A Mother’s Rights

I wrote the following piece a few years ago, when I first started researching my daughter Olivia’s adoption, begun in 2002. Here it is 2010, and I’m still wrestling with Homeland Security, now for two updated Certificates of Citizenships, one for each child. For anyone who has or is navigating the Byzantine process of adoption or naturalization, this one’s for you. The photo was taken in front of the casita where I lived while fostering Olivia in 2003.

For three years I’ve been petitioning the Department of Homeland Security for the return of my daughter Olivia’s sealed adoption file. First, with forms to Immigration in Los Angeles, then with letters to Immigration in San Francisco, and finally, with appeals to the behemoth keeper-of-all-records in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

Access to that file is my right as a United States citizen, guaranteed under the Freedom of Information Act. Which doesn’t mean they make it easy.

Parents like us who adopt children from Guatemala are handed a sealed envelope at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City and instructed to surrender it sealed and intact at the first point of entry, which for us was L.A. The temptation is to steam the envelope open and make copies of everything in it: original photographs, birth certificates, foster care facts, birth mother information. But who would dare take that risk? It took almost two years to get our daughter home, and that only happened after I moved there for six months and learned enough Spanish to plead our case myself.

 January 5, 2004, the day we touched ground with Olivia in our arms, was the day I started the paperwork to retrieve the file. My next-to-last communication with Homeland Security was dated January 9, 2007. The case had gone on for so long they wanted to know if we were still interested. Yes, I responded via fax, certified-mail, and telephone message left in the director’s office. Still emphatically interested.

Tuesday night I didn’t get out to the mailbox until 10 p.m. The children were finally asleep, and my husband was dozing over the newspaper at the kitchen table. I thought the file when it came would be another envelope. But with technology, everything’s on CD.

I ran downstairs and turned on my computer without even pausing to wake up my husband. They say knowledge is power, but right now it feels like a gift.


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