An ultimatum and a walk across the border

Date: 2008-10-20

An ultimatum and a walk across the border

By David Hasemyer and Leslie Berestein
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
October 20, 2008

Twelve-year-old Yocelyn Turner-Arsenault finds herself without citizenship and caught up with her parents in a bewildering maze of red tape.

“It's unbelievable the situation we are in,” said Kathryn Turner-Arsenault, Yocelyn's mother.

Turner-Arsenault and her husband desperately wanted a family. At a 1999 county-sponsored adoption party, the couple saw pictures of brother Luis and sister Yocelyn.

“There was such an instant connection,” Turner-Arsenault said.

The couple soon began the adoption proceedings.

They learned Luis was born at Tri-City Hospital in 1991. But no one knew where Yocelyn was born. It could have been Mexico. It could have been the United States.

Yocelyn's birth mother told county social services workers the child was born in Mexico.

Instead of a birth certificate, the state issued a delayed registration of birth, a document that adoptive parents often erroneously believe proves citizenship. Yocelyn's lists her birthplace as Mexico.

Six months before the adoptions became final in April 2001, a county adoption worker assured Turner-Arsenault that the immigration matter would not be an issue.

Turner-Arsenault discovered otherwise when she sought a Social Security number for her daughter in early 2001.

As the final adoption date neared, Turner-Arsenault said, she encountered an unsympathetic ear at social services.

Instead of working to set the record straight, she said, the county gave her and her husband an ultimatum: sign a release assuming responsibility for obtaining citizenship, or the adoptions would not be allowed.

“At that point we had had our two children for close to a year . . . and we would not have given them back after even one day,” Turner-Arsenault said, producing a copy of the document they were asked to sign.

Turner-Arsenault also said they were told by a county social worker not to worry because Yocelyn would qualify for citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which provides automatic citizenship for most foreign adoptees but applies only to children brought in legally for adoption, or adoptees who obtain legal status while minors.

But Turner-Arsenault discovered that the law didn't apply because she could not prove her daughter was legally brought into the United States.

Because Yocelyn was brought into the country without any documentation, she was considered an illegal alien. So Turner-Arsenault and attorney Lilia Velasquez worked with immigration officials to put Yocelyn on the citizenship track.

The sixth-grader went to Mexico and recrossed the border, where she was granted a humanitarian parole, making her presence in the country legal.

Yocelyn is now on her way to receiving a green card, according to Velasquez. When that happens, she will automatically be eligible for U.S. citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act because she is a minor.

0

Pound Pup Legacy