Citizen of no land: The story of Kairi Shepherd

by Danish RazaMay 25, 2012

Kairi Shepherd, a 30 year-old Indian-origin adoptee is staring at the prospect of deportation from United States to India and says being sent back to India would end her life as she knows it.

“The deportation order which may force me to part from my physicians, family, and friends here, could be a death sentence to me,” said Shepherd, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

Hers is a strange and tragic tale that reveals how children adopted across borders often fall through the cracks of domestic law.

Utah native Erlene Shepherd adopted a three-month-old Kairi from a Kolkata orphanage. Kairi was one of the 11 children the single mother adopted from across the globe. Erlene died when Kairi was eight.

Kairi Shepherd. File image. Image courtesy Anjali Pawar/ Sakhi

When Kairi was arrested and convicted of felony check forgery – a crime she committed to feed her drug habit – a US court and Kairi discovered that she was not a US citizen. The court then upheld the right of the US government to deport Kairi to India.

How did Kairi fall through the cracks?

To claim Kairi’s citizenship, Erlene had to submit a form with the US authorities before her adopted daughter turned 21 years old. But Erlene died without doing so, making Kairi, a nobody’s child. If parents who are technically granted legal guardianship by the sending country, don’t re-adopt their children after their arrival in the US, then their children are not US citizens.

She also does not benefit from the 2000 Child Citizenship Act, which represented a significant step forward and provided automatic citizenship for adoptees, because it does not retroactively include adult adoptees.

“The Child Citizenship Act failed to include all adoptees upon its passage in 2000 and so brought into question adoption’s most fundamental claim, a forever loving home. Adoptee vulnerability to removal and undocumented status violates an adopted person’s rights as outlined in the Hague Convention on Inter-country adoption to which the U.S. is a signatory and the UNCRC, which sending countries like India have ratified,” said Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, community adviser with AdopSource, a resource group for adoptees in the US.

Dobbs has tracked 40 cases of adult adoptees who have been deported to their countries of origin.

In 2008, Jennifer Haynes was deported from the US to India in a similar manner. Adopted by an American couple, she was sexually abused by her foster father, and spent years being shipped from one foster parent to another.

Charged in a case of drug possession, she was sent back at the age of 32. Her children- eight and nine years old- are growing up in the US without mother.

“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?” said Haynes.

The Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), central government body which sanctions inter-country adoption says that it cannot be held responsible because it was non existent when Haynes and Shepherd were adopted. CARA was formed in 1990.

“Currently we issue conformity certificates in case of every inter-country adoption to facilitate immediate citizenship of the adopted child,” said Anu J Singh, director, CARA, adding that the Authority has written to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the US Embassy for details of the Kairi Shepherd’s case.

The MEA has been maintaining that it is looking at ways to provide legal assistance to Kairi to challenge the US order.

International Mission of Hope, the Kolkata orphanage which put Kairi in adoption, shut shop ten years ago and Kairi’s last hope is a favorable order from the US Supreme Court.