In my current research, I’ve been looking into various conceptions of citizenship, the nation-states of source and adoption, as well as the ephemeral nature of what makes for adoptee identity and sense of belonging. Coincidentally, I recently submitted the last of the paperwork required to regain my nationality (a scan of my adoptive father’s passport) to my lawyer. When the process is complete, I will have established a legal precedent for others to follow. As informed by friends of all stripes, I will also have made of myself a complete laughing stock, compared to most everyone else who is trying to leave this place.
Be that as it may, my recent success with DNA testing, along with rapidly changing scenarios of what makes for “citizenship” (read: economic potential and allegiance) in receiving countries actually had me reconsidering completely going through with the process—too much seemed at stake. In the end, I think the precedent is worth the effort after all of these years, and as many immigrants can attest, having a nationality and claiming an “identity” based on that nationality are two entirely different subjects of discussion.
What follows is an overview of some of what I’ve been grappling with. Some of it is personal, some of it is unique to Lebanon, much of it will ring true for international adoptees at least, and I hope that it might provide a starting point for discussion on the subject of the responsibilities of adoptive parents and agencies in not just naturalizing children, but in questioning their very role in perpetuating statelessness, dispossession, displacement, and disinheritance.
Political embodiment evidenced in ID
What information pertaining to our birth and adoption carries through to our ID papers?
Lebanon allows for dual (or more) citizenship(s), and people collect such travel documents like they do bubblegum cards. On the list of travel capability afforded by passport without visa, Lebanon ranks near last. To facilitate travel, and to ease emigration, many Lebanese nationals seek and maintain a foreign nationality, usually in a country that allows for dual citizenship. “New” identities, however, carry forward “old” traces. For example, written on many of these documents is the word “LEBANON”, listed as place of birth. This marker of origin, especially in a jus soli (or “right of land [by birth]”) nation-state like the United States, reveals just one of many “lines of fracture” that hierarchize citizenship. This trace, depending on origin, can be problematic at airline ticket counters or border crossings, for just two examples.
When I first arrived in Lebanon, as an American national it was required that I apply for a work visa. This duly carried my adoptive parents’ names since my identity “leaned”, if you will, in the American direction. During the process of obtaining my Lebanese nationality, we applied for a three-year “courtesy” visa which expires in April. This identity “leaned” in the Lebanese direction, and as such, required that I revert to “orphan” status, and thus there are no names for my parents on this updated visa, just two extended lines. As disturbing as I found this, it is less obvious than the word “foundling” which used to officially grace the ID cards of Lebanese without parentage. Another trace along these lines was the use of assigned names which denoted political “disembodiment”—“Beiruti”, for example—which generically referenced place and not family name.
Sometimes the trace is inferred and not obvious. During the 2006 July War, many foreign nationals decided to evacuate at the behest or recommendation of their foreign governments. It was painfully evident the difference in how such countries viewed borders as well as citizenship, based on who was allowed to leave, and how many were allowed to leave with them. For American nationals, there were three tiers: Those born in the U.S.; those married to an American national; and those naturalized. Furthermore, a limit of two persons allowed to accompany the evacuee was imposed. Those of us who remained behind jokingly started assigning “cash value” to foreign passports, often in stark contrast to how they were previously considered in terms of “travel value”; here the American passport fell woefully short. Joking aside, as adoptees, we often define ourselves as “second choice” children. To this list we can add: “second-class” citizens.
Does the receiving country allow for dual nationality?
The laws pertaining to nationality, identity, and citizenship change frequently. Historically in the U.S. we can point to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II, as well as current calls to treat Muslims in the same way as evidence of such vagaries of citizenship in an Anglo-Saxon society. The “fortune” of those ascribed embodiment is rendered starkly by the presence of immigration lotteries, where “getting in” often comes down literally to the luck of the draw. This, along with its flip side—namely the mass deportations that the Obama administration has undertaken to remove certain “illegals” from the national population—can be seen to be based on a bar of state-based recognition/stigmatization that is forever in flux.
When I was naturalized in 1967, the U.S. required that the new citizen foreswear all allegiances to foreign “princes and potentates” (this oath was taken on behalf of the child by the adoptive parent). The wording and thus the inherent premise of citizenship has since evolved. This change can primarily be ascribed to the need to allow for brain-drain employment in high-end industry and tech areas (India, Pakistan, China, etc.), but also to allow particular foreign nationals to maintain their voter eligibility in the home country (Chile, Lebanon). This especially holds true when immigrant populations tend to be more conservative, or when they form the desired “balance of power” back in the home country. Again, the sad mirror reflection of this is the deportations of adoptees to countries such as Korea, India, or El Salvador. [link | link]
“Entry” and “landing” are usually premised based on economic considerations: Migrant labor needs; investment capabilities of the one seeking citizenship; and most recently the “needs” of high school and college sports teams. This has resulted in permutations of visa entry that qualify the entrant as “excelling” in some endeavor—usually a sport or a cultural talent—that allows him or her entry [to profit a broker, team, cultural institution, etc.] The question thus is not “what is my right to citizenship/as a citizen”, but instead “how does my citizenship benefit originating and acculturating nation-states, and beyond these abstract entities, how does it benefit the ‘broker’—the one who ‘petitioned for [our] naturalization[s]?’, as a border agent ignobly once phrased it to me. The fact is, we remain wholly outside of this establishment of citizenship in terms of agency and will, and should we fall below certain economic/political notions of existence, our right to place is called into question.
Control of citizenship
Exactly how much is citizenship within the purview of adoptee’s will/agency?
The unstated of the above point is that the “citizen” must uphold the economic “bill of fare” that allowed him or her entry into the country—this is the “bargain” of citizenship. Previously, this embodiment was taken for granted, and not much thought needed be given the concept of our belonging. However, the U.S. conceptions of “solidity” of citizenship have been slowly eaten away by various laws up to and including the Patriot Act, and now various deportation acts, focused on similarly extirpating “illegal” immigrants. Added to the historical precedents listed previously in terms of such “exclusion” are the voices decrying “invasions” of refugees, often fleeing American wars abroad.
The fact is that the U.S. states that citizenship is conferred as a right, and as such can be retracted based on a list of reasons that seems to grow longer with time: “aiding or abetting” “terrorist” groups (keep in mind that yesterday’s “terrorist” is tomorrow’s “partner in peace”); calling for the downfall of the U.S. government; acting in a way that calls into question connection to the country (not paying taxes, committing a felony, etc.) Applying for a foreign nationality thus adversely “marks” an individual as concerns motive and allegiance, and can be considered an act “against the national interest”. This determination is made wholly by the U.S. State Department. It should be noted that the current charged political climate is bringing forth discussions that question jus soli as an automatic right.
“Where are you from?
No, where are you really from?”
Europe’s rising “wall” mentality
What is the impact of Europe’s reverting to national identities/ethnicities?
France right now is discussing possible déchéance de nationalité for its bi-nationals. The false impetus for this is the recent attacks that have taken place in the country. Personally, I can remember back in 1986 being harassed by the far-right National Front in the minority (though no less French) neighborhood I lived in; the historic hatred for “impure blood” is in the national anthem. Beyond France are similar rises to power in other European nations of equally fascistic and nationalistic parties. With the refugee “crisis”, the concept of Schengen—countries that are “borderless” for economic and travel reasons—seems to be withering. The discourse of citizenship as defined by blood or ethnicity or historical mythology, borrowed from the political platforms of right-wing and fascistic parties, is the first step toward legalization of such voiced “thoughts” and discussions.
I cannot speak for the majority of European receiving countries, I’ve only started researching them along these lines. I can say that the contradiction of the European desire to establish adoption as a “human right” is to be found in the way it treats foreigners and immigrants. Germany and most Scandinavian countries do not allow foreign dual nationality; in the Netherlands this was a recent change. The point here is that various concepts of jus soli, jus sanguinis (or “right by blood”), naturalization, etc. need to be examined on a nation-state by nation-state level, with ramifications of such citizenship elaborated on and evaluated from within both contexts. French parents, for one example, adopt children from Romania, but the government destroys the camps of Rom immigrants and deports them without a second thought. The political and economic embodiment ascribed to, say, an adoptee in France from Morocco, when contrasted to the historic treatment of nationals from that country in France, only starts to paint for us the picture of hypocrisy and “Un-Enlightened” thinking coming from the Asian subcontinent we call Europe.
What is problematic in terms of our original/ascribed/adoptive names?
Some issues of citizenship are only coming up now that many adoptees are attempting to return to originating place, and are in reunion with original family. My case for re-establishing nationality in Lebanon was based on the following trajectory as followed by my lawyer. First, filing the ecclesiastical court adoption papers with the government’s national court. Second, establishing an ekhraj ’ad (basic ID) based on the false adoptive name and the existence of the name in the civil registry. Third, creating a family registry from scratch based on the adoptive parents (thus the need for my father’s passport). Finally, amending the government records to read (for example) “Bernard Sarem currently known as Daniel Drennan”. As such, my Lebanese “existence” is brought “up to date” to match my American existence, if you will; with the American existence predominating.
The problem inherent to this line of thinking is if we should be later reunited with original family. One case I know of a woman and her family in the south speaks to this, with the father wishing to re-establish familial links with his daughter. The problem is that the above scenario is about bending us back into the Lebanese system, which in this case is obviously the more flexible of the two, and stands in deference to the other’s laws (like our adoptions). But let’s say a family wishes to include a child within their registry. Now things get complicated; we cannot be listed on two family registries if we’ve created one “from nothing”. Here, Lebanese law predominates. Furthermore, our “disinheritance” via adoption is reversed as far as the adoptive country is concerned. Meaning, our decreed orphan status is belied by the truth; our dispossession revealed. To “correct” along these lines for the American system, for example, would require perhaps an annulment of the adoption and a name change jurisdiction. Would this not intrinsically call into question the adoptive citizenship?
The establishment of dual nationalities doesn’t necessarily provide “firm footing” in two countries. In fact it actually makes for “unsure connection” in both originating and acculturating places. For one example, Korea provides special visas for adoptees. This is based on the “human capital” that returning adoptees bring to the political and economic landscape of the nation-state, and thus is a function of class luxury and privilege. On the flip side, it is now estimated that ten percent of Korean adoptees in the U.S. are not, in fact, citizens [link]. This has resulted in sketchy attempts to globally and retroactively assign citizenship to all adoptees.
The reason for this playing catch-up has nothing to do with adoptees’ rights at all, but instead is aimed at streamlining future adoptions into the country. Our adoption is based on the economic citizenship needs of our adoptive parents, and, as always, our own existence is an afterthought. The affording of automatic citizenship as well as the regaining of nationality should, I believe, be givens. At the same time, it might also be worth challenging our conceptions of what makes for “nation-state”, “belonging”, and “identity”. Our “rights” as citizens are not of our own agency or will, and as such, are vague and ephemeral markers of economic potential rather than political embodiment. Of course, as long as such a marker is imposed from above, we need abide by its requirements and the implications of its establishment. As informed citizens, however, we should also know exactly what these entail.
Is It Okay to Not Provide Citizenship for an Adopted Child? [link]
On Rethinking Lebanese Origins. [link]