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[whitespace] Instant Citizens

Child Citizenship Act lets thousands of adopted children become U.S. citizens overnight

Campbell--Campbell residents David and Toni Bell say they're glad they don't have to worry about their daughters' citizenship anymore.

Thanks to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which took effect on Feb. 27, the Bells' two adopted Russian daughters automatically became U.S. citizens, along with about 75,000 other children around the country.

"It really takes some of the pressure, the urgency, out of the way," Toni Bell said.

The "pressure" felt by many parents who adopt children from outside of the United States is the need to obtain citizenship for their adoptees, a process that can take up to two years in this area, due to the high and constant influx of immigrants.

The Bells said they never applied for citizenship for their daughters because they were aware of the pending legislation. They decided to hold onto their hopes that the law would pass rather than deal with the mountain of paperwork that typically characterizes the naturalization process, according to many parents.

The Bells adopted Alena in February 1998, and Daria Alexander, nicknamed "Dasha," in April 1999. Both of the girls were born in Kaliningrad and are 9 years old.

Although the Bells have a biological son, Scott, 29, and a 10-year-old daughter, Erin, whom they adopted domestically, they said they wanted to add to their family without starting at the very beginning with babies. Adopting children from Russia seemed the most "viable" method of doing this, David Bell said.

The Bells were told that Alena's birth mother and grandmother neglected her, leaving her alone in their apartment for several hours at a time. Dasha, her stepsister and stepbrother were each given to an orphanage after her father lost his job and the family could no longer afford to take care of their children.

Both Alena and Dasha speak English without a trace of Russian accents, although they still speak some Russian.

The next step for the Bells is to apply for passports for the two girls, which, before the new law, would have been impossible without first receiving citizenship.

Most parents who attended a celebration at Fung Lum Chinese Restaurant on Feb. 27, in Campbell said obtaining passports for their adopted children was their main objective when they applied for citizenship.

Leslie Kornblum, a Saratoga resident and volunteer with Families with Children from China, organized the dinner with fellow adopter-mom Roberta Friedman.

Rep. Mike Honda sent a representative to the event to hand out signed certificates of recognition to the new citizens.

"I just thought that it would be really neat if somebody from Congress would come and celebrate with the families," Kornblum said. "As an Asian, he would relate to it and perhaps want to be there. Congress is being called into session early so he can't be there, but he's sending a representative, who will hand out the certificates, which were each signed by Honda."

Honda's representative also read a congratulatory letter from Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

About 130 people, including almost 50 adoptees, showed up to celebrate. Kornblum said 39 of the children were Chinese, three were Russian, two were Vietnamese, one was Korean and one was Chilean.

Many of the Chinese children were decked out in the celebratory color of their homeland--red. Their parents also donned red for the evening, topping off their ensembles with cardboard tiaras in festive colors. The restaurant hummed with the excited voices of the children as they ran around waving miniature flags and playing with balloons.

Kornblum, who adopted her 2-year-old daughter from China, said although she is glad the new law is finally in effect, children adopted by American citizens shouldn't have to apply for citizenship.

"It's almost like it should be a rite of passage," she said.

Kornblum's effort to naturalize her daughter has been a long and arduous one. She applied for citizenship 18 months ago and just got an appointment two weeks ago.

"San Jose has one of the worst INS offices," she said. "It's real hard for people to understand, and the insult to injury is you have to wait."

Kornblum said parents of adopted children had to pay $125 when they applied for citizenship, a fee that will no longer be required now that citizenship is automatic.

Victoria Michael, a Salinas resident, attended the celebration at Fung Lum. Although she had to drive quite a distance, she said it was worth it.

"This is a very exciting day," Michael said, adding that her adopted Chinese daughter, Mia, was so excited she couldn't sleep the night before.

Michael described her own attempt to naturalize 7-year-old Mia as "a black hole." She said she paid the $125 to the naturalization services, which then cashed her check, but had no record of her payment.

About the Child Citizenship Act, she said, "I think it's wonderful. It's about time."

Now that Mia can obtain a passport, Michael said she is taking her on a trip to China to adopt another child.

Winona Mindolovich's 3-year-old daughter, Noelle, was also adopted from China and has already obtained her U.S. citizenship.

"I wish they would've done it a while back," she said of the enactment of the law. It took her 18 months to obtain citizenship for Noelle.

"When you adopt and you're an American citizen, it really shouldn't matter," Mindolovich said.

While parents are waiting for the citizenship to go through, they are worrying about their children being deported, she said.

Ken Rhodes adopted his daughter, Alyssa, 7, from China in 1994. A son, Tyler, now 4, came in 1996.

Rhodes and his wife had already obtained citizenship for their two children. Alyssa's wasn't approved until two years after they applied, and Tyler's took a year to process.

Rhodes said he wished the law had been passed long ago so he could have avoided applying at all. He said he and his wife decided to adopt children from China after they began to go through a domestic program. He said that most of the children in America that were up for adoption were high-risk.

Dorothy Heller, who adopted 9-year-old Ruthie from Chile, also cited the high-risk problem as a reason for going out of the nation to adopt. She said there is a concern about AIDS and other diseases in children who are up for adoption in the United States.

Heller said the new law is "a miracle" that has been a long time coming.
Erin Mayes

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