The 2001 American law that provides for automatic citizenship to foreign adopted children does not apply to an Indian-American orphan who now faces the prospect of being deported to India, a State Department official has said.
"Prior to 2001, US immigration law did not provide for automatic acquisition of US citizenship for an adopted child. The adopting parents had to affirmatively apply or the child had to apply after 18. That has now changed," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Thursday.
She was commenting on the case related to Kairi Abha Shepherd who faces deportation after a US court refused to intervene in a federal government's deportation move on the ground that she is a criminal alien. Three decades ago 30-year-old Shepherd was adopted by an American woman in Kolkata.
"As of February 27, 2001, the Child Citizenship Act provides that a foreign-born child of a US citizen, including an adopted child, acquires US citizenship automatically if before reaching the age of 18 they are admitted as a lawful permanent resident of the United States and they are residing with and in the physical custody of that adopting parent," she said.
In a statement, Shepherd, who has lived in the US for 30 years now, said deportation would be like a "death sentence" to her and hoped that the Indian government would not issue the necessary travel documents that would facilitate her deportation.
"The deportation order which may force me to part from my physicians, family, and friends here, could be a death sentence to me. But just when I felt most abandoned by the world and life, people from around the globe and all walks of life, have seen my plight and rallied to my defense," she said in a statement provided to the PTI through Sakhee, a Pune-based NGO, which is fighting for her cause.
Shepherd refuted reports that she has been in the hiding.
"There have been reports in the press that I am hiding from my government and the immigration enforcement authorities here. I wish to correct these reports. Yes. I am afraid of being deported. Who wouldn't be in my condition? But I have never been in hiding or concealed my whereabouts," she said.
"And I have no intention of absconding from the law. As evidence of this fact, I have paid publicly for the crimes which I have committed and which have resulted in the order of deportation. I have taken responsibility for my wrongs publicly, suffering the consequences.
And I have directed my legal team (all of whom have volunteered pro bono to help me) to cooperate with the immigration enforcement authorities in order to process and
resolve my status in a manner that is orderly and fair for all concerned," she said.
"I especially want to thank the kind souls in India who are working tirelessly on my behalf and, in particular, the men and women in the Ministry of External Affairs who reportedly may deny the issuance of travel documents, thus preventing my forced departure from America.
Their hearts must be filled with compassion and I truly appreciate their efforts as these efforts, quite literally, may save my life," Shepherd said in her thank you message.
Federal government argues that Shepherd missed qualifying for the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) by a few months and now that she is too old to qualify for citizenship under this.
In a 23-page ruling the Utah court ruled that the court does not have jurisdiction determining her legal status.
Kairi was adopted from a orphan in Kolkata in 1982 when she was just three months old.
As luck would have it, her mother died of cancer when she was eight. When she was 17, she was arrested and convicted of felony check forgery to fuel a drug habit.
"Ms Shepherd was an orphaned baby in India when she was brought to this country for adoption in 1982 by a US citizen. Her adoptive mother died when she was eight years of age, and she was thereafter cared for by guardians. There is no record of any effort by Ms Shepherd or her guardians to petition for her citizenship," court documents say.
"In March and May 2004, Ms Shepherd was convicted in Utah of attempted forgery and third-degree forgery. After she served her time, the government initiated removal proceedings against her, alleging she was a criminal alien based on the convictions," it said.
At an initial hearing before the Immigration Judge (IJ), government counsel noted that Shepherd's history suggested she might be able to prove she became a US citizen through adoption under the CCA's automatic citizenship provision.
This provision directs that "a child born outside of the United States automatically becomes a citizen of the United States" when three conditions are fulfilled: "(1) At least one parent of the child is a citizen of the United States"; "(2) The child is under the age of eighteen years"; and "(3) The child is residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence."