I’ve been compelled recently to discuss the people I represent. Part of the reason relates to an anonymous complaint made to the Illinois Bar Association claiming that I am unlawfully practicing law in that state, though it’s hard to figure out what the complaint is really about other than it appears to relate to my Illinois webpage and possibly a reply I made to a reader comment on that page.
I am not worried about the complaint, though I take it seriously and have responded. I also know with certainty it is a complaint intended not to protect the public interest but instead to stifle my work, likely because my work pisses a few people off. It’s par for the course for some attorneys and advocates who engage in hard work and apparently push the wrong buttons along the way. I had far worse complaints about me from landlords years ago when I organized and advocated for Somali tenants who lived in discriminatory and appalling housing conditions in Minneapolis.
And in the last two years I’ve already had my share of strange and anonymous complaints, all frivolous and dismissed, about the work that I do on behalf of adult adopted people. One complaint, mailed anonymously and scrubbed of any identifying details, included paper copies of 147 pages from my website and my social media posts as proof of my apparent wrongdoing. It also alleged I committed “theft of services” by apparently stealing the text of publicly available court opinions, and claimed my website provides “rampant evidence of Mr. Luce’s failure to uphold ethics of professional responsibility.” Sent to the Minnesota State Bar Association and my professional liability insurance company, it concluded with a demand to “review his behavior and act accordingly.”
One of the questions the Illinois State Bar Association official asked me is whether I represent any Illinoisans. I have. One. But that’s part of the rub of adoptee rights work in the United States and how fungible adoptees generally have become. I represented a person in Illinois whose mother’s adoption records are in Minnesota. For that, I had to petition the court in a Minnesota county, work with obtaining the records from the Minnesota History Center, and secure the original birth certificate of her mother, the adoptee, from the Minnesota Department of Health.
So I do represent Illinoisans. And Arizonans, Californians, New Yorkers, Georgians, Carolinians, Oregonians, and any number of adoptees and their descendants who must either travel to Minnesota to obtain their own records or hire a Minnesota attorney to try to get them on their behalf. That certainly is one of the major barriers for domestic adoptees whose original birth records are not available simply by mailing in a form and a check, as is allowed in nine states currently. They are often far from their records, often originally and intentionally engineered that way: that is, ship the birthmother off to another state to have a child, then seal the birth record in that state so that no one knows anything for the wiser. It’s how adoptions were made secret years ago and, with laws in place in many states for a half century or more now, it’s how states and interested parties keep them secret and unavailable today.
I also represent intercountry adoptees who either lack US citizenship or are having difficulty proving US citizenship. That involves federal immigration law and, for that, I represent anyone anywhere so long as it relates to federal law (which immigration and US citizenship obviously does).
So here is a smattering of examples of whom I represent, with names and basic identifying details anonymized to maintain client confidences. The vast majority of these cases are pro bono or low bono, meaning I either represent them for free or for a low fixed cost. Listing them here gives you a good idea about what I do as an adoptee rights attorney.
an intercountry adoptee in Arizona, born in Russia, adopted in Wisconsin, who had difficulty obtaining proof of U.S. citizenship. She got that proof through an N-600 I filed on her behalf, but only after a months-long and overly complicated process to secure a state identification card—so she could be admitted to the oath ceremony for citizenship.
a New York resident, born in Texas, adopted in Minnesota. I ultimately obtained her original birth certificate through agency files held in Minnesota. She can now also receive it in Texas under a provision in Texas law that allows you to obtain it if you know the names of the parents listed on the certificate.
an Oregon resident, born in Wisconsin and adopted in Minnesota. I was able to help him get his Wisconsin original birth certificate by simple request in Wisconsin. I am now working to get his court records in Minnesota.
a Minnesota adoptee, born in California, adopted in Minnesota in the 1960s. In one of my most complicated but deeply satisfying cases, I worked to annul her adoption, which was successful, and her original identity and OBC has now been restored to her.
an intercountry adoptee in New York, born in India, adopted in Minnesota. She has had incredible difficulty simply proving her identity, impacting all aspects of her life. Ultimately, she is the person for whom I recently raised money to pay the $1,170 USCIS filing fee, one of numerous barriers for her in trying to prove her identity and, ultimately, secure proof of US citizenship.
a Pennsylvania resident, born and adopted in Minnesota. I am in the process of petitioning the court in Minnesota to release her original birth certificate and her adoption records.
more than a dozen intercountry adoptees born in Mexico, South Korea, India, Guatemala, Macedonia, Iran, Haiti, the Phillipines, each having difficulty obtaining US citizenship or proving that citizenship, despite being adopted by US citizen parents decades ago.
a North Dakota resident, born and adopted in Minnesota, for whom I unsealed all of her records, using DNA and the Indian Child Welfare Act as arguments and leverage to do so.
pro bono work done through the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. This does not involve adult adoptees but instead relates to Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewals or applying for certificates of citizenship for children whose parents recently naturalized. These involve people born in Mexico, Burma, Thailand, Kenya, and Somalia.
an adoptee born to a refugee and adopted in Minnesota, who is seeking records from the court so that he can determine if his birthmother is still alive and whether she needs help in securing basic services for her, including US citizenship.
My legal work is complicated and often moves at a snail’s pace, particularly within federal immigration law. And this is on top of the legislative advocacy work I’ve done—and continue to do—in states like New York, Texas, and Minnesota, as well as drafting model bills and analyzing and organizing information on laws in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. I created a successful DNA donation project two years ago, and at last count it has provided nearly fifty free AncestryDNA kits to adult adopted people who cannot afford them. That program is now run by Adoptees United Inc., a new national nonprofit organization with which I am also involved.
On top of all that I try to answer all the inquiries I get from people, usually by pointing them to the right place or referring them to other resources. At last count—and not including social media— I’ve received nearly 700 web inquiries in the last two years, over 500 website comments, and two to three emails every day from people who are simply (and sometimes desperately) seeking their own basic information. Ultimately, though, I can’t answer all the inquiries I get, nor take on every case presented to me.
I’m not complaining. Other people are. And to them I say this: feel free to file whatever complaint you feel is your right. You can try to deter my work that way, but you will fail, not because I’ve dealt with baseless tactics like this before, but because the work we all do—all the committed adoptee rights advocates and allies with whom I work—will continue no matter the pettiness or toxicity of such complaints. It is ultimately our own day-to-day hard work that rises above what unhappy and bitter people throw at us, and I’ll take one for the team by slogging through embittered complaints that come at you when you piss people off. It ultimately means you are making a difference.
I love my clients and my work. It’s mission-driven, not financial, and it’s the way I personally give back to my small and vibrant community. For that I am privileged. I am also hugely thankful.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and my best to you and to all of my friends who have led me and others to where we are right now. Cheers to each of us as we now move headlong into a new decade.