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


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