What’s left after Congress failed again to fix US citizenship for intercountry adoptees? Our own work.
If you did not know already, the last iteration of the Adoptee Citizenship Act did not pass Congress by the end of last session. And with the House of Representatives now flipped from Democratic to Republican control, the promise of any significant immigration-related reform in Congress—at least in the next two years—appears very slim, no matter the cheap talk of “bipartisan” support. What should we do? I have a few ideas.
Fund the Costs that Intercountry Adoptees Must Typically Bear Alone
I already represent most intercountry adoptees pro bono (free) or low bono (flat fee based on an ability to pay). The exception to that practice usually involves payment of legal fees by government funds or by an employer. In those cases I charge full freight because charging a regular fee in such cases (where my client isn’t actually paying the fees) ultimately leverages those funds so that I can represent more clients for free or low cost. That is, there is a reason I’ve represented more than 60 intercountry adoptees over the last three years in various capcities: I can provide pro bono or low cost representation that is based on leveraging other funds.
But even if legal representation is free or low cost, my clients are still required to pay enormous filing fees to 1) secure US citizenship; 2) prove US citizenship, or 3) find a path to US citizenship. The USCIS filing fee for naturalization is $725. For a certificate of citizenship it is $1,170, and likely increasing substantially in the near future. For complicated cases involving finding and getting on a path to citizenship (such as securing lawful presence in the US and getting a green card), the USCIS filing fees add up to more than $3,000. These are only filing fees, not attorney fees; no matter who represents an intercountry adoptee in a citizenship proceeding, the USCIS filing fees are almost always paid out of the adoptee’s pocket.
Intercountry adoptees should not bear these expenses alone. We must come together to establish a fund to help with these expenses. And by “we” I mean the public as well as those impacted by adoption, particularly adoptive parents. I’ve successfully raised more than $5,000 in funds for clients over the past few years but that has been informal and ad hoc. We need to establish a formal fund dedicated to assisting intercountry adoptees with the costs of resolving citizenship issues. That needs to happen now.
Establish a Pro Bono Legal Clinic
It has long been my goal to start a nonprofit pro bono/low cost legal clinic for all adopted people. The clinic would provide free or low cost legal representation, advice, and resources, not only to intercountry adoptees but to all adopted people in the United States. We need to establish this clinic as soon as possible, given that the legislative options to secure US citizenship for many intercountry adoptees are slowly dwindling away. To do this, we will also need to raise funds so that a pro bono model can be created, sustained, and expanded (I’ve presented on this topic numerous times and in general the structure is in place already)
I’ve recently reached out to immigration attorneys and paralegals to talk informally about establishing this clinic. Actually, to be accurate, they reached out to me with one question: “how can I help?” I am now working to build a small volunteer team of lawyers and paralegals who can take on pro bono or low bono cases, and I plan to provide guidance, training, and resources along the way. I hope to announce initial plans soon (though a lot of things still need to be hashed out), but if you are an attorney or paralegal who has any experience in immigration law, reach out to me below. Together we can get this started. Actually, it must get started now, as Congress has failed intercountry adoptees for decades—and very likely will continue to do so over the course of the current Congressional session.
Continue to Contact your Senators and Representatives
Establishing alternatives to legislative change does not mean we give up on that change. We must continue to count the days Congress has failed to act, and we must continue to put pressure on Congress to fix the problem. Contact your US representatives and senators, with one clear and unequivocal message: fix the denial of US citizenship to intercountry adopted people brought to the United States for adoption by US citizen parents.