Adopted Vancouver teen faces deportation because no one did the paperwork

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Date: 2009-10-09
Source: Oregon Live

Adopted Vancouver teen faces deportation because no one did the paperwork
Published: Friday, October 09, 2009, 12:05 PM Updated: Friday, October 09, 2009, 2:45 PM
By Aimee Green, The Oregonian

A young woman who was smuggled into the U.S. when she was a toddler, seized from her abusive parents by the state of Oregon and then adopted by American parents now faces deportation to a country she doesn't remember.

Blanca Catt, a Vancouver teenager, was born in Mexico in 1990. A lawsuit filed Wednesday claims that state child-welfare workers told Catt's parents she became a U.S. citizen when she was adopted, but that turned out not to be true.

According to a $1 million lawsuit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, the Oregon Department of Human Services told her parents they needn't worry about filling out immigration papers because Catt automatically became a U.S. citizen when they adopted her.

Tony Green, a spokesman for the state Department of Justice, said he couldn't comment on the pending litigation.

Catt was placed with American foster parents when she was 5 and adopted by them at 8. Her first inkling of trouble began when she was 16 and tried to get her driver's permit. Driver and Motor Vehicle Services told her she'd need a Social Security number under her adoptive name. When she went to the Social Security Administration, she was told she needed proof of citizenship.

As the months wore on, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services got back to her with the news: She wasn't a citizen.

Catt's mother filed residency paperwork for her daughter. Next began a nearly two-year process of paying fees and waiting. Last month, Catt's mother consulted with immigration attorneys and learned even worse news. Because her daughter was 18, she was subject to a three-year ban from the U.S. because she immigrated here illegally. When she turned 19, she faced a 10-year ban before she would be allowed to apply for residency and return.

Immigration officials say the ban applies only to those 18 and older without legal residency, and minors aren't penalized.

Mark Kramer, the attorney who filed suit on behalf of Catt and her mother, Lisa Catt, said a recently hired immigration attorney is working to gain residency for the teen without requiring her to leave the country for 10 years. Catt's parents are divorced.

In the meantime, Catt is living in fear that she'll be deported.

"Her Spanish-speaking skills are very poor," Kramer said.

Catt is a 2009 graduate of Columbia Christian Schools, a private Northeast Portland high school, but because of her illegal status she is unable to get financial aid for college, a job or a driver's license.

"Her head's kind of spinning -- she's in limbo," said Kramer, who wants to give the attorneys involved and DHS an opportunity to discuss the case before Catt is interviewed.

Catt's younger sister, who also was adopted, isn't facing the same problem because she was born in the United States.

Sharon Rummery, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, couldn't comment specifically about Catt's case. But she said such circumstances are rare. She said most parents who adopt children of different nationalities do so in the children's native countries. Once the adopted children enter the United States, they automatically become U.S. citizens, thanks to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.

Rummery said children who are brought to the U.S. for adoption instantly become citizens when their adoption is finalized here.

Catt's suit names as defendants DHS, two caseworkers who were assigned to the case, a juvenile attorney who was assigned to Catt while she was a ward of the state and an attorney who oversaw Catt's adoption.

The suit claims that DHS employees had tried to file residency paperwork with immigration officials before Catt was adopted. But the filing failed for reasons that aren't clear, Kramer said. It was DHS' responsibility, the suit claims, to tell Catt and her mother that the filing had failed. If DHS had refiled and the paperwork had gone through, the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 would have automatically made Catt a citizen, the suit alleges.

The suit also claims that DHS wrongly told Catt and her mother that her May 1999 adoption automatically made Catt a U.S. citizen. The suit also faults the attorneys for not advising Catt or her mother that they needed to file residency papers for her to live in the country legally.

DHS spokesman Gene Evans said his agency won't answer general questions about the state program, such as how many immigrant children enter the Oregon foster care system and what, if any, procedures DHS has in place for establishing residency for immigrant children who are in the country illegally. He cited the lawsuit as the reason.

-- Aimee Green

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