Monday, March 23, 2009


This post puts to rest (hopefully) many of the questions and confusion regarding the ins, outs, ups, and downs of re-adoption, obtaining a new birth certificate, obtaining a social security number, and obtaining citizenship for an adopted child born in a country other than the U.S.A.

Questions related to this topic have generated thousands of threads on many a blog and group site. There are about a kazillion ideas on how all this is to be done, and it's enough to drive anyone slightly mad. After many months, and many incorrect suggestions (including one directly from a state-sponsored attorney), I thought I'd document my experience with what has worked. We have only one step left, and I'm confident that I know how to do it (I hope).

*Please note: this is only my experience, and it reflects only Arizona processes. In addition, this information is valid only under circumstances in which a child was not granted U.S. citizenship upon entry into the U.S. If they come in with citizenship (as denoted by an IR-4 visa), the processes are likely a bit different (and probably a bit easier!).

Let's just start at the beginning, shall we?

The first thing you need to do is go through re-adoption. Re-adoption is not required in every state, but the following states do not recognize a foreign adoption decree, so it's best, in these states at least, to go through the process of re-adoption.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming
  • American Samoa
  • Guam
  • Puerto Rico
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
Keep in mind that if you presently live in a state that does recognize a foreign adoption decree, but you later move, your new state may not recognize the adoption. So, again, in my humble opinion, it's best to just do the re-adoption.

In addition, re-adoption is the only way to legally change your child's name. Considering that the formal name of most children coming from Ethiopia will read as their first name plus your husband's first and last name on their passport, changing their name may be something you consider essential. I doubt our daughter would be terribly pleased as a 16-year-old with David as her middle name!

We thought it would be fairly easy to do the re-adoption without an attorney and, as I understand it, it is in some states. Not Arizona. However, thankfully, the state of Arizona does provide a state-sponsored attorney to you at no charge to facilitate the adoption proceedings. The only charge we incurred was for our social worker's re-adoption report (much like a home study report only slightly abbreviated; it only requires one home visit) which had to be submitted to the state. This cost us $300.

Ask your social worker (the one who did your home study) who you need to call to facilitate re-adoption in your state. The woman we called in Arizona was Kim Redmond and she was lovely and very helpful.

The re-adoption process can take anywhere from 3 - 8 months, depending on when you get your court date.

Obtaining a New Birth Certificate
Once the re-adoption is complete, you'll go to the court house and go through a quick proceeding in which your child becomes legally yours according to Arizona law. You'll receive a formal adoption decree which you can (and will want to) have certified before leaving the court house. The cost for certification is, I believe, $28.

After this is completely, you'll want to apply for a birth certificate for your child. We were told that the Department of Vital Statistics would send us an application after they received and processed our daughter's information post re-adoption. This did not happen. So, be prepared that if you don't hear from them within 6 weeks or so you'll have to head down to the Department of Vital Statistics.

However, you'll have to head there in person anyway. You need to go to the Department of Vital Statistics office at 1818 N. Adams Street. They are open M-F from 8-5 but after 4:00 you can only get information, not apply for a birth certificate. So go before 4:00. Their phone number is 602.364.1300.

Whether you get the application via mail or print it out yourself from their online site, fill it out as follows:

Name: Your child's legal name as specified in the re-adoption
Date of Birth: as specified in re-adoption

Most of the rest of it is self-explanatory.

When you go, expect the DMV. Expect for it to take a while. If you can avoid it, do NOT take any children with you! You'll need your child's "foreign born" number, so if you don't know what that is, attempt to get it from the attorney who facilitated your re-adoption. This is the number under which your child is registered with, among other places I'm sure, the Department of Vital Statistics.

If you cannot obtain the foreign-born number from your attorney, simply tell the person at the "triage window" (yes, they do call it that) at the Dept. of Vital Statistics that you are there to apply for a foreign-born birth certificate for your recently adopted child but that you don't know what their foreign-born number is. They will likely send you to the Corrections room to obtain the foreign-born number. Once you obtain that, you go BACK to the triage window and get a number to get in line to apply for the birth certificate.

The reason you need to be there in person is that they will need to see the certified copy of the re-adoption, which I doubt you'll want to put in the mail. At $28 each, we only got one copy!

Then, you wait a while. I waited for about 45 minutes. When your number is called, you present your application, a credit card, debit card, or cash in the amount of $10 per certificate requested (though I hear it's going up to $15 per certificate as of 4/1/2009), and then you go home. The birth certificate is mailed to you within 5-10 business days (we got ours in 4 business days).

Social Security Number
In order to obtain your child's SSN, you MUST have a foreign-born birth certificate and you MUST appear in person at the Social Security Office. I HIGHLY recommend the office on North Tatum. It is north of Greenway and south of Bell on Tatum on the east side of the street. It's a big building and not hard to find. Go in and go around back on the left side of the building to Suite B.

It is very clean, and not NEARLY as crowded as the Social Security Office in downtown Phoenix. After confirming that I had not brought in a gun, a knife, any other weaponry, or pepper spray, I was given a number and quietly told to take a seat. So quietly that I said, "Huh?" to the security guard. Not so good. I waited only 3 minutes to be called to the window.

Present your application, your child's certified birth certificate, your certified re-adoption documents, and your child's Ethiopian passport and resident alien card. There was only one space on the application I was confused by and it was the field that asked whether my child was a U.S. citizen, a something-or-other, or other. The correct answer is "other."

It is free to apply for a SSN (finally, something is free!). They will likely tell you that the information didn't get through Homeland Security the first time, but this is only because the kids' info is often typed into Homeland Security's system incorrectly to begin with so it doesn't match and takes a human to look at it and approve it. It's all very efficient. :)

Your child's Social Security card should arrive in 2 weeks. If it does not, you need to return to the Social Security Office to inquire as to what the problem might be.

This is an area in which a TON of confusion has arisen. A few salient points:

- Your child is NOT a citizen of the U.S. upon entering the U.S. unless he or she comes in on an IR-4 visa.

- Your child is NOT a citizen of the U.S. upon finalization of the re-adoption (even though our attorney says otherwise).

- Your child is NOT granted citizenship by obtaining a U.S. passport. In fact, they should not be able to even get a U.S. passport without a valid foreign-born birth certificate, but I know a few folks in Arizona who have managed to get their child a U.S. passport without doing the above and think it gives them citizenship. I don't know, but according to the gal at the Social Security office, who truly seemed to know what she was doing, it does not.

Now, you CAN, technically, apply for U.S. citizenship without a SSN. So, you can do the citizenship application and the SSN application simultaneously if you want. But I like order and structure and one thing at a time so I say get the SSN first. But that's just me.

Once you receive your child's SSN in the mail, you can begin the application process for U.S. citizenship through Homeland Security. You MUST have an appointment for this. You cannot just walk in to a Homeland Security office the same way you can walk in to the Dept. of Vital Statistics or the Social Security Office.

The number/address for Homeland Security in Phoenix is:
2035 N. Central Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85004

Call and make an appointment to apply for U.S. citizenship for your child.

Modify SSN
When you initially get your child's SSN, it will reflect "resident alien" status (which terribly confuses our other children who now swear that Ethiopia sits somewhere near Jupiter). When your child is granted U.S. citizenship, take the citizenship paperwork BACK to the Social Security Office and they'll amend your child's record to note that s/he now has U.S. citizenship. They don't get a new card or a new number; their status is simply modified in the system.

U.S. Passport
NOW you can apply for a U.S. passport for your child at your local post office. You'll need to take every bloody thing you've acquired to date!

If you have any questions about this process in Arizona, please feel free to contact me. I feel very well equipped at this point to open up shop as a How To Get Your Child All S/He Needs to Function as a Citizen of the U.S. of A. consultant!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What Can We Do?

This was the first question I asked myself when I heard about Haregewoin's passing. After all, she has 50+ children, many of them HIV+, still living at her homes throughout Addis Ababa. Surely, these children are sad and scared.

The following was on Melissa Faye Greene's blog this morning and it shows us how we each can contribute something, should we so choose. It's amazing, truly, how much it costs to care for children in such a poverty-infected country. But, given that the cost of the washer and dryer for Hannah's Hope was nearly $20,000 (that is not a typo) it's not terribly surprising.

$1 may not feel like a large donation but if everyone who reads my blog in a month donated $1, it would be almost $1000 toward this effort (that's assuming that my parents aren't reading my blog 998 times a month, but who knows).




*from the blog of Melissa Faye Greene, author of There is No Me Without You.

Haregewoin Teferra 1946 (est.) - 2009

Dear Friends,

By now you may have learned the shocking news that Mrs.
Haregewoin Teferra has died suddenly after a short
illness. We don't know what caused her death; she felt
sick for a couple of days, went to the doctor, came
home without a diagnosis, felt sick again, laid down,
and that was the end.

We are grieving, yet we have no time to spare: 59
children survive her, many of them toddlers and babies,
the majority HIV-positive.

Worldwide Orphans--the New York-based organization that
has provided pediatric care to Haregewoin's children
for many years--has stepped into the breach. They have
assumed full custody of the 42 HIV-positive kids and
are prepared to take responsibility for the 17
HIV-negative children, as needed, most of them babies
and toddlers. Those small children are still at
Haregewoin's foster home; their caregivers have
stayed on; and the Atetegeb board has taken charge of
their well-being for the present.

These heroic measures come at high cost: it is
estimated to require about $4,600 per child to cover
food, healthcare and medicine, education, clothing, and
caregivers. Once the children's basic needs are secure,
their paperwork will be sorted out: some may be
eligible for adoption, others may have extended families
in a position to take them in; others may find new

No one knows, at this moment, whether Haregewoin had made
financial plans for the children in the event of her
death. All that can be sorted out in the future. The
crisis is NOW: keeping the children fed and clothed,
paying the salaries of loving caregivers to act as
stand-ins for their late parents and long-devoted
foster mother, and making sure there is no lag-time
in their life-saving medical treatment.

At Little Atetegeb, for positive children

Haregewoin lived with these children seven days a week,
24 hours a day, for ten years. She is irreplaceable.

The youngest children, of course, have no idea what
has just happened. Please let us work together to
act as foster parents in absentia for them and to
provide financial sustenance to the adults on the
ground in Addis during this transitional time.

Thank you in advance for any amount you can give.

Online contributions can be made at

Checks may be sent to:
511 Valley Street
Maplewood, New Jersey 07040


Haregewoin's children

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An Angel Goes Home

A little over a year ago, when the road we'd been pleasantly traveling suddenly dead-ended into a hillside named "Guatemalan Adoptions Now Closed mountain" (it really was called that, I swear), we weren't sure what to do. We wondered whether to turn left, or turn right, or turn around and simply go back to where we'd come from -- a place with our four beautiful (albeit unruly) kids and a bit less confusion over a message we thought we'd heard so clearly.

The first book I picked up in an effort to get some clarity was There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Faye Greene. It is a stunning story documenting Melissa's time in Ethiopia, first as a journalist and later as an adoptive mother of, ultimately, two Ethiopian-born children.

The book centered around a woman named Haregewoin Teferra (shown in the middle of this picture surrounded by many of "her" children). Haregewoin Teferrra was "a middle-class Ethiopian woman who found herself at the heart of a global health crisis...transformed her home into an orphanage and began facilitating adoptions to homes all over the world." It is a fantastic book, and one my mom bought and sent to a number of people prior to Nina's homecoming.

On the day of Nina's re-adoption, I was so blessed to meet the adoptive family of one of the children featured in There Is No Me Without You, to put a face with that part of the story that touched me so deeply. In fact, when I learned that this little boy had made his way all the way from Ethiopia to, of all places, Phoenix, I thought that, surely, that was just another sign that we were heading in the right direction, both literally and figuratively.

It was in reading this book that I knew wholly and completely that while I was initially so unwaveringly sure of our journey to Guatemala, the place we were meant to go was Ethiopia. I don't know how to describe the knowledge more deeply than that, but I know my friends with Ethiopian-born children understand what I'm saying.

I've been thinking lately that I need to re-read it, this time from the perspective of someone who's adopted from Ethiopia and been to Ethiopia as opposed to someone who's merely considering those activities.

Haregewoin died suddenly today in Ethiopia. Not many details are yet known other than that she called a friend and then died in her home.

Ethiopia has lost a true hero in the war against children without home or family. Tonight, Haregewoin is where she belongs, resting among all the other angels in heaven, having most rightfully earned her place there.

And tonight, to honor her for indirectly opening my heart so fully to welcome home an angel of my own, I will begin re-reading her story.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Water Is Life

The family profiled below are friends of ours. Their daughter is in Grace's class. We think this is incredible and hope you'll be moved to help.

WORLD WATER DAY, March 22 - Phoenix Family Turns Off House Water for One Week to Save a Child's Life for a Year!

A Phoenix family turns off their house water for one week to save a child's life for one year!

This family of four will shut off their Phoenix suburban house water for one week. They will fulfill their daily water needs by carrying water in buckets from their 'water well' to their home each day, perhaps a few times a day if necessary. They will fill their buckets at the local well - the Verrado Village Sport and Health Club - and carry their water up Main Street to their home which is approx. one mile round trip. They have chosen to give up their house water as a representation of how challenging it is around the world to obtain clean water each day.

They are hopeful that they will generate awareness to help solve the global pure water crisis - all in honor of World Water Day. Watch and share in their daily experiences at

They are giving up water for one week (Sunday, March 22 - Sunday, March 29) to save a child's life for one year. Their hope is that people will recognize and acknowledge their efforts by donating a simple $10 to save a child's life for one year. Each $10 donation purchases a water filter that hangs around a child's neck and filters out bacteria that causes waterborne diseases, which kills 4500 children each day. Visit for more information on how you can help, and to save a child's life from waterborne disease for one year. The water filters will be distributed in Kenya in August, 2009.

The family resides just outside of Phoenix, Arizona and includes two daughters, Picabo (13) and Livvie (10). They will be ready to shut off their house water on Sunday, March 22 at 5 pm in honor of WORLD WATER DAY 2009. (Maybe girls not so ready!)