Adoptees like Cohen shouldn’t face deportation

December 15, 2010 

With a record that includes a drug-related offense, Tara Ammons Cohen isn’t the most sympathetic example of how U.S. immigration law can be unfair to adoptees.

Even so, the Omak woman’s case illustrates why that law needs to be changed so that adopted children have the same rights as biological ones.

An immigration judge has ordered that Cohen, 38, be deported to Mexico – a country she knows nothing about, whose language she cannot speak, where she knows no one.

That’s because Cohen was adopted from a Mexican orphanage by an American couple when she was 5 months and brought to the United States – where she grew up, got married, had children and got into enough trouble with the law to trigger the deportation process.

If her adoptive parents had only gotten her naturalized or had she sought citizenship after marrying a U.S. citizen, Cohen wouldn’t be languishing in federal detention, where she’s been since July 2009.

She was picked up by immigration authorities after serving three months in prison for stealing a purse and telling police she planned to sell the prescription drugs inside. That’s not a negligible offense, but even the judge who ordered her deported said that it wasn’t a “serious” crime, certainly not one that would demand her immediate expulsion from the country.

Congress has recognized that adoptees deserve the same rights as biological children. That’s why it passed the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which automatically bestows U.S. citizenship on adopted children.

But the law isn’t retroactive. Children like Cohen – who were adopted before it went into effect and whose parents didn’t have them naturalized – face a 23-year wait for citizenship even if they have a clean record.

That’s not fair; it places a huge legal burden on adoptees that biological children aren’t required to bear. Congress should significantly expedite the naturalization process for adopted children who can prove they were legally adopted by Americans before a certain age – 10 perhaps. That would humanely address hard cases like Cohen’s.

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