The Kairi Sheperd Case and Some Hard Questions About Children Adopted Abroad
by Rita Banerji
Kairi’s story forces us to ask many questions about the fate of children who are adopted abroad. How do you determine where a person belongs? Is it determined by the color of their skin? The place of their birth? Or is it determined by the environment they’ve been raised in, the people they connect with and the only place they’ve known as ‘home?’
Can you return a child to a country you’ve adopted her from, 30 years after the adoption, like you would return a merchandise purchased from a shop? Do we treat children like commodities that can be bought, sold, exchanged and returned?
Kairi who was adopted as a baby, and is now 30, is virtually stateless because her adopted mother in the United States failed to do the paperwork for her citizenship before she died. She has no citizenship in India either since she was adopted out according to Indian legal proceedings 30 years ago. Kairi is now being referred to as the “Global Orphan.”
Kairi whose mother died after her birth, was adopted from India by an American woman, Erlene Shepherd. Erelen took Kairi with her back to the United States when Kairi was just 3-months-old.
Erlene died of cancer when Kairi was 8-years-old. Erlene’s death left Kairi in the lurch because now not only was she orphaned for the second time, but suddenly she also had no citizenship. How did that happen? To claim Kairi’s U.S. citizenship, Erlene had to file papers with the US government re-adopting the child before she turned 21. However, Erlene died without doing so, leaving Kairi orphaned and stateless.
Kairi fell through the cracks of the system again as happens so often with abandoned children.
She developed a drug addiction. Later Kairi was arrested and convicted of the felony of check forgery – a crime she committed because of her drug habit. This is one the factors that prompted deportation proceedings against Kairi. She is being deported as a “criminal alien.”
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the deportation proceedings were in line with immigration enforcement priorities. Their spokesperson Virginia Kice said, “ICE has reviewed Ms Shepherd’s case at length and believes seeking her removal is consistent with the agency’s immigration enforcement priorities, which include focusing on identification and deportation of aliens with felony criminal convictions.”
At the age of 30, Kairi now is staring at the prospect of being deported from the United States to India, a country she left when she was 3 months old. After her adoption Kairi has never been to India!
Kairi says being sent back to India would end her life as she knows it. She has never lived in India. Does not know the language and culture. Has no family. How will she survive? It is like taking any child who has grown up in the U.S., lived there all his/her life and suddenly exiling them, without any means, to a foreign country which they have no understanding of. And India isn’t exactly a haven of safety and well-being for women. Look through our other posts here to get an estimate of that! It is a terribly inhumane! Kairi who suffers from multiple sclerosis says, “The deportation order which may force me to part from my physicians, family, and friends here, could be a death sentence to me.”
There are at least 40 cases of adults adopted as children in a foreign country who have been deported to their countries of origin.
In 2008, Jennifer Haynes who had been adopted from India, was similarly deported from the US to India. Jennifer had been adopted by an American couple when she was 8 years old. She moved to the U.S. where she was sexually abused by Edward Hancox, her adoptive father. She was then moved from one foster parent to another, and ended up being moved through almost 50 foster homes. In 2008, when Jennifer was 32 years old, she was charged with drug possession, and it was also determined that she had no legal status in the U.S. There after she was deported to India. She had two children, ages 8 and 9 years who live in the U.S. without their mother. Jennifer says, “I am away from them for more than four years now and I am not sure if I will ever see them again. What kind of law is this?”
Kairi has a safety net though. She cannot be deported if India does not issue travel documents to her. Her family, adoptive sibling, friends, and lawyers working pro-bono on the case, are hoping the Indian government will simply ignore US efforts to persuade New Delhi to accept her.
HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP KAIRI:
- Send an email to the External Affairs Minister and urge the Government of India not to assign any travel documents for Kairi. Here is the email firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you are in the United States please send an email to President Obama and Secretary Clinton and tell them that Kairi is America’s child and the government must protect her.
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