Supposedly, in the American justice system, children are not punished directly for the crimes of their parents. For instance, the child of a drug dealer wouldn’t themselves be sent to prison along with their parent. The idea is absurd on its face. But this is exactly what is happening when the children of undocumented immigrants and adoptees without citizenship are deported back to their “home” countries.
It’s a double injustice for adoptees without citizenship; punished for the sins of two sets of parents, of two countries. I had the privilege to interview John Doe (not his real name), an adoptee without citizenship. When viewed in the light of his story the grotesqueness of the transgressions is clear.
John’s story starts out as a familiar tragedy. Given up by his mother at the age of 2, John was left on the doorstep of his paternal uncle. This is just the beginning of the failure, not of John, but almost everyone else around him. John was routinely beaten by his cousins. After discovering this horrendous situation on one of their visits to Korea, his paternal grandmother and his paternal aunt took John with them when they went back to America. John was 6 years old.
It was then that he was reunited with his biological father and met his father’s common law wife. Any hopes for a happy home life were quickly shattered when his father’s common law wife began to physically and sexually abuse John. She performed sexual acts on him while his father was at work. His word against hers, John was betrayed again by his father who did not believe him. The same and only person who’d ever done anything to protect him took action again. His paternal aunt and her then husband adopted John into their family. John was now 9 years old.
John was in a stable household with a loving family for the first time in his life. It wasn’t enough to overcome his childhood of abuse. He got involved with the wrong crowd and was arrested on a charge of conspiracy to sell meth. A first time, nonviolent adult offender, John was sentenced to 13 years of incarceration. The wrongness of his sentencing notwithstanding, John used his time in person to reform, work through his pain, and earn an education. Eager to hit reset on his life, he was blindsided by ICE a month before his release with the news he was not a US citizen. ICE told him it wasn’t an issue and that he was free to go when his sentence was up.
Punished for the sins of his family through abuse and assault, John persevered. Punished by the US government, he paid his debt to society and persevered. Instead of being able to live a full, normal existence alongside his wife as is right, just and owed him, he is forced into limbo; fearing the prison of deportation to a place where he doesn’t know anybody, where he doesn’t belong.
There is no question that John and all adoptees without citizenship still in the United States should be granted citizenship, retroactively and going forward. It is owed to them. There is no question that all deported adoptees should be allowed to return to the US and granted citizenship since they should never have been deported. The real question is will the United States government uphold its professed moral ideals, or, through inaction drive another nail into the coffin of American exceptionalism, American moral righteousness?