.”
Over a decade ago, the Adoption Bill of 2000 granted automatic citizenship to all international adoptees, but inadvertently omitted adoptees who were over the age of 18 at the time of the bill’s enactment. This oversight left thousands of adoptees, adopted by U.S. citizen parents, vulnerable to deportation, and prohibited them from many rights granted to U.S. citizens. “But they are really Americans to the core,” Emily says. “They should be treated as first-class Americans, not second-class citizens.” If passed, the Adoptee Citizenship Act will provide automatic retroactive citizenship to internationally adopted individuals who were never naturalized when they were adopted or were not granted automatic citizenship in the 2000 bill. “It’s been over a decade, and we need to get this bill passed,” Emily says.
Emily, one of the many adoptees leading the push on this bill, has been active in the adoptee community since childhood. A Minnesota native, Emily was involved in culture camps as a child and much of her career has focused on intercultural relations and now on adoptee advocacy. But it wasn’t until she joined the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) — as policy coordinator and then advocacy director — that Emily learned about the persistent citizenship issue concerning international adoptees.
After researching the issue more, Emily says she was shocked to learn of the thousands of internationally adopted individuals who have lived in the U.S. since infancy but do not currently have citizenship. “I wanted to find out why this issue wasn’t moving,” Emily says. “It was something I knew I wanted — needed — to be a part of.”
After a nearly decade-long stall, the matter started to pick up momentum as the adult adoptee community, especially those non-citizen adoptees directly affected, began to tell their stories and rally support. “People came out and spoke up, and then more people came out,” Emily says. “There have been adoptees vocalizing the need to pay attention to this issue for a while. And now the stories of those who have been affected are beginning to be heard.”
And the community efforts paid off.
In November 2015, Senator Amy Klobuchar and co-sponsors Senators Dan Coates and Jeff Merkley introduced the Adoptee Citizenship Bill into the Senate. “It’s been really inspiring to see people coming out in support of this bill,” Emily says. “We need to continue to get the word out.”
While the majority of supporters rallying around the Adoptee Citizenship Act are adoptees, Emily makes it clear that this is really an issue that affects the entire adoption population. “We are really part of the same community, whether we are directly impacted or not. Adoptees with citizenship. Without citizenship. Adoptive parents. This is our issue,” Emily says.
In April, the adoptee community led a Day of Action in Washington D.C, and another one in June, and it was this second day of action that helped push the Adoptee Citizenship Bill from the Senate to the House. Along with getting involved with these special days of action, Emily urges everyone in the adoption community to contact their senators and local representatives over the phone or by writing personal letters.
“This is a family issue, and could have affected any adoptive family member at a different period of time,” Emily says. “We all value family and we should all want to be a part of this.”
If you are interested in getting involved, contact: [email protected]
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