U.S. Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Trent Franks (R-AZ) introduced the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2016 (ACA), also known as H.R.5454, to the House of Representatives last week. The bill, which would grant all international adoptees automatic U.S. citizenship, has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.
"The introduction of the bi-partisan House bill is an important step towards achieving our goal of ensuring that all international adoptees are guaranteed U.S. citizenship," Kelsey Yoon, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney and international adoptee, told NBC News. "However, much work still needs to be done. Now, more than ever, it is crucial for members of Congress to hear from their constituents that they support the ACA."
The bill amends the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which automatically grants U.S. citizenship to children adopted by U.S. citizens, except for adoptees who were already over the age of 18 when the law passed in 2000. Many international adoptees who were not properly naturalized and convicted of minor crimes have been deported to their country of birth, according to advocates. If passed, automatic retroactive citizenship would be granted to all international adoptees, and those who have been deported would be allowed to return to the U.S.
"Significantly, the circumstances behind why and how international adoptees come to the U.S. is distinguishable from other communities who wish to obtain U.S. citizenship," Yoon said. "International adoptees are selected and approved by the U.S. government to enter into this country for the sole purpose of becoming part of an American family. Indeed, adoption laws mandate complete legal severance with first families so that an adoptee can become an American. The purpose of U.S. adoption laws must be at the forefront of all discussions surrounding the ACA; and when that happens, the U.S. will have no alternative but to recognize all international adoptees as U.S. citizens."
What sets the ACA apart from previous legislation regarding international adoptees is that the advocacy is largely being done by international adoptees, for international adoptees, rather than by adoption agencies or adoptive parents.
On Tuesday, international adoptees from around the country — including Arkansas, Arizona, and the Washington, D.C., area — met with bill co-sponsors in the Senate and House to strategize how to move the ACA forward, while others wrote and phoned their representatives in a second Day of Action, according to Emily Kessel, the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC) advocacy director.
The Senate version of the bill, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2015, S.2275, was introduced last November by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Dan Coats (R-IN). It has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
"We have been advocating on the Hill around this effort to address this human rights issue that the adoptee community has been fighting to correct for years," Kessel told NBC News. "It is time for Congress to right the wrong that should have been corrected over a decade ago."