(Photo: Peter Brient)
Though he was raised in the United States, served in the military and has been "living the American dream" his whole life, Peter Brient was shocked to discover two years ago that he is not a U.S. Citizen.
Brient moved to the United States from England in 1965, when he was just 13 months old. He grew up in Southern California, graduated from high school, served in the Air Force, got married, and raised a family. When he applied for a passport in 2010, though, he was told that he is not a citizen. Brient is not alone. There are others who were adopted as minors by U.S. citizens who later discover that they are not citizens. In some cases, they are deported.
"I live the American dream, and consider myself an American. I don't care what immigration says, I am an American," Brient told The Christian Post in a Friday interview.
Brient lives like many Americans. In Independence, Ky., he has worked in construction with the same company for 25 years. He has a mortgage, raised two kids, coached little league, and attends church weekly with his wife of 28 years. Brient is also proud of his military service: his dog tags hang from the rearview mirror of his truck.
Brient's mother separated from his biological father when she moved to the United States in 1965. Brient was only 13 months old. She later married Brient's stepfather, who adopted Brient and raised him.
At that time, adopted children did not gain automatic citizenship. The law was changed with the Child Citizenship Act, which went into effect in 2001 but was not made retro-active for those over 18 years old. Since that law was enacted, any child adopted by a U.S. citizen receives automatic citizenship either with their visa or when the adoption is finalized in their home state. Those who were adopted from another country by U.S. citizens before 2001, though, may or may not be citizens, depending on whether or not their parents took them through the citizenship process.
Brient found his birth father and wanted to fly to England to see him. When he was told that he could not get a U.S. passport because he is not a citizen, it came as a shock.
"I've lived my life and was raised as a U.S. citizen and never thought anything else. I still get goosebumps on the Star Spangled Banner," Brient said.
Due to another law, some adult adoptees are automatically deported if found guilty of certain crimes. In some cases, this means sending people who only speak English to a country where they do not speak the language and are unfamiliar with the culture.
In one case that received international attention in 2000, Joao Herbert was deported to Brazil after being convicted for selling marijuana. He was adopted from Brazil at age 8 and, having grown up in Wadsworth, Ohio, could no longer speak Portuguese and knew no friends or family in the country. His mother warned at the time that the deportation was a "death sentence." Four years later, he was shot dead by drug dealers.
More recently is the case of Kairi Shepard. Shepard, adopted from India when she was three months old, barely missed eligibility for the Child Citizenship Act. Her adoptive mother was in the process of obtaining citizenship for Shepard when she passed away. The process was never completed. After a check fraud conviction, a judge has ordered that Shepard be deported back to India. Shepard is also disabled with multiple sclerosis. In India, she will not only be in an unfamiliar culture, she will also be without lifesaving care.
Shepard's story has gained much attention in the Indian press and the Indian government has even acted on her behalf to resolve the issue. An Indian minister was told that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is working to resolve the issue.
In June, a letter was sent to President Barack Obama on Shepard's behalf signed by a number of adoption organizations, academics and activists.
"Presently, we are aware of 40 cases of deported or detained adult adoptees as reported in the media and to overseas post-adoption service NGOs. All 40 cases involve non-violent offenses and consist mostly of controlled substance use. They provide a chilling snapshot: deported adoptees have ended up homeless, unemployed, sick, starving, unable to access vital care, without family or community, and even murdered. If Kairi is removed to India -- a country whose language and culture she doesn't know, where she can't get her medicine, and where her chances of work are slim because of her MS -- she will die," the letter states.
Brient is not currently in danger of being deported because he has not been convicted of a crime. He did, though, unintentionally break one law -- he voted. Adult adoptees who are not citizens and vote cannot be deported because Congress made an exception for that.
Brient had to deregister to vote, though; and because he voted when he was not supposed to, he must wait until November 2013 before he can apply for citizenship again.