Sunday, March 05, 2006

Notes on adoption

I'm adopted from The Republic of South Vietnam, and if you know anything, that will give you an idea of my age. Last year I found and joined a group called VAN. This is an excerpt from a thread that recently appeared at the VAN site. My response is at the bottom. I've done each in a different color. I'll probably write more about this at some point. It's a hot button for me.

Initial post

ABC7, a local news channel in San Francisco, CA just aired a segment on
Amerasian issue.

Click here for the story:

Local Woman Finds Out She Doesn't Exist

First Response
You know, something kind of like this happened to me. I was returning from Montreal a few years ago (post-9/11) and only had my driver's license on me. When I went into Canada, the border officer told me that I should be fine but in the future I should bring my passport (at this point, an ex had thrown it out anyway). So no big deal...I go to Montreal, do my thing, and am heading back. I get to the border, am asked if I'm a US citizen while he's looking at my license, and I say yes. He asks if I've got any proof that I'm a US citizen, to which I answer, "my license". He responds with, "That's not proof of citizenship. You need to come inside. "So he takes my ID, I move my car, and walk inside the building. I wait about 15 minutes, and am finally called to a desk. I've got a videocamera in my face recording all of this. I'm asked if I'm a US citizen again, to which I reply yes. They run my name, "NAME", through the BCIS database. I don't come up. Guess what? I don't exist. I inform him that I'm adopted, which is why my surname doesn't match my looks. He asked if I remembered my birthname and where I was officially adopted, to which I replied yes. Chiem Ngoc Minh. Philadelphia. He finds it and it's associated with an alien registration number that should have been put into their updated computer database decades ago when they stopped doing paper. For the hell of it, I said, "Look it up both Minh Ngoc Chiem, too". Guess what? He finds me under that name, as well. With another alien registration number. So at this point, I've got 2 alien registration numbers and no C-number (citizenship number). I have a C-number and the first alien registration number on my naturalization certificate. Anyway, he let me back into the country because I could remember my birthname and where and what year I was adopted at/in. He said if I hadn't, I would have ended up in a jail cell awaiting trail, and that's usually about 180 days until that happens. So I get back home, make a call to the congressman in the district I grew up in and another call to the congressman in the district I was adopted in, as well as a call AND letter with copies of my naturalization cert to the BCIS office in Philly. After 6 months of red tape, I gave up. I was told by a congressman's clerk that as long as I have a US passport, it cannot be denied that I'm a US citizen. Since then, I've been back to Viet Nam, Japan, and the DominicanRepublic without any issues getting back into the country (on a renewed passport).

Second Response

Wow, this happened to me too, when I tried to get a passport. It took a lot of time and effort from my life, and I had to work hard to let go of the resentment against my parents for dropping the ball. I found out when I was a Junior in college, and by that time had been working, voting, driving, getting state aid, and existing illegally. It was quite a blow. I was 21 then...too old to get anything expedited, and boy did we try, but the INS wouldn't budge an inch. I'm 31 now, and I just took my oath on February 3rd, 2006. I truly believe everything does happen for a reason. I would have left the country by now to travel the world, and instead have remained stateside to live and work. I just applied for my passport, and it was gripping to let go of that Certificate of Citizenship that it took a decade to get. The funny thing is that 31 years later, we still have the original paperwork that was filled out to Naturalize me in 1979. It was all filled out, and for some reason was returned, but never sent back in with the changes requested. I was taken to court and the judge tapped me on the head and pronounced me a citizen. My parents were going through separation and divorce and we moved a dozen times after that and the paper trail just never caught up. My case was delayed because I did a deportable offense and had to fess up to it, which was voting while not a US Citizen...but thinking I was a Citizen, I saw it as my duty. So, that's the story to accompany this one. I have met a few people that have also had the same experience...I was upset that law in 2000 was not retroactive. I'm lucky to have not been deported. But then again, what an adventure that would have been!

MY Response
Yeah, I've been through this. I was mad at my mother too, but then after dealing with the INS repeatedly I decided it was them. I too found out over 18--too late for parental help. Went through college ignoring it. Then filed, thought it was going through--wanted to get a passport to go on my honeymoon and was told it was a tangled mess. Basically they told me (despite correspondence with a congressman whose wife was a professor at my college) that I should file as though I had entered the country to marry my husband--which required all kinds of letters explaining how I'd apparently been waiting 23 years to marry him. So I had to do the 3 years and was sworn in a month after 9/11.
I've had one or two good INS reps., but I loved the one who asked if I could just go back to my country of origin and get an exit visa. I said, "Unless you have a time machine, no, because the country listed on my birth certificate doesn't exist anymore! (Rep. of South VietNam). Have you been living under a rock for 30 years? I can no more prove I'm VietNamese than that I'm American" Needless to say I'm still a little bitter.
At the time I filed I requested a copy of my INS file. It arrived the day after my father died. According to the checklist inside everything had been filed, BUT when you look the citizenship documents are missing. Like you said about everything happening for a reason--I quoted the letters of reference in my father's eulogy because they talked about how his friends thought he was wonderful enough to adopt.
I know what you mean about handing over the Naturalization form for a passport. I almost hyperventilated when the clerk walked away with mine. "You're not taking that are you?!!"
What scares me is that we're going through this after going through the American school system and speaking fluent English. I can't imagine doing this as an actual immigrant.
I now have a job in HR and I have workers whose work authorization cards expire. The INS claims that if the worker files 90 days before expiration they'll have their card but time and again this doesn't happen and I have to stop them from working sometimes for months at a time. When I call the INS at the "Employer" number they just say that they have no contact with the actual department and can't comment!

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