By Christine Futia
Morton Grove, IL: This is a pathetic and heart-rending story of Kairi Shepherd, who was born in Kolkata. At age three months and orphaned, she was adopted by a single mother in Utah. Now at 30, Kairi, who is sick with multiple sclerosis and convicted in case, is facing deportation to India, where she has no one nor does she have any place to live there.
At that time of adoption, an unpleasant "wrinkle" in the US immigration law said that being adopted by an American parent was not enough to confer US citizenship. Instead, the child had to be "naturalized."
Kairi's adoptive mother died when Kairi was eight years old, without naturalizing her. Kairi never knew she was not a US citizen. She had a social security number issued when she came to the US as a permanent resident. Kairi struggled as a teen and young adult. She made some bad choices. She became estranged from her siblings and grandmother, got involved with drugs, and, at 17, she committed federal check fraud to support her drug habit.
Eventually, Kairi was convicted and served time for her crime. What came next was truly shocking. She was rounded up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and sent for deportation. Why? Because she had committed a crime and she was not a US citizen. This made her deportable.
It has been a very long fight for Kairi, and unfortunately, she has lost. The US immigration law, which now gives citizenship at the moment of adoption, does not work retroactively. She has a final order of removal and could be sent to India -- never to return. This prospect would be horrifying without any additional challenges, but in fact, Kairi was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a couple of years ago. She is not responding well to treatment. She is already starting to lose the use of her hands. What will happen to her in India, where she has no one to care for her in the way she will soon need? Eventually, to feed her and toilet her?
Another young woman, Jennifer Haynes, also an adoptee, was deported to India a few years ago. She was rescued from the street by a Mumbai NGO but the Indian government has yet to provide her with any identity document. She is indigent and cannot work. The US government separated her from two very young US citizen children now in the care of her adoptive mother in this country. This is a truly tragic story, not just for Jennifer but also for her children, who will never know their mother.
I considered Jennifer's case to be a human rights violation, and when I heard of Kairi's case, my heart was totally pierced. My oldest son, Leo Rajan, is from the same orphanage in Kolkata where Kairi lived during her first three months of life. My daughter, Annie Shanti, from a different orphanage, feels intense anger and sorrow about what her country is doing to a young woman she considers to be her sister. Our adult adoptees from India feel a strong kinship with each other. Their experience is unique, and they provide each other enormous support.
As an immigration paralegal professional, I work for a law firm specializing in immigration -- family-based, employment-based, permanent, temporary, everything. I knew enough about the law when I read the first article about Kairi (about three weeks ago in the Salt Lake City Tribune) to know that she was in trouble. The Department of Homeland Security (to which United States Citizenship and Immigration Services -- USCIS -- and Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- ICE belong) has been ruthlessly deporting non-citizens, especially those who have committed a crime. However, the law classifies Kairi with rapists and robbers even though her offense clearly does not make her any threat to our society. She is a decent young woman with every potential to contribute to her community in the future. She is being victimized because her departed mother did not complete a bureaucratic step in time.
Kairi has been orphaned twice. Now her country -- where she has lived all her life -- is threatening to throw her away like a piece of rubbish. As an American, I am shocked, angered and speechless. As a parent, I see Kairi as my own child. She cannot understand how the immigration officials can be so heartless as to send her to India alone and ill. She has served a sentence for her 13-year-old crime. She is no longer a teenager. She deserves to enjoy the life that was intended when the Indian High Court gave her American mother the right to adopt her so many years ago.
There is something that NRIs can do right now to help Kairi stay. The Indian government is finally aware of Kairi's situation. I and other members of Kairi's support team have been working hard in a variety of ways to forestall her deportation. The very best way to guarantee that Kairi can remain in the only place she knows as home is for the Indian Consulate in San Francisco to refuse to issue the travel document required for Kairi to return to India. The Consul General there is right now conferring with Delhi and considering the issue. I want as many people as possible to let him know that members of the NRI community, and NRI organizations, stand behind Kairi. Here is the email link:
http://www.cgisf.org/contacts/add?sendTo=cg As for me ...I am helping in whatever way I can to keep Kairi here because it is unthinkable for me not to do so.
Meanwhile the Indian Embassy in Washington DC has sought details from the US government on the issue of deportation of the Indian-American orphan Kairi Abha Shepherd, saying her case deserves to be treated with utmost sensitivity and compassion.
"Her case deserves to be treated with the utmost sensitivity and compassion, keeping in mind the humanitarian dimension and tenets of universally accepted human rights," Indian Embassy spokesman Virander Paul said in a statement.
"The Embassy has seen reports concerning Kairi Shepherd, and has requested the US authorities for facts on this matter," the spokesman said referring to the media reports appearing in both India and the US.