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Children Adopted Abroad Win Automatic Citizenship


Children Adopted Abroad Win Automatic Citizenship


More than 75,000 children adopted from abroad and living in this country will automatically become United States citizens on Tuesday because of changes Congress made in immigration law last year.

Until now, parents of youngsters adopted overseas were required to undergo a costly and cumbersome naturalization process that sometimes took two years to complete, one more burden on top of the already complicated international adoption procedure.

In local ceremonies on Tuesday from Anchorage to Atlanta, capped by a large salute in Boston's Faneuil Hall, thousands of adopted children from Cambodia to Colombia will celebrate their newly minted citizenship with their families and friends.

Marie Flynn, a 48-year-old office manager in this northern Virginia suburb, said the new law confers citizenship on four of her five children adopted from Romania -- Hannah, Brian, Danny and Maggie -- and puts the finishing touches on officially uniting her growing family. Her fifth adopted child, Kevin, 10, is already naturalized.

''It puts my mind at rest,'' said Ms. Flynn, a single mother whose children range in age from 3 to 11. ''It's been very easy for Kevin to travel on his American passport, but the other kids had Romanian papers and needed a special visa when we traveled.''

The Child Citizenship Act, approved by Congress last year in an unusual display of bipartisanship, grants automatic citizenship to most adopted children born abroad, provided they are under 18 and at least one parent or legal guardian is an American citizen.

About 20,000 such adoptions occur every year -- about 15 percent of the adoptions in the United States -- and the average wait for citizenship processing by the Immigration and Naturalization Service has been two years.

The new law, which takes effect on Tuesday, removes a bureaucratic and psychological hurdle for parents who may well have waited years and paid up to $25,000 for international adoptions.

''The adoption process is a maze and mountain of paper,'' said Deborah Cassetta, a history teacher in Floral Park, N.Y., who adopted her 1-year-old daughter, Jamie Leigh, from Kazakhstan last June. ''To not have to go through a post-adoption maze is a blessing.''

The new law replaces one in which to naturalize children adopted from abroad, the immigration service required paperwork on parents and children, including birth and marriage certificates, photo identifications, alien registration cards and certified English translations of documents written in other languages. The agency also charged $125 per application.

Brandi and Jeramy Ward of Hokes Bluff, Ala., know firsthand the frustration of dealing with the federal agency. The young couple said they had been waiting nearly two years for the agency's office in Atlanta to respond to the citizenship application for their 3-year-old son, Jeremiah, adopted from South Korea.

''They seemed unconcerned,'' said Mrs. Ward, a junior high school social studies teacher. ''It wasn't something personal to them like it was to me.''

In a few isolated cases, many unnaturalized children face difficulties later in life, ranging from inconvenience to deportation. Many of those deported have been sent back to foreign lands to which they no longer have any ties.

In one instance, John Gaul was adopted by a Florida family at the age of 4 but he was not naturalized immediately. Even though he was born in Thailand, Mr. Gaul spoke no Thai, had no Thai relatives and had never been back to Thailand -- until the United States government deported him in 1999, when he was 25, as a criminal alien who had served jail time for car theft and writing bad checks.

Proponents say the new law ends any stigma attached to children adopted from abroad.

''It's at long last a recognition that a child of American parents, whether born here or adopted overseas, is an American, and there's no distinction between the two,'' said Representative Bill Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat and main House sponsor of the bill. ''That recognition is long overdue.''

Mr. Delahunt knows from experience. He has an adopted daughter, Kara, now 26, who became a citizen several years ago after leaving Vietnam as a baby.

Adoptive parents and their children said they were planning their own festivities for Tuesday.

Belinda and Don Siperko of Fort Worth have been shopping for sweatshirts emblazoned with ''U.S.A.'' for their four children adopted from Russia: Andrei, 10; Bryan, 9; Nikolai, 4; and Zina, 3.

''This new law means one more thing we don't have to worry about,'' Mrs. Siperko said. ''Now we can concentrate on our children.''

Sasha Matero, 11, of Cold Spring, N.Y., said in a letter he sent last month to Mr. Delahunt that he has struggled to fit in with his American classmates ever since being adopted from Russia two years ago. Most children his age, he said, take their citizenship for granted.

''For most kids it doesn't mean anything because they have been American for their whole lives,'' Sasha wrote.

''The hardest things are having a different passport and other papers than my brother and sisters,'' wrote Sasha, who has three older siblings who are the biological children of his parents. ''I don't like being different and it makes my brother and sisters mad because I'm getting extra attention.''

Now all that is changing. ''I will always be proud of my Russian heritage,'' Sasha wrote, ''but I am here forever now and ready to be an American citizen.''

2001 Feb 27