The California legislature sent a bill to Governor Gavin Newsom last week that promises to provide additional protections for intercountry adoptees adopted by US citizens and who reside in California. Championed by California Assembly Member Steven Choi, here’s what AB677 does:
- Requires California residents who have “finalized an intercountry adoption in a foreign country” to “readopt” the child in a California court within 60 days of arriving in the United States or by the child’s 16th birthday, whichever is earlier;
- Makes the adoption agency handling the matter responsible for the readoption in California court if the adoptive parents fail to do so, giving the agency 90 days after the child’s entry in the United States to do so;
- Makes adoptive parents liable to the adoption agency if they fail to complete a readoption in a California court and the agency is compelled to complete the final adoption;
- Requires courts to report to authorities any suspected human trafficking in relation to the child;
- Requires specific documents to accompany a petition to readopt in California court, including an updated post-placement home study, certified copy of a foreign certificate of birth, and proof of lawful entry into the United States.
- Requires the adoption agency handling the adoption to report the adoption to the California Department of Social Services within 14 days of the child’s arrival in California;
- Impose enforcement actions against adoption agencies that fail to adhere to the law.
The added protections attempt to compel a critical last step for automatic US citizenship for many intercountry adoptees: finalizing the adoption in a US court. The bill, though, does not directly address adoptions for which the child enters the country generally on an IR-4 or IH-4 immigrant visa, one that is issued when there was not a full and final adoption in the country of origin. Generally, under current law, children who were fully and finally adopted in the foreign country and enter the US on an IR-3 or IH-3 immigrant visa become citizens automatically upon entry, without the need to finalize the adoption in the United States. Those who are not fully and finally adopted in their country of origin receive an IR-4 or IH-4 visa and do not receive automatic US citizenship until the adoption is finalized in the United States.
By its terms, the bill does not appear to apply to a core class of intercountry adoptees who have been vulnerable to lapses or negligence on the part of adoptive parents—i.e., adoptees who were not fully and finally adopted in their country of origin and whose adoptions must be finalized in the United States. In such cases, the adoptive parents are instead granted custody of the child for purposes of emigration and adoption but must then finalize the adoption once the child is in the United States. It’s not clear how the bill, if enacted, will be used to require a final adoption of such cases in a California court.
Assembly Member Choi was motivated by the saga of Adam Crapser, a Korean intercountry adoptee whose adoptive parents had not taken measures to secure his US citizenship before he became an adult. He was later deported to Korea after being convicted of a criminal offense. The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019 is currently pending in Congress and would close the loophole that prevents tens of thousands of adult intercountry adoptees from becoming automatic US citizens.