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.
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
- American Samoa
- Puerto Rico
- U.S. Virgin Islands
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.
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.
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!