Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Celebrate citizenship

Today is more than just a day to feel patriotic, to celebrate international adoption and tell happy stories in the press. It's more than a day to dress kids up in red-white-and-blue and take them to parties with other adoptees, more than a day for reciting oaths, more than a day for waving flags. All that will go on, of course, because today is the day that the Child Citizenship Act 2000 goes into effect, and about 75,000 internationally adopted children nationwide become citizens.

But to me, the day means so much more. It is a day to celebrate procrastination. It is a day to celebrate triumph over paperwork. It is a day to celebrate a rare moment of helpfulness and accommodation in the adoption process. For all those children will become citizens automatically, without a paper filed, without a line waited on, without a bureaucrat phoned and yelled at. It's a beautiful thing.

And how much more beautiful for those parents who have been nagging themselves for months and years to get that citizenship paperwork going, gotta fill out one more form, gotta gather one more set of documents, gotta do it, gotta do it. If there's one thing you learn in the process of international adoption, before and after, it's that there's always another form, and nobody's going to do it for you. Gotta do it, gotta file it, gotta wait, gotta go to the courthouse and pick it up, gotta do, gotta do.

And now, you don't. Poof! One step, one obligation, one link in the neverending chain, gone for good. If you adopt a child under 18, and you or your spouse is a U.S. citizen living in the U.S., your child is a citizen the moment he or she becomes your child. Rather as if you had given birth. And that's a good thing.

Now, of course, if you want any actual proof of that citizenship, you will still have to fill out and send in and wait on and call up and chew out. We applied for our children's citizenship long before anybody had the good idea to just do it, and for our waiting and trouble we got very pretty citizenship certificates and letters to each of the children from President Clinton. (I'm sure he hand-stamped his signature himself.)

People will still want to get that stuff, to be sure. But how nice to be able to make the choice. How nice to know that if you don't ever get around to dealing with that one more form, your children will still be legally American. It's enough to make you want to wave a flag, and shred some paperwork into tickertape.

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