The ‘As If Born To’ Fallacy


In the industrial tideflats of Tacoma, on a pile of sludge sandwiched between the Thea Foss Waterway and the Puyallup River, is the Northwest Detention Center of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE. A privately-owned but government-run prison. Most don’t even know it exists, and many – if they were told “illegals” were detained there prior to deportation – wouldn’t care.

I was blissfully unaware of its presence and purpose before this story hit the news:

Judge Orders Woman Adopted As Baby Deported To Mexico

Here is what’s not included in the article: Tara was born to alcoholic parents in Mexico and placed with her older siblings in an orphanage. All three were adopted by the Ammons family, and Tara’s siblings grew up as her cousins. Her brother served honorably in the army. Tara had a legally obtained social security card and a job. She was as entitled as any natural-born American and had the attitude to prove it. But when her proclivity toward alcohol landed her in jail on a theft-turned-drug-dealing charge, she used her time in prison for treatment to get sober.

So it came as a shock when she finished her sentence in Spokane, only to be transported directly to the ICE facility on the other side of the mountains, to await deportation to Mexico. This was a woman raised by Americans as an American. She spoke no Spanish, knew no one in Mexico, and had no clue about Mexican culture. She even looked white.

Her adoptive parents were told citizenship was included in the adoption process, so no naturalization procedure was ever done. But technically, she was in the country as illegally as if she had willfully crawled over the border when she was five months old.

Adoptees who were born in the US are issued an amended birth certificate, which replaces the biological parents with the adoptive. This is the new, certified, legal document of birth. The clause is called, “As if born to,” meaning for all intents and purposes, the adoptive parents are the only parents: legally, biologically, socially, etc. This was originally done in the spirit of making sure society treated the adoptee exactly like a natural-born child, including as heirs. But it took on a life of its own when adoption records (including original birth certificates) were sealed from the very people they pertained to. As if born to made adoptees 2nd class citizens.

Tara Ammons Cohen had it worse. She was a 2nd class non-citizen, legally adopted but illegally residing in the only country she’d ever known. We could throw stones (and people did), about how her adoptive parents were at fault for not following through, how the adoption itself was illegal, how Tara should have fixed this when the error was first discovered, how she shouldn’t have been drinking knowing she had alcoholism in her family history, how she was just trying to abuse the system like other illegal immigrants, how we should deport all felons, and on and on. I had to wonder if it would have been the same had she been born French Canadian. Okay, actually I didn’t wonder.

It was a difficult, expensive, nearly three-year legal battle before she was finally released. It wasn’t over, though. She still wasn’t a citizen. I never found an update on her after 2013, which described her life in very shaky terms.

Here we have another Washington State adoptee in limbo: Adam Crapser: Adopted, Abused, and Facing Deportation

Mirah Riben’s post details the serious inconsistencies of laws regarding American adoptees and citizenship. The adopted, once again, had things done to them that were entirely out of their control, yet they are the ones held responsible. “As if born to” is just another empty promise, something pulled out whenever convenient. You are “real” until you aren’t, and then you are only real to a certain point.

No foreign-born American adoptees should face deportation. S2275, the “Adoptee Citizenship Act” would retroactively give all legally adopted individuals in the US citizenship.

This is a ground-breaking bill, as yet not official, but if passed would rectify a huge injustice. It still would not make society accept foreign-born adoptees as “real” offspring of their adoptive parents, but at least they would not have the threat of deportation dangling over them like the sword of Damocles.

Elle Cuardaigh is author of The Tangled Red Thread and contributor to The Adoptee Survival Guide


twitter: @ElleCuardaigh

7 thoughts on “The ‘As If Born To’ Fallacy

  1. Actually, Tara Ammons Cohen was given the chance to apply for and obtain citizenship when she was offered plea deals to testify in criminal cases, but refused to cooperate even for a path to citizenship. She knew she was not a citizen and she knew she needed to take toward citizenship in the usual manner (like I believer her siblings did), AND well before she found herself in jail for purse and prescription drug theft (and whatever else she has done before landing in ICE custody), so this article is misleading. She made more mistakes than obtaining addictive genes, and she’s probably a far cry from the little helpless infant crawling across the border that you’re trying to portray.

    • Interesting. It has been years since Tara was in the news so I wonder how and why you came across my blog post today.

      I am aware of U-visas, where an illegal immigrant who is victim of a violent crime can attain a visa with cooperation in bringing the criminal to justice. In Tara’s case, I believe it was from being raped as a young woman in California. Speaking as another rape victim, I can sympathize with not jumping at the chance to relive the attack over and over, no matter the reason. I did say that her siblings had naturalized but Tara fell back on an entitled American attitude of not needing it – the irony was apparently lost on you. The entire point is the “As If Born To” clause/belief is false, otherwise the naturalization of international adoptees would be unnecessary.

      As for what Tara did or did not do (Did she steal that purse or mistake it as her own? If she did not know prescription drugs were in the purse, could she be charged with possession/attempt to distribute?) regardless – as I wrote – she served her sentence. Being held by ICE for 18 months was on your dime and mine. An alcoholic was locked up in maximum security. Feel safer?

      Finally, I am fairly certain I did not describe Tara as a five-month-old infant. I was using sarcasm to illustrate how ridiculous the international adoption laws are, that they make “illegal aliens” out of adoptees who had no say over how they got here as children, just as we have no say over our genetics, including having alcoholism in the family.


      • Hello, Elle.

        You wrote: “If she did not know prescription drugs were in the purse, could she be charged with possession/attempt to distribute?) ‘

        The answer to your question is yes, she can or could have been charged as stated. Firstly, the very first rule of (common) law is that ignorance (of the law) is no excuse. it is almost the first lesson a first year law student learns. Secondly, assuming you’re not talking about a container of prescription meds (labeled properly in the usual amount prescribed by physician to his/her patient), but rather of a large quantity, circumstantial evidence says that the intention is to make a profit by selling/distributing the illicit cache.

        It isn’t the international agencies who make the rules about who is admitted to the US and in what category; it is the US Customs and Border Control (aka immigration) that makes those rules. All international agencies be they the orphanages or social agents or other are supposed to instruct the would be adopters that they must apply for naturalization of their charge (I will NOT use ‘their child’ because the child belongs to its own DNA Family, not to the court appointed one), just as an adult born outside of the US or its territories must apply.

        The phrase ‘as if born to’ refers to the legal rights conferred on the adoptee regarding protection, shelter, inheritance etc. which is automatic with a child arriving in the usual manner thru which most kids come in to this world. It denotes who is legally responsible for that child until he/she reaches the age of majority. A guardianship gives the same condition, but does not change the child’s natural status by preserving the original identity and inheritance of said child. It has nothing to do with origin outside of the US of birth, which is a separate issue.

        “The Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which streamlined the naturalization process for children adopted internationally, child under age 18 who is adopted by at least one U.S. citizen parent, and is in the custody of the citizen parent(s), is now automatically naturalized once admitted to the United States as an immigrant or when legally adopted in the United States, depending on the visa under which the child was admitted to the United States.” There is still a process to be followed, one similar to those the so-called War Brides of WWII had to go thru. There are legions of women married to US servicemen who later in life discovered that they were not ‘legal’ because their husbands had not initiated the process which would have finalized their naturalization. There are also adoptees of international birth whose adopters did not initiate the process and the kids now adult find that they are not citizens of the US.

        The irony in all of this legal BS is that DNA proves that we are all product of multiple migrations by multiple groups throughout our genome. I may have -and did-migrate thru many places in my lifetime, but that does not make me one single ‘nationality’ any more than speaking Kikouyou makes me sub-Saharan African or speaking Celt, makes me Scot or Irish.

        A child is NOT chattel or property to anyone, whether or not adoptee or natural child. I can speak of MY son because he is of my flesh, not because he is my property. I can equally refer to my friend’s children as grandchildren out of the affection and love I bear them, and which they are reciprocal. The same can be said of he earth beneath my feet. I am obligated to husband and tend it so that it is passed on thru the generations to sustain and nourish them. The only things that we humans own are the deeds we did or did not do while on earth. Those and only those will come with us to the next phase as marks of who we really are…

      • I feel my point is being lost right and left.

        The adoptee in question – Tara Ammons Cohen – *did* serve time for theft and intention to distribute drugs. Right or wrong, it happened. It was upon her release that she was seized by ICE and then served another year and a half for being an illegal immigrant with a criminal past. Clear yet?

        If you wrote all of this to the general audience, fine. That is why I approved your comment. But do not explain the law to me, or even worse, anything having to do with adoption.

        sincerely, Elle

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