How I Found Out My Son Wasn’t a Citizen


>>rsz_mommy_and_max_looking_out_the_windowMy son was born in Ethiopia and I brought him home when he was eight months old. So naturally, other parents of internationally adopted children are part of my circle. About a month ago I saw a post from a mom about her child’s citizenship status. Because of the aggressive immigration position of the Trump administration, she was checking to make sure paperwork was in order for her child, who immigrated to this country at the time of his adoption. She urged other adoptive parents to check their child’s status too.


I’m insanely organized and detail-oriented, so I had done all of the necessary paperwork nine years ago, and my son has a social security card and his Certificate of Citizenship (CoC) and U.S. birth certificate. So, I half-heartedly put that on my mental “try to do this sometime in the next few months” list and moved on.


Then I saw another post a week later from a different mom who, like me, had done every single piece of required paperwork as well as all the “extra” steps that were recommended but not required. When she called the Social Security Administration, they did not have her child listed as an American citizen.


Suddenly checking on my son’s status became a priority. I pulled all of his paperwork out of the lock box and made my call. My son was not listed as a citizen either.


“His status is as a legal alien,” said the woman on the phone. “He is not a U.S. citizen in our system.”


My heart dropped. I’ve been hearing about immigration raids on the news, people being detained at airports, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents stopping people to check their papers. This is real news. It’s actually happening in our country right now. And my son is brown, while I am not. He is from Ethiopia, on the fringe of our government’s targets in the Muslim world.   


I know I’ll be able to get this fixed. While I know this is a paperwork mistake and I have some level of trust that my son isn’t going to be deported – my protective instincts went into overdrive. I put out an urgent call to other parents of internationally adopted children to check their children’s status, and I made plans for my social security office visit.


Since then, I’ve visited the social security office with my paperwork and they fixed my son’s records. He’ll be receiving a new social security card in the next two weeks. Pretty easy stuff. The part that wasn’t easy was how I felt about the possibility of my son being targeted.  


This incident brought into sharp focus just how scary the prospect of getting caught up in changing immigration policy can be. I say that with the full knowledge that neither my brown son born in a different country and now a U.S. citizen, or me a white woman born here in the United States, really know what it’s like to be in the immigration crosshairs.


That’s not the case for so many. I’ve been reading a lot of recent stories of ICE agents conducting much more aggressive immigration enforcement, including one case where a teenager was picked up on his way to school, or other cases where agents held and questioned people, including those with legal status, for hours at airports because of their country of origin or religion. I think of how awful it must feel for those whose power is diminished because of their birthplace, their faith, or perhaps their accent or the clothes that they wear.


This isn’t an issue that’s mine or yours, it’s an issue that’s ours as a country. With the exception of native tribes, all “Americans” are immigrants. I believe we all have a responsibility to champion human rights and to uphold the American values enshrined in our constitution.


Look around at the people in your life. How many were born in another country? How many know multiple languages? How many practice a religion different from yours? Regardless of the differences, we all want a safe place to live, a job and education for our children. We all enjoy spending time with friends, eating good food and feeling part of a community.


Our country was built upon the foundation of unalienable rights. The name emblazoned on The Statue of Liberty is “Mother of Exiles.” It’s time for us to focus on our similarities rather than our differences.


I want my son to know about his birth country. We plan to visit when he’s a little older. But he’s an American now and I want him to know that his country, this country, is an accepting, inclusive place where immigrants are not just welcomed, but embraced.


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