Would We Count Too? On Citizenship and Adopted Children

Just in time for the mid-term elections, President Donald Trump proposed an executive order ending so-called birthright-citizenship. For all children of non-American citizens, this triggered an intensely emotional response. As an adoptee, I wondered where do I fit within this?

In the year 2000, the Census included the option of “adopted son/daughter” to clarify familial relationships. Over 2 million people identified as adoptees. This question did not specify whether the adopted parent was a relative, if the adoption was international or domestic, or whether the adoption was through a private or public agency. In the context of Trump’s proposed ban, this information becomes more significant.

Adopted parents are legally the parental guardians of adopted children. Would President Trump care? Within recent decades, adopted families have become more racially diverse as parents turn towards international adoption. For adoptees to become citizens, they must obtain a Certificate of Citizenship issued by the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services. Adoptees can also obtain a U.S. Passport using the final adoption decree. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a “child” is categorized as being under sixteen years and in the legal custody of their adopted parent for at least two years. Citizenship is only automatically acquired when at least one of the parents is a citizen (whether by birth or naturalization), the child is in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent, and when these other stated qualifications are met.

In the light of Trump’s recent declaration, it is important to remember how these clauses are very specific. While this proposed executive order is unconstitutional, there are places within established laws that would exclude adoptees from gaining citizenship. These laws can be re-examined, similar to the discontinuation of Russian adoptions within the United States with the Dima Yakovlev Law.

The rhetoric of separating families repeats here. Adoption provides an invisible weaving between nations that simultaneously makes borders irrelevant. However, I can’t help but imagine myself on a plane, travelling from the United States to Russia where I was born. It is within this image I begin to think about my “home.” It upsets me to imagine the nonchalance in Trump’s announcement as this separation from my family would be devastating and world-changing. I would not be returning to a “home,” but to a foreign country and culture that I have no relation to. As President Trump reimagines citizenship within his presidency, I urge that we consider adopted children within these policies and protect them as current services and resources aimed to help adoptees are limited.

For parents of adopted children, please make sure that you have obtained citizenship for your child. This is not automatic. My adoption gave me access to health, love, and care. I am proud to be adopted. My citizenship has given me access to education, work, and a life. This needs to be protected, and we need to start thinking about where adoptees fit within this issue and within our larger culture and society.

 

(Photo Credit: Adoptee Rights Campaign / World Hug Foundation)

In Assam, India, Safiya Khatun spent two years in detention for the crime of being … a citizen?

In July, the Indian state of Assam dropped four million people from its registers, identifying them as “foreigners.” Women comprise the overwhelming majority of the four million. Call it witch hunt? Call it femicide? Yes to both. Call it as well part of an ongoing nationalist campaign against the “foreigners in our midst”, a campaign that targets poor women. One such woman, Safiya Khatun, spent the last two years in the “Kokrajhar detention camp”, a jail designed to hold women “foreigners” in the Kokrajhar district of Assam. Assam boasts six detention camps. The detention camps were established in 2010, “to shelter women declared foreigners.” If this is shelter, give us the storm, please.

What is Safiya Khatun’s crime? A “mismatch” appeared with her father’s name on different voters’ lists. That misspelling brought Safiya Khatun before a “Foreigner’s Tribunal”, or FT, where she was found to be foreign. Assam has 100 FTs, and, by all appearances, they are models of poor process. Safiya Khatun’s FT hearing occurred in October 2016. She’s been “sheltered” by the State since.

Safiya Khatun is a poor, 50-year-old woman from an area declared, by the Indian government, one of the “most backward districts” in the country. Safiya Khatun’s father is a citizen; Safiya Khatun’s mother is a citizen; Safiya Khatun’s five brothers are citizens; Safiya Khatun’s husband is a citizen. Nevertheless, the FT found Safiya Khatun to be an immigrant foreigner. So did the Guwahati High Court. The Court argued that there were omissions in Safiya Khatun’s application, and so she is a foreigner. Finally, on September 12, the Supreme Court of India demanded that Safiya Khatun be released on bail. The Supreme Court decided that the State had not conducted a full inquiry and so had imprisoned wrongfully. Safiya Khatun’s attorney said, “You claim to trace and oust every ‘infiltrator’, but we will ensure that every Indian citizen gets the right guaranteed by the Constitution.”

The real crime is revealed in the language, where prison becomes camp becomes shelter; where foreigner becomes infiltrator; where omission and misspelling become crimes. Safiya Khatun spent two years in the Kokrajhar detention camp, the same prison where, in August, more than 150 women prisoners went on indefinite hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions. Kokrajhar detention camp houses elder women, many of whom have stories identical with that of Safiya Khatun, and young pregnant women. In most cases, the women’s extended families are all Indian citizens, but the women somehow are dangerously foreign non-citizens, and so packed off to prison … for shelter.

What is going on in Assam is a campaign, a war, against women, and Assam is a testing ground, and not only for India. Around the world, in so-called liberal democracies, citizenship is under assault, and the first line of that assault is women. Women are identified as dangerously foreign non-citizens, despite layers of evidence testifying to their citizenship. Citizenship is the criterion for the new global witch hunt, from the United States to the United Kingdom to Australia and beyond. Meanwhile, two months ago, 19-year-old Somiron Nessa, of Goroimari, in Assam, was informed, out of the blue, that she is a “foreigner”. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: DailyO)

India strips millions of women in Assam of their citizenship. Call it femicide

The documents these women presented were deemed invalid.

What’s it called when, with one sweep of a pen or publication of a report, millions of people `lose’ their citizenship. Today, India dropped over four million people living in the resource-rich state of Assam, in northeast India, from the citizenship lists. Poof. Gone. Four million. In one state. And, to no one’s surprise, the majority of the four million are women. Even if women weren’t overrepresented in the rollcall of the suddenly disappeared, the impact on women, individually and collectively, is particularly deep and vicious, and is particular to policy formation in patriarchal states and societies.

Today, the Indian government published the final draft of the National Register of Citizens, NRC, for Assam. Assam has been experiencing a considerable population growth over the last decade. About two-thirds of the state is Hindu, and one third is Muslim. For over seventy years, Indigenous Assamese, in particular the Bodo, and Bengali Muslims have opposed each other, often violently.

Those dropped from today’s citizenship lists are largely, almost exclusively, Bengali Muslims. Many view this as part of the national government’s saffron policies, turning secular multicultural India into Hindu India. Whatever the reasons, the NRC predictably targets, and eliminates, Bengali Muslim women. Shorbhanu Nessa’s story is typical of many Bengali Muslim women in Assam … and typical of many women across India and beyond.

Shorbhanu Nessa married before she was 18. She is surrounded by nevers that result in her elimination from the NRC: never went to school, never owned property, never had a bank account, never thought she needed to. She is the mother of five adult children. As far as Shorbhanu Nessa knew, being married to her husband was sufficient. Not any longer.

Shorbhanu Nessa’s son, Hussain Ahmad Madani, explains, “Because she never voted in her maiden home, she had no way to prove now that she was her father’s daughter. Her father’s legacy data is there, but she has no document to establish her linkage to him. There is no school certificate which would have mentioned his name. Her family settled in this char (a sand bar by a river in Assamese) when she was one-and-a-half years old after their char (Majarlega Char) was swallowed by the Brahmaputra. She was married off to my father in this same char. Though her father passed away, everyone in the neighbourhood knew whose daughter she was; trouble began when documentary evidence was sought by the NRC authorities to prove who her father was.”

Everyone knew, but this particular category of everyone doesn’t count.

Many of those who were dropped from the rolls are women. Almost all of them are Muslim. Most, if not all, are married. As of yet, there’s not an exact gender breakdown of the disappeared, but the stories are everywhere, repeating one another.

No matter how one cuts it, the design for the data collection for the NCR predictably attacked Muslim individuals and communities, who, for various reasons, would not have the documentary evidence to prove what everyone in the neighborhood knew and had known for years, decades and generations. What is it called when millions of people are stripped of their citizenship? Genocide.

But there’s something else here. The NRC structures specifically targeted Bengali Muslim women of Shorbhanu Nessa’s generation. In 1988, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. Bengali Muslim women, like Shorbhanu Nessa, were `encouraged’ to marry before they turned 18. Thus, they never voted using their birth, or maiden, names, and so now they can’t prove they are, and were, who they are, and were, precisely because they were dutiful daughters. None of this is surprising. It’s part of publicly and widely known culture in Assam, and it’s equally part of the NRC plan. The way the data was collected meant Bengali Muslim women would be disappeared, in large numbers, and that was perfectly fine with both Assamese officials and those in the national government. What’s it called when millions of women are disappeared in a single day? Femicide. In this world, citizenship is life. In one fell swoop, India created the single largest stateless population ever, and at the heart of that effort is the nation-State assault on women.

 

 

(Photo Credit: The Wire / Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty)

The United States abandons Mexican migrant children to violence and despair

Children waiting in the Desarrollo Integral de la Familia in Reynosa, Mexico

Migration analysts talk about sending and receiving nations. Sending nations are those countries that send, or `export’, its citizens to other countries. Receiving nations are those nations that receive, or `import’ or `absorb’, them. The status of some nation States has changed in the last two or three decades. For example, Italy and Greece were once considered sending nations, and today they are thought of as receiving nations.

Certain countries, such as the United States, are thought of as receiving nations. But that is only the case if the transnational and global export-import business is thought to be one of labor brokerage of national citizens. What are we to call those countries that export non-citizens, those countries that have made a business, a big business at that, of exporting asylum seekers, migrants, children?

Every year, the United States exports tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children to Mexico. These children are sent to centers run by Mexico’s social services agency called the Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, or DIF. In 2008, a Mexican congressional committee reported that the United States had deported 90,000 children, of whom at least 13,500 were never claimed. “Never claimed”: that means the children were never reunited with their families.

Who are these children? They are Mexican children who are heading to the north, most often to be reunited with … their families, with their mothers and fathers: “With few exceptions they’ll cross again because their parents or loved ones are en el otro lado and on the other side of the Rio Grande there is hope. Hope to study, to work, or to just hug their mothers or fathers again.”

Susana is in many ways exceptional and in other ways typical of the 90,000 children. First, she’s a girl; 80% of the children are boys. Second, as she sits in a DIF shelter in Matamoros, she says she’s ready to give up, to go home: ““I don’t want to stay here. I’m tired of fighting.” Gender and the intent to return home make her exceptional.

On the other hand, Susana has tried to enter the United States five times, and on each of the five attempts has failed. Every time, she was returned, unaccompanied, to Mexico. Every time, she turned around and tried again. Her father works in Kansas. They haven’t seen each other in five years. He works, struggles, and pays to have his daughter brought over. Each time, the journey costs $2500. Again and again, he pays, again and again she tries. Just to hug her father again. This makes her typical.

The children are sent to centers in Reynosa and Matamoros, centers of the current drug cartel and War on Drugs violence. Reynosa is reported to be one of the most dangerous places in Mexico. Often the children are released to strangers or to distant relatives. Often, some say more often than not, they are returned to the mean streets, and in particular those of Reynosa. So, they then go North because they want to, to be reunited or to study or work, or they go North because they are forced to. Some girls, some boys, may be tired of fighting, but that doesn’t mean they are safe. That doesn’t mean the fighting has tired of them.

What do you call a nation that seizes children, sends them unaccompanied into a violence torn war zone, and then washes its hands of the whole affair, and closes its eyes and ears to the fate of the children? That is neither a sending nor a receiving nation. That is a state of abandonment.

Susana wants to go home, but it’s not that simple. The center wants one of her parents to come and get her. Her father is in Kansas, her mother has to take care of her younger brothers and sisters. And so Susana waits, and like the other 90,000 Mexican children the United States has abandoned to violence and despair, haunts more than the borderlands. Susana haunts citizenship.

 

(Photo Credit: Texas Observer / Eugenio del Bosque)

 

Asylum haunts the modern democratic nation-state

Pagani detention center, Greece

Asylum haunts the modern democratic nation-state.  Asylum haunts the principle of democracy by positing a citizenship of higher order than that of the national variety. This asylum citizenship is based not in identity, not in birthright, not in lineage or kin, not in relationship to the nation-state. Instead, asylum citizenship is based in the conditions of life, in need, in a will to survive, in a demand for dignity. The asylum citizenship is the unknown and unknowable stranger who demands recognition as a familiar. Asylum citizenship is of a higher order because it has given up on the structures of power and the logic of the nation-State. It is neither a superior citizenship nor a more powerful one nor a wealthier one. Nor is the asylum citizen more privileged.  Asylum citizenship is of a higher order because it has always already been with us, and so precedes the noise of national sovereignty and of national due process, as it exceeds the furor and the hurly burly of the rule of law.

Asylum haunts the modern democratic nation-state because it puts the notion of demos in crisis. Asylum haunts the democratic nation-state because it preceded the nation-state. Asylum does not participate in the nation-state historical narratives of progress, those stories that make the invention and maintenance of the nation-state the pinnacle of civilization. For thousands of years women, men, children have sought, received or were denied asylum. They continue to do so today. This seeming eternal repetition of the same does not mean that those who seek asylum today are somehow `primitive’. Asylum as an aspect of the human condition is no more inevitable than torture or genocide, and no less historical or historically produced.

Women asylum seekers haunt the democratic nation-state because they demonstrate, forcefully, the violent patriarchy that reigns supreme. Children of asylum seekers haunt the democratic nation-state because they also demonstrate, forcefully, the violent patriarchy that reigns supreme.  They step out of the shadows, ask for help, and they are punished. For women asylum seekers and for their children, the modern democratic nation-state is a tight knit and tighter fisted brotherhood, and women asylum seekers and their children are not brothers.

How does the contemporary democratic nation-state respond to the asylum citizen? Prison. Yarl’s Wood, in the UK. T. Don Hutto, in the US. Villawood, in Australia. Lindela, in South Africa. Pagani, in Greece. Via Corelli, in Italy. Opbouw, in the Netherlands. Vottem, in Belgium. Glasmoor, in Germany.  The list goes on, the construction of new `reception centers’ continues, the cells continue to grow more intensely overcrowded. This is the way the modern democratic nation-state recognizes, understands, absorbs, responds to and resolves asylum. Sequestration. Intimidation. Torture, `if necessary’. Expulsion. The nation-state calls these reception centers, residential centers.  And so, this must be the architecture of reception and residence in the modern democratic nation-state.

Fifteen years ago, Jacques Derrida was asked to discuss the ways in which the French population was “taken by surprise” by immigration of the sans-papiers, the undocumented: “Immigration is no higher now than it was a half-century ago.  Yet today it takes people by surprise. It seems to have surprised the social body and the political class, and it seems that the discourses of both right and left, by refusing illegal immigrants (immigrés clandestins), have degenerated into xenophobia in an unexpected way.”

Derrida replied, in part, “A politics that does not maintain a reference to the principle of unconditional hospitality is a politics that loses its reference to justice.  It may retain its rights … but it loses justice. Along with the right to speak of justice in any credible way. …One would have to try to distinguish between a politics of immigration and the respect to the right of asylum.  In principle the right of asylum … is paradoxically less political because it is not modeled in principle on the interests of  the body proper of the nation-state that guarantees this right.  But … it is almost impossible to delimit the properly political nature of the motivations for exile – those that … justify a request for asylum. After all, unemployment in a foreign country is a dysfunction of democracy and a kind of political persecution. Moreover, the market plays a part in this; the rich countries always share in the responsibility (if only through foreign debt and everything it symbolizes) for the politico-economic situations that push people into exile or emigration. And here we touch on the limits of the political and juridical:…a right of asylum can be null or infinite.”

From the perspective of asylum, in the modern democratic nation-state, there is no right, there is no left. These niceties are irrelevant. Instead there is only unconditional hospitality … or there is none. And where there is none, there is injustice. More precisely, there is the loss of justice and the loss of the `right’, the capacity, to speak of justice credibly.  Xenophobia cannot credibly surprise anyone, it is the national democratic politics of false hospitality. The particular `indignities’ visited upon women asylum seekers  cannot surprise anyone. They are manifestations of the patriarchy that reigns supreme in the violent and violating absence of unconditional hospitality.

 

(Photo Credit: UNHCR / EU Observer)

Bordering on: citizens, prisoners, exceptions, women

I used to think that all prisoners are political prisoners because they’re `guests of the State’, housed and held in total institutions in which the very least the State was obliged to do was acknowledge the prisoners’ existence and maybe keep them alive. Given the convergent news of this past week, I have had to rethink that a bit.

Four names: Edwina Nowlin, Alberto Fujimori, Jacob Zuma, Gladys Monterroso. Four countries: the United States, Peru, South Africa, Guatemala. If your country isn’t on this list, that’s accidental good fortune. Trust me, it should be. In fact, it is.

A girl is flogged in Pakistan, a video captures the moment and circulates and suddenly everyone is concerned about gender and punishment in Pakistan. Even the Pakistani courts perform concern: “Pakistan’s newly reinstated chief justice has ordered a police committee to investigate the controversial flogging of a teenage girl. Ayesha Siddiqa wonders about the innocence of the sudden gaze, “As the entire Pakistani nation watches video footage of a 17-years-old girl screaming on their television screens during the process of her torture at the hands of the brutal Taliban in Swat, one wonders if the mothers, sisters, daughters and the male members of this nation will ever take time out to think about this system of justice advocated by these men who are not even qualified to interpret the Quran and Sunnah.” She lays the system of Hudood laws squarely on the shoulders of the Zia regime: “In Pakistan in particular where the Hudood laws were formulated under the Zia regime, the objective was not to bring justice in the society but to throttle all forms of justice. In this respect, the Taliban in Swat and those who ruled Afghanistan for some time are Zia’children. They use force arbitrarily and apply laws without the real context to enhance their own power.” Flogging is never `spontaneous’ , never `organic’, and never `gender neutral.’

In the United States, there’s the tale of Edwina Nowlin: “Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son. When she explained to the court that she could not afford to pay, Ms. Nowlin was sent to prison. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which helped get her out last week after she spent 28 days behind bars, says it is seeing more people being sent to jail because they cannot make various court-ordered payments. That is both barbaric and unconstitutional.”

This practice is going on all over the country: poor women, and men, who cannot pay the fines, and cannot be the additional fees to the companies that collect the fines, are thrown into jail: mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, strangers. Debt, the not so secret origin of primitive accumulation, built on the backs of the poors, largely people of color, largely women, haunts our world, from Pakistan to the United States and beyond.

Meanwhile, death stalks and storms the corridors and cells of Zimbabwe’s prisons, as demonstrated in a documentary shown this past week. Emaciated prisoners can’t bring the morsel of food to their lips, can’t stand and can’t fall. Hell hole. Death camp. These phrases are too elegant by far for what’s going on. George Nyathi, recently released from the torture of Hami maximum security prison outside of Bulawayo, looks into the mirror now, now that he is `free’, and sees Edwina Nowlin. The young woman in Pakistan looks into the mirror and sees …

I’ll tell you what they don’t see. They don’t see Jacob Zuma, who was exonerated of all corruption charges on Tuesday. They might see Alberto Fujimori, already in jail and sentenced, at almost the same instant that Zuma was released, to twenty-five years for having ordered kidnappings and killings when he was president. Fujimori may be in prison, but he’s powerful. His daughter says she may run for president of Peru, and would pardon her father. There’s no such daughter for that girl in Pakistan, for the prisoners in Zimbabwe, for Edwina Nowlin. There’s no powerful daughter coming to rescue those `suspected of terrorist activities’ being tortured in the prisons of Uganda, of the United States, of everywhere. No powerful kin or kith comes to the rescue of those mysteriously jumping from police vans or prison windows, such as Sidwel Mkwambi, beaten to death by police.

And when Gladys Monterroso, a prominent Guatemalan attorney and activist, was abducted last month, held for thirteen hours, burned, beaten, sexually and psychologically abused, there was no Great Man nor any of his family or cronies, to swoop down and save her. When Fujimori and Zuma and their gang look in the mirror, they see the State, they see State Power. When the rest look in, we see ourselves and those like us, call us citizens, of a nation, of the world, of whatever.

I used to think that prisons demonstrated the limit case of citizenship, that we had to ask why some people were in prison and why others were not. This week has me wondering. Perhaps it’s the other way around. Perhaps we have to wonder how it is that any of us, that anyone you or I meet on the street, is not in prison. Perhaps prison is the crucible of normative citizenship in the world we inhabit, and being-outside, what’s that called again, oh yeah, freedom, that’s the exceptional state. And that would go some distance in explaining why women are the fastest growing prison population and still don’t get counted, still are not recognized. Citizenship. Gladys Monteroso, Edwina Nowlin. Citizens, not exceptions.