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)

Security of Sex: Legally Bound (and Gagged)

In the good ‘ol US of A, we’ve been seeing some odd juggling around not just civil but human rights under the new administration. President Obama has been under fire for reneging on his campaign promise to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and for offering support of DOMA, though Obama recently issued a statement negating his previous statement. And the good news has been that there has been vigorous debate and even some voting regarding the Matthew Shepard Act.  These three issues are supposed to represent the pinnacle of LGBTQ rights in America: the right to shoot people for my country, the ability to legally enter into a heteronormative institution and the ability to put more people in jail for longer. OK.  These are considered basic civil rights that affect the entire ‘community’.   The problem is that none of these topics actually relate to the needs of the larger LGBTQ community, because is there is no community, no consensus.  The only thing uniform about this community is that there are individuals across every major racial group, ethnicity, gender, sex, religion and class that consider the ability to discriminate and even harm LGBTQ persons a necessary right.  Such universal disempowerment only exists for one other group: women.  Despite this, the larger issues affecting the LGBTQ community of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, unusually high suicide rates, under-education, harassment both generally and by police, discrimination, heteronormativity, etc. are overwhelmed by marriage, military and prison. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the struggle for ‘equality’ looks a little different in South Africa, but only a little. Africa’s largest economy has had full legal equality for LGB persons since the ratification of the post-Apartheid constitution, gender identity and expression or transgender rights are not listed.  Despite having one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, South African LGBTQ persons are commonly subject to brutal acts of violence.  And they aren’t the only ones.  In particular, African lesbians in South Africa have been explicitly targeted for gang-rapes.  I’ve talked about this particular situation before, that women and specifically queer women are targeted is no accident.  That these acts are not causing mass outcry or even being consistently investigated is no accident.

The United States of course is no better we just have a legal term for these types of acts. Individuals who commit these ‘hate crimes’ are often portrayed as either marginal and extreme or victims themselves of an awkward circumstance, in South Africa they are generally faceless groups of males, assumedly black.  Such portrayals justify larger apathy and inaction by removing these acts from the larger debate. When violence against LGBTQ persons is mentioned as being part of larger systemic prejudices, it is usually to say that violence is caused by laws against LGBTQ persons, that it will wane once there is full legal equality.   It is the same argument that has been used for women for more than a century.  Yet, the elephant in the room is the fact that South Africa has those legal rights that the mainstream American LGBTQ organizations are hung up on and not only are LGBTQ persons in South Africa not equal, they are the subjects of intense discrimination and violence.  Full legal equality, whatever that means, will not magically create a society of equals because the issue is only in part about laws.  It’s like giving someone painkillers and saying it will cure cancer.  No amount of legal progressivism will undo the damage of a country’s President making a mockery of rape and being elected despite it.  It is primarily about power and how disempowered groups are balkanized and ranked creating a system in which low class African males in Johannesburg and minority males in California gain power through the gang-rape of lesbians.

Reliance on law, regardless of whether or not the laws are good, has not accounted for a lack of willingness to enforce.  The U.S. is established as the imprisonment capital of the world and South Africa is playing catch up.  If a state emphasizes that criminalization and long sentences equal justice but refuses to actually prosecute or even investigate acts of violence against LGBT persons, of color and women especially, then that government not only seems to condone these actions but sends the message these are just actions.  They are public services.  It’s the same message that both the Apartheid and Jim Crow governments sent in their heydays.  Yet, now the messages are masked by so called legal progresses. The moral of the story remains the same as it has always been, ‘no one’ cares if you are poor, black, queer and/or female, no matter where you are.

(Photo Credit: DavidMixner.com)

Children of Incarcerated Mothers, or Albie Sachs haunts U.S. prisons!

Albie Sachs is a South African judge who haunts the U.S. prison system. Why? Because he is a decent human being, that’s why. He decided to listen to a woman colleague. He decided that primary caregivers of children should not be sent to jail. Here’s a version of the story:

“Albie Sachs…was fleetingly in the UK last week, primarily to tell the story behind the judgment he made in South Africa not to send a woman to prison because it would infringe the human rights of her three children.…

“Judges are the storytellers of the 21st century,” says 74-year-old Sachs….

At first sight, he had intended to throw out an appeal on behalf of Mrs M, who was facing four years in jail for up to 40 counts of credit card fraud that she had committed while under a suspended sentence for similar offences. “I remember drafting an extremely dismissive response. I said: ‘This doesn’t raise a constitutional question. She simply wants to avoid going to jail. She doesn’t make out a case, and her prospects of success are zero.’ “It was a female colleague…who insisted that the case be heard. She argued that the human rights of the accused woman’s children were not being looked at separately.

“She said: ‘There is something you are missing. What about the children? Mrs M has three teenage children. She lives in an area that we politely call fragile, an area of gangs, drug-peddling and a fair amount of violence. The indications are that she is a good mother, and the magistrate gave no attention to the children’s interests.’

“The minute my colleague spoke to me about the importance of the three teenage children of Mrs M, I started to see them not as three small citizens who had the right to grow up into big citizens but as three threatened, worrying, precarious, conflicted young boys who had a claim on the court, a claim on our society as individuals, as children, and a claim not to be treated solely as extensions of the rights of the mother, but in their own terms.”

As a result, Sachs created a legal precedent in 2007: a woman who otherwise would have gone to jail did not have to, because of her children’s rights. “We could have said the children’s rights must be considered but sent Mrs M to jail anyway, perhaps for a lesser term. But that would not have changed anything.”…

Although three judges dissented from the majority verdict, the precedent was set in South Africa that – at least in borderline cases – primary caregivers of children should not be sent to jail. And if the court decided to jail a primary caregiver, it had to take some responsibility for what happens to the children. “The court can’t simply say that she should have thought of that before she committed the offence, or that she can’t hide behind her children.”…

At the time he was drafting the judgment, Sachs did not know of any country that took the rights of offenders’ children into account, but he subsequently discovered that similar ideas were being framed in Scotland in a report by the then children’s commissioner, Kathleen Marshall. The report, Not Seen, Not Heard, Not Guilty, argues that the rights of offenders’ children to family life under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are systematically ignored by the court system. The report found that almost two-thirds of prisoners in the Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling had children under 18, but there was no provision to take their rights into account during sentencing.

“This was astonishing,” Sachs told the audience. “In a totally different legal system, in a totally different society, a conclusion was being reached that is almost identical. It showed that the time has come for new ways of thinking.””

Albie Sachs haunts the United States, home of “the incarceration generation”: “The chances of seeing a parent go to prison have never been greater, especially for poor black Americans, and new research is documenting the long-term harm to the children they leave behind. Recent studies indicate that having an incarcerated parent doubles the chance that a child will be at least temporarily homeless and measurably increases the likelihood of physically aggressive behavior, social isolation, depression and problems in school — all portending dimmer prospects in adulthood. “Parental imprisonment has emerged as a novel, and distinctly American, childhood risk that is concentrated among black children and children of low-education parents,” said Christopher Wildeman, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who is studying what some now call the “incarceration generation.” Incarceration rates in the United States have multiplied over the last three decades, in part because of stiffer sentencing rules. At any given moment, more than 1.5 million children have a parent, usually their father, in prison, according to federal data. But many more are affected over the course of childhood, especially if they are black, new studies show. Among those born in 1990, one in four black children, compared with one in 25 white children, had a father in prison by age 14. Risk is concentrated among black children whose parents are high-school dropouts; half of those children had a father in prison, compared with one in 14 white children with dropout parents, according to a report by Dr. Wildeman recently published in the journal Demography. For both blacks and whites, the chances of parental incarceration were far higher than they were for children born just 12 years earlier, in 1978.”

None of this is new, news or surprising. Cage the fathers, superexploit the mothers, forget the children. It’s simple. Put a nation of mothers behind bars, where too often there are no fathers or other guardians around and there is no public support, and you imprison the children. Where’s the surprise? Shackle pregnant women prisoners in labor and delivery, in the name of security. Are you surprised? This has all been said before. It’s common knowledge.

In South Africa, Albie Sachs acted. In Scotland, so did Kathleen Marshall. In the U.S., it’s time, it’s way past time, for similar action.

(Image Credit: http://childrenofprisoners.eu)

The Security of Sex: Hi-Tech Sex

A detective `monitors’ Craigslist’s “Erotic Services” category

Earlier this month, a Chicago-area sheriff’s office sued Craigslist claiming that the website facilitates prostitution through its “Erotic Services” section which Sheriff Tom Dart claims to be “one the largest sources of prostitution in the country”.  The Cook County Sheriff’s Department is asking a federal judge to both force the site to close the offending section and repay the sheriff’s department $100,000 in funds that have been used over the years to police the website.  Dart goes on to claim that the site’s ads are often masks for pimps, child and forced prostitution.  He also claims that Craigslist is at fault for an increase in volume of workers that the force has had to battle and that it allows criminals to elude police more easily.  Craigslist may also be responsible for spikes in teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and global warming; but that’s for another day.

This suit has not only ignored the fact that Craigslist has been exceptionally cooperative with police in many cities by adding requirements such as payments and proper ID for the “erotic services” section, removal and reporting of illegal ads and supporting undercover officers placing ads with no legal requirement to do so, but that law enforcement seems to have an easier time policing the website because of the digital fingerprints as well as faces in photos posted, credit card and active phone numbers that can be traced.  Workers who are online are also less likely to use public strolls and are able to safely and discretely work indoors.  Likewise, Craigslist and workers on the site are potentially protected by certain legal loopholes.  Websites cannot be held liable for the postings of users, which is the entire basis of sites like Craigslist; they also post a number of legal warnings on the site itself.  Also, many workers utilizing the “erotic services” section have been to place disclaimers on their posts claiming “Money exchanged is intended for time/companionship services only. Anything else that may occur is a personal choice between two consenting adults of legal age and is not contracted for, nor is it requested to be contracted for any other matter. This is NOT an offer of prostitution!!! Contacting me constitutes acceptance of these terms”.

Despite this, the suit continues.  However, any more, most major cities have devoted staff, sometimes full time, to policing the site.  This is often done under the banner of searching for underage or trafficked children.  The FBI has also jumped on this bandwagon, starting a full-scale campaign against “child prostitution” in June 2003 called “Operation Cross Country”. The FBI also blames the internet for a growth in instances of child prostitution.  However, neither the FBI nor police seem to question whether or not it is actually more common or just more visible and identifiable by police because of the accessibility of the internet. An article from last October concerning the latest FBI push points to discrepancies in this discussion saving child workers.  The article celebrates the fact that 518 consenting adult workers were arrested while rescuing merely 47 children ages 13-17 and arresting only 73 pimps.  Such disproportionate numbers of adult arrests as well as an account from the Boston Globe about a sting by this team involving another 5 adult arrests (the FBI does not claim that they suspected any of the women to be minors) hints that there is a much larger mission being undertaken by the FBI.  Special Agent Robbie Burroughs comments on the arrests in western Washington state, that most will be charged by the state but only 3 of the 35 will be prosecuted for pimping children.  If getting children out of the sex trade is really the goal of “Operation Cross Country”, why are predominately adult women workers being targeted, abused and harassed so blatantly? The message is clear; either the rights of adult sex workers are not respected by lawn enforcement and are scene as a necessary and deserving casualty of this attempt to “save the children” or “saving the children” is merely a cover for a larger campaign against workers.  The harassment and targeting is justified because the police in this instance are simply claiming to be an extension of the larger “help industry”.

So what is gained by battling Craigslist and other sites of internet-based sex work?  It’s a symbolic victory most. The internet, it seems, is being as heavily gentrified and policed as downtown Washington. This policing is just as violent towards workers, taking away one of the safer modes of work.  Critics of the networking site fail to acknowledge why the site may be so popular for workers, the vast majority of whom are not underage and work for themselves.  Sites like Craigslist provide a safer means for workers to advertise and screen clients.  Workers on the streets have a much higher risk of being attacked or abused because strolls in D.C. and other major cities are being moved into progressively less established, less secure and poorly lit areas due also to heavy policing. Shutting down legitimate websites where workers can network and advertise simply pushes the industry further underground and back onto the streets. Advertising on the web allows workers to skip this traditional step of walking the streets where they are also more prone to manipulation from pimps and blackmail by police in exchange for petty protections.  Workers also need not rely on pimps or brothels for advertising and safety, allowing them to keep more of their own profits.  Stings are also highly disruptive with police claiming computers and cash (often several hundred dollars worth) as evidence while also imposing fines or jail sentences, disrupting business, and requiring the worker to pay for attorneys.  All of this pushes a worker with no labor protections potentially further into debt and further decreases their ability to have legal work, if they so choose, due to their arrest record.  Regulating and policing abuse and slavery within the industry is one thing, using that as an excuse to endanger women is another.

(Photo Credit: The New York Times / Kirk Condyles)