Is it okay to not provide citizenship for an adopted child?

This is the 24th question in the series: “Anti-adoption month: 30 answers to 30 questions on adoption” [link].

The following question originally appeared on Transracial Eyes:

I came upon your website today and found several thoughtful comments. Perhaps this is the place to pose my question. Is it ever okay to not get U.S. citizenship for an internationally adopted child? I have read the horror stories of deportation and know that no one seems to question the necessity of getting U.S. citizenship. In fact adoptive parents are urged to make sure this is done before the child reaches adulthood. My child was adopted at age ten and doesn’t like a lot of things about American culture. He has stated he does not want to be a citizen of the U.S., yet he does not see himself going back to his country. I hope I am not a terrible parent for questioning this issue.

Dual citizenship is not permitted in his case. I figure I could let him make the decision after he is 18, but there is always a chance something could go wrong and end in deportation between the time he turns 18 and the time he decides for himself. I also considered that he may be able as an adult to reject his U.S. citizenship and apply for citizenship of his own country. Most likely I will get his U.S. citizenship. I always tell him that it is okay to not like aspects of this country and that others would agree with him, even those immigrants who moved here of their own choice.

Answer: I would agree with what has been posted so far, castigating as it were (and given the limited amount of information we have) the negligence on the part of a parent who does not provide for a solid grounding in this child’s new-found place, especially after dispossessing the child from his land of birth. I was naturalized a citizen when I was five years old; what were/are you waiting for? How did this happen? How often does this happen is perhaps the bigger question.

Having said that, the question opens up a much bigger discussion concerning place/non-place, belonging, and the rights afforded us by virtue of being citizens. In an ironic way, I can imagine the “non-place” of this child between his land of birth and the place he was adopted to, because I am more and more familiar with it, as an adoptee returned, with no will to return (like this child) or no ability to truly assimilate (as has been mentioned).

To gain insight into what the reality is of those who actually live this way, we can look at those who are truly “stateless”–for one example, the Palestinian people, or that of the Bedouin populations, the Roma in Europe, or the case of immigrants to the United States who are now facing deportations that are breaking up their families, because the children were born in the U.S. This idea of jus soli, or right of citizenship based on birth, is a “New World” right, based in economic and political decisions having to do with cheap labor and public relations concerning “freedom” more than actually investing immigrant groups as citizens.

But the “New World” is getting rather old, and the “Old World” is reverting to a “wall them out” mentality as well. Because of the way that U.S. law works, deportation is seen as a punishment, and therefore does not extend to family members, just the individual. It is becoming easier to be caught up in the grinding gears of immigration bureaucracy these days; this can involve overstaying one’s visa, speaking out on campus or online, or simply (these days) having an Arab-, Hispanic-, or Muslim-“sounding” name or surname and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We can see in American law vestigial elements of a mimicked Greek Athenian philosophy which bestows citizenship on some, while pauperizing others in this regard. It’s a cruel system, and the greater goal should probably be not to run afoul of it.

In terms of adoptees’ rights in their lands of birth, a lot depends on the originating country. Lebanese adoptees like myself have a chance at citizenship here, but this is based on our bogus paperwork and the class status afforded by our bourgeoisification and acculturation in our adoptive country. This is hugely ironic, given the inability of local immigrant populations or refugees to gain citizenship. This is painful when these populations end up one’s friends—how to explain such a disparity? The Lebanese population is currently one-fourth Syrian refugees and migrant workers, for example; they have no hope of becoming part of the body politic. Similarly, Lebanese adoptees taken during the war without this paper trail have no such right; nor adoptees with fathers unknown (Lebanese nationality is patrilineal). All laws and all rights lean toward those who “have”, and so to be of this class and not provide such privilege to a child you are caring for is rather disturbing.

This brings up a point being discussed, which is the idea of “dual citizenship”. To note is that like jus soli, hosting countries take advantage of certain immigrant groups by “claiming them”, especially if they represent an important brain drain on the supply country (India or Germany, for example) or if their supply country allows for the voting of foreign nationals—who tend to be much more conservative in an attempt to assimilate—in which case the hosted population acts as an agent of foreign policy (Lebanon or Korea, for example). And whereas the United States nominally since a 1952 Supreme Court decision allows for dual nationality, it maintains the “right” to renounce American nationality based on its assumptions as to intent vs. the national interest:

The automatic acquisition or retention of a foreign nationality does not affect U.S. citizenship; however, the acquisition of a foreign nationality upon one’s own application may cause loss of U.S. citizenship under Section 349(a)(1) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (8 U.S.C. 1481). In order for loss of nationality to occur under Section 349(a)(1), it must be established that the naturalization was obtained with the intention of relinquishing U.S. citizenship. Such an intention may be shown by a person’s statements or conduct. If the U.S. Government is unable to prove that the person had such an intention when applying for and obtaining the foreign citizenship, the person will have both nationalities.

Adoptees beware, especially if you currently belong to a group targeted by the U.S. State Department. The child in this case should weigh things carefully as he grows up. United States laws are increasingly aiming to marginalize, deport, and eliminate groups seen as posing any kind of internal “threat” however defined by the United States (the political “reverse” of reservations, internment camps, and prisons). This child does not have “free speech” to air his views concerning how he feels about his American acculturation. Were the Patriot Act II to be passed, no one would have even this as birthright or, indeed, as a right in general.

Those of us who are naturalized who “run afoul” of increasingly restrictive laws risk losing our bank accounts, our ability to travel to and from the U.S., and/or our citizenship based on this as well as a variety of bills either under consideration or passed into law that forbid advocacy for or contact with so-called terrorist groups, even though locally said groups may indeed be valid political actors, democratically elected, etc.; or the vagaries of American politics might see all of a sudden former foes as friends. I state this emphatically as a warning because greater freedom of speech in a foreign country for a U.S. national becomes a trap and a double-edged sword.

For example, television stations, newspapers, etc. here in Lebanon are politically affiliated; I have to weigh what the consequences are of appearing on a particular television station or taking part in a newspaper interview when discussing the social welfare, for example, the trafficking of children in Lebanon. I have to ascertain what the perception of this appearance will be by the U.S. State Department. Activism on behalf of Palestinians, for example, requires dealing with a full spectrum of political actors in varying degrees; that the U.S. should focus on a few of these and make determinations about one’s status as a citizen thereof is a twisted and egregious misuse of the notions of citizenry of supposedly “free” nations. And thus we are silenced.

Perhaps it is a good point to explain to this child that to be naturalized as a minor requires a sworn statement of the petitioner of citizenship, not s/he being naturalized, if I’m not mistaken. Once he is 18, then he will be required to make this oath, and this might make a difference in how he views it. Personally, I am glad that my adoptive father made this oath on my behalf, especially now that I’ve lived through wars funded and armed by the U.S., and am currently living through the counter-revolutions sponsored by the U.S. and its allies. It was my father’s will, and not necessarily mine, that resulted in American citizenship, and this is a consolation of sorts.

I make these political comments as statements of fact, not to enflame or annoy. Because for any adoptee traveling back or moving back to their originating place, there is a need to acknowledge the politics of the Empire that preceded them. This has made it often difficult at times to connect with people here, and I understand why. It also makes it more and more difficult to connect with those left behind. And this is the psychological counterpart to physical statelessness, and I am not sure which is worse.

In this regard, my acculturation in the United States and my American passport are albatrosses around my neck, despite my friends telling me they allow me to go “anywhere”. This isn’t necessarily true; to travel locally in this region or the Global South is much easier with a Lebanese passport which I am trying to obtain via a re-established nationality. My students who not so long ago had no problem obtaining a visa for their studies abroad are now being rejected simply for being Lebanese and/or of a particular sect; they are refocusing their future on other places more welcoming to them—an increasingly shrinking venue.

And thus my re-entry to the United States each time I visit becomes more and more a painful reminder of the rejection afforded to the adults who, as children, are seemingly welcomed in with open arms. I now see these as deceptive arms, and their reach is long, and their judgment is final. Caveat emigrator; especially when s/he is migrating against his or her will.

The concept of citizenship, its relation to the formation of nation-states many of which (like Lebanon) were created wholly out of the foreign policies of the adoptive country and its “First World” allies, the concept of travel as opposed to displacement and dispossession, and who is effected by these and why, all paint a damning picture of adoption when we analyze them thoroughly.

The simple answer is that you should have naturalized this child if only to provide a more solid and stable base for him, especially after destabilizing him from his origins in the first place. Adoptive parents are a microcosm of the country that allows them to dispossess others, and for them to “lord it over” the destiny of the child temporarily in their care is horrifying when mapped onto the greater culture’s insouciant disregard for concepts of citizenship or belonging.


Consenting Muslims in America , by Hamid Dabashi.

Public Power in the Age of Empire, by Arundhati Roy.

Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, London, Terror, by Tariq Ali.

Civil Rights in Peril: The Targeting of Arabs and Muslims, edited by Elaine C. Hagopian.

You Have No Rights, by Matthew Rothschild.

No One Is Illegal, by Justin Akers Chacon.

Exploited, by Toby Shelley.

Debate Tactic: This discussion is almost certain to elicit the “Love It or Leave It” immune response of Americans. And so there is some consolation in having “left it”. All the same, my time spent with those who are literally “without state” has shed an entirely new light on the notion of who belongs and who doesn’t; I imagine this must be similar to the sentiment of those belonging to Indigenous Nations in North America. Similar to adoption discussions which get past the status quo idea that adoption is a “given” and a “starting point”, this discussion similarly need call into question our comfortable concepts of the nation-state, and what it means to be afforded “belonging”, especially when this can be taken away at any moment. Everything about the capitalist system focuses on removing connections to place and property, and as such the definers of these concepts control the shots. For parents who adopt, to be unaware of this is a criminal act of dispossession, on top of that which was our adoption.


About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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5 Responses to Is it okay to not provide citizenship for an adopted child?

  1. I don’t understand the motivations of adoptive parents who don’t finish necessary paperwork and tasks, once the child is procured. It’s so distressing and seems once more a failure of responsibility. “Is this child a member of the family, or not?”, the ambiguities scream out at me. It’s possible to honor and support a child while providing that protection you said you were going to give. I think it’s a positive option that parents can take the oath for a child, and have the child decide at the age of 18 to renew or renounce U.S. citizenship.

    My husband is a U.S. citizen because he was born in New York, but he has German parents who returned with him to Germany when he was less than six months old. Odd thing: they never bothered to get him German citizenship, which he just discovered last year, at the age of 43. He immigrated back to the U.S. at the age of 24, and always traveled with his U.S. passport; he realized at some point he didn’t have a German passport. He had to go to the German consulate and prove that he was German with all kinds of paperwork that his 90-year-old father sent over: birth certificates, marriage licenses, etc. Our sons are dual citizens, which is good for them; they somehow had confirmed German citizenship, but he didn’t. The person at the consulate told him, “They cannot be German, because you aren’t.” He said, “But you issued them passports. Here they are.” Beamter: “No, we didn’t.” My husband, “Yes, you did.” The battle of German wills was sorted out, but again, the relative ease of the process made me feel sad: my husband is German, can speak fluent German, understands German bureaucracy and can readily yell back at the Beamter as necessary. He belongs, and he *knows* he belongs. I am extremely envious of his family trees going back centuries (thanks to Nazi homework), and how he knows who he *is*.

    His situation reminded me of the stories I’ve read about international adoptees who get off the plane to reunite with families, or to visit in countries where they belong, but don’t, thanks to time and language barriers and the original work of the pyromaniac firefighters. The pressures of loss and limbo are beyond painful. The non-adopted don’t understand.

    As a parting note, I remember the headline of the paper in Hamburg on New Year’s Day, 2000, the first year that they decided to grant citizenship by birth to the children some Turkish “guest” workers and other immigrants who had lived in Germany for generations. Up to that point, being born in Germany didn’t grant you citizenship. You had to have German blood (read: be white): Jus Sanguinis. Anyway, my husband and I were horrified by the headline: “First Baby of the Millennium: Turk with German Passport.” What?!? If you have a German passport, doesn’t that make you German? No, no, no. Apparently not.

    You can be there, but you don’t *really* belong. Moreover, they won’t let you forget it. Ah, being marginalized is such a “gift.”

  2. dmdezigns says:

    I’m amazed any time I hear of APs who didn’t finish the process. I’m also disgusted. It’s just not fair to the kids. Of course if you bring a child from another country you need to finish the paperwork and provide citizenship for them. Where do these idiots get these ideas? It also angers me when people adopt children from another country, don’t learn the language of that country, immerse the child in a new culture, new language and refuse to allow the child to keep the culture of language of their birth. We didn’t adopt internationally, but if we had, I would have learned the language. The child would get to speak that language. I would learn about the culture, the food, the history of the where the child came from. They would have been granted US citizenship and if possible, had dual citizenship with their home country. I would be planning for visiting their home country in the future with them. Too often I think people adopt internationally thinking they can go back to the old idea of “as if born to” meaning no other family, no other history. We can’t erase our children’s heritage. It’s part of their identity. We can pretend they don’t have original families, but that’s not reality. I wish more APs understood that adoption isn’t a substitute for having a baby, it isn’t just a different way to create a family. It’s complicated. These are children who are going to grow into adults. They are people with heritage and histories, even if adopted at birth. They have a right to that knowledge. And as Mirren pointed out, they should be able to still feel connection to that heritage. When we remove kids from their culture, we seperate them from a part of themselves. We should be doubly sure that adoption to a foreign country is necessary for the child and not just completing a family in the US.

    • I have a good friend—we were in the orphanage together, and we are frighteningly similar in many ways (we want to do DNA testing)—who was raised in a Lebanese adoptive family. My hometown in NJ had a very large Lebanese community. Neither her family, nor those of my hometown, reflect in any way the “culture” I’ve managed to return to, for various class-based, religious, and regional reasons.

      I just wish to caution us as to a kind of reductive trap that is easy to fall into. It would have been great to have learned, say, classical Arabic as a kid; this would have given me an avenue of entry into a culture here. But it would not have been my “local” culture regained. The places locally where I feel the most resonance are exactly those that are likewise denied by the “national” culture, which pulls from a particular class and a particular worldview. All this to say that the effort to keep a child “in” his or her culture is like pounding a screw down with a hammer: The seeming solution is often more problematic and more extensively damaging.

    • dmdezigns says:

      I absolutely agree. And it’s important to not think that culture camps or even local communities take the place of an adoptee’s original culture. But I’m thinking of situations where an older child who already speaks a language other than English is forbidden to speak it and forced to choose only English. They never get to eat anything even similar to the tastes that were familiar prior to the adoption. They are immersed in a new culture and told to be grateful. You’re right that when you take a child from his homeland, you cannot recreate the culture that is now lost. You can however accept what they bring. It’s part of who they are. It’s another reason that international adoption – meaning taking a child from their country to a different country regardless of which one- should be a last resort. (actually, all adoption should be a last restort). If I move a child from one family to another within the same country/state/region they still suffer a loss, but that loss is compounded when they also lose their familiar surroundings, the language, possibly their religion (if they are being “saved” from “heathens”). I didn’t grow up in just one place as we moved a lot. I find myself yearning at times for the types of stories/memories of home that so many have. I can only imagine how that might be magnified for one who lost not only their family, their heritage, their homeland, their language. . . . I just think that APs who are going to adopt internationally should embrace as much as the adoptee wants them to embrace and to be not just be accomodating of the differences but accepting/embracing. Too many times, these adoptions fail not because the child has “soooo” many issues but that they are dealing with loss and grief which is not only unacknowledged but dimissed. After all, they’re supposed to be grateful right? I’m enjoying the conversations with you. You give me things to think about. And my kids will only benefit from these discussions and the perspective that you share.

  3. And that makes it all worth it somehow. Thanks.

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