Waiting In No Man's Land : Code Switch Tens of thousands of children were adopted from other countries by parents in the U.S., only to discover as adults a quirk in federal law that meant they had never been guaranteed American citizenship. Much like the Dreamers, these adoptees are now fighting for legal status to ensure they can stay with the only homes and families they've ever known.

Waiting In No Man's Land

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GENE DEMBY, HOST:

What's good, y'all? This is Gene, and this episode is not about the Supreme Court. It's probably on a lot of your minds. It's on ours, too, especially after last Friday, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ruled that there is no constitutional right to abortion. And even though the draft opinion in this case leaked months ago, it was still shocking because this is the first time the court has ever rolled back a right that was previously granted to people in the United States. And in this decision, the majority repudiated the legal framework around Roe - this notion of a constitutional right to privacy. And that's important because it's from that same legal reasoning, that same framework around privacy, that the court has recognized things like gay rights and marriage equality and the right to contraception. So the question quickly became, is the court then going to revisit whether those rights are unconstitutional, too, next?

Anyway, yeah, we've been reporting out a lot of the history of the Supreme Court these last few weeks to wrap our heads around the court. And one of the surprising and unnerving things that we've learned from historians is that what we've seen these last few weeks - this is actually how the court gets down. This is how the court has always moved. It's not Brown v. Board of Education. It's not Miranda v. Arizona or Lawrence v. Texas. Those are the cases we know, they say, because those cases paint a really flattering picture of this august institution that protects the public from the powerful. But the real story of the court, they say, is a story of justices who have almost always sided with the powerful.

So that's the history we want to get into very soon, and we want to get into it with y'all to help us think through this big question - what do we do with the Supreme Court? And there will be more details to come on that very soon. This episode you're about to hear is about the law, and it's about some big questions over rights and protections that are extended to some people and not to others with life-altering ramifications. I'm going to let KGB and my colleague Alyssa Jeong Perry take it away.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBIN WHITELY: Yeah. We're, like, two blocks from the border. I can see it. Couple of times, I thought about jumping it, but I'm going to wait my turn. Big, old wall - can't cross. If you do, you get in trouble. One day I'll cross, and I'll cross it the right way though. Yeah.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: This is CODE SWITCH from NPR. I'm Karen Grigsby Bates.

ALYSSA JEONG PERRY, BYLINE: And I'm Alyssa Jeong Perry, one of the producers on the show. And that voice you just heard is Robin Whitely. He's 48 years old, a father of five and lives in a tiny town in Mexico that's a stone's throw away from the U.S. border, literally.

GRIGSBY BATES: AJP, what stood out to me is that Robin says he wants to cross that border legally. So what's his story? Why isn't he allowed into the U.S.?

PERRY: Well, despite growing up in Texas and living there for nearly three decades, Robin isn't a U.S. citizen. Back in 2002, he was deported.

R WHITELY: I was arrested for possession of marijuana, and I was ultimately convicted of possession of marijuana. And I was sentenced to four years in prison.

GRIGSBY BATES: Y'all, Texas has one of the strictest marijuana laws in the country.

PERRY: Oh, my gosh. That's totally right. So he got slapped with a felony - which, side note, Karen, if he was here in California, he would have only gotten a misdemeanor.

GRIGSBY BATES: Good, old California - got to love this state.

PERRY: But anyways, for Robin, things escalated because according to federal immigration laws, if you aren't a U.S. citizen and have committed a crime, you're susceptible to be deported back to your country of origin, like, in Robin's case, Mexico. But as we mentioned earlier, Robin says Mexico isn't his home. That's because a day or two after he was born in 1974, he was adopted by U.S. citizens.

GRIGSBY BATES: Wait, what? He's adopted? Then why wouldn't he have U.S. citizenship automatically?

PERRY: That's a great question. Laws around adopting children from different countries are confusing and often complicated. They vary depending on the country of origin. And the laws have changed at various points in the past 50 years. In the '80s and '90s, international adoptions skyrocketed, and Congress decided that they had to clear up some of the laws surrounding it. So in February 2001, a law that was passed by Congress was enacted. It gave automatic citizenship to foreign-born adoptees - except that law didn't account for everyone. So if you were born after February 1983 or were younger than 18 and adopted to the U.S., you would automatically get U.S. citizenship. But if you were born before February 1983, you weren't eligible.

GRIGSBY BATES: That's not confusing at all, is it? So basically, anyone born before February 1983 who was older than 18 didn't get automatic citizenship?

PERRY: Yes. And you know what? It still holds true today. Before this 2001 law, citizenship was the American parents' responsibility. And if the parents didn't go through the process of getting their new kid naturalized, then those adoptees didn't get citizenship.

GRIGSBY BATES: Yeah. But what I don't get is, why wouldn't the parents have gone through that process?

PERRY: Sometimes it was out of neglect, either by parents or adoption agencies. Other times it was more just confusion or ignorance. A lot of parents didn't realize that they even needed to undergo this process. So a lot of international adoptees grow up their entire lives in the U.S. only to discover as adults that they don't have U.S. citizenship.

GREGORY LUCE: So we have a hodgepodge now today, where some have automatic citizenship, many don't, and many people don't know what their status is.

PERRY: That's Greg Luce. He's an immigration lawyer and an adoptee himself. Most of his clients are foreign-born adoptees who don't have citizenship and are trying to obtain legal status. He's also one of the very few lawyers in the U.S. that specialize in these niche cases. He told me that there are an estimated 35,000 to 70,000 adoptees who grew up in the U.S. without citizenship.

GRIGSBY BATES: This is so wild, that there are people who live their entire whole lives in this country only to later be thrown into a totally different environment when they didn't even know that was a possibility.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PERRY: Robin? Hi.

R WHITELY: Oh, hey. You made it across faster than I got here.

PERRY: I know. Hi. Nice to see you.

R WHITELY: How's it going? I was already over there looking for you.

PERRY: Oh.

R WHITELY: When you came through, I was like...

PERRY: I met Robin over email about 7 years ago, when I was reporting on deported foreign-born adoptees. November 2021 is the first time we meet in person. Robin is waiting for me right across the street from the immigration line. He's about 5'10'', with dark hair, covered in tattoos and has a southern Texan drawl. I hop into his black pickup.

R WHITELY: Toyota right here.

PERRY: OK, great.

And he starts driving down the only paved road in the tiny town of under 5,000 people.

R WHITELY: This is the main strip of big-time...

PERRY: Small.

R WHITELY: Yeah (laughter). It's pretty small. It's anywhere in about 5 minutes here. So this is our police station to the left, down there at the corner. Back behind you is a police station, where it's blue. That's the police station.

PERRY: Besides the police station, there's a bakery, a post office, and a small open-air market...

R WHITELY: ...Shops and...

PERRY: ...But there's no mall, no Walmart...

R WHITELY: ...One and only gas station here in town...

PERRY: ...Not even a McDonald's. It's a stark difference from the suburbs of Houston, Texas, where Robin grew up.

How long have you been here now?

R WHITELY: Being here going on - just past seven years on Halloween.

PERRY: Oh, wow.

R WHITELY: Yeah. I'm going to stop right here real quick at the bakery, OK?

PERRY: Oh, yeah. Sure.

R WHITELY: Got to eat some - you got to eat some Mexican bakery before you go.

PERRY: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOOR CLOSING)

PERRY: This your favorite bakery?

So obviously, Robin has gotten used to the pan dulce, but he hasn't fully acclimated to his life. He doesn't speak Spanish fluently. He says he went back to Texas a couple of times to reunite with his family, but he got deported each time. And he tells me he's moved around a few times for safety reasons. He's concerned about cartel activity in the border towns. Even so, this town seems to be the safest and best fit. But that doesn't make it easy.

R WHITELY: Probably almost any point in the city, you can see that.

PERRY: Super Vasquez?

R WHITELY: No, that.

PERRY: Oh, the..

R WHITELY: The wall.

PERRY: Yeah. We're looking right at the wall at the border.

R WHITELY: Yeah.

PERRY: How does that make you feel, just seeing that every day?

R WHITELY: So far - so close, but so far away (laughter).

PERRY: That wall we look at is a towering fence made out of steel, standing at about 33 feet. Through the slivers of the fence, we can see the other side.

R WHITELY: ...But yeah, it's difficult sometimes looking at it and not knowing - and knowing you can't go over it, you know? To me, I feel like I can't go home, you know? That's my home. That's - to me, it's my home. America is my home.

PERRY: In 1974, Robin's parents, who were U.S. citizens, got a call from a midwife about a day-old baby boy who needed a home. The midwife handed him over to them in Texas without any real paperwork - so no U.S. immigration visa or Mexican adoption papers. This kind of informal adoption from Mexico wasn't unique because the borders between the two countries were much more open back then. It was relatively easy to go back and forth. So Robin's childhood was pretty normal. He grew up with his parents and four other siblings. He loved playing sports.

R WHITELY: My dad and I - he got me with the football. He was a football coach. I ran track, played basketball, played football, played baseball - every sport.

PERRY: Robin grew up thinking he had the same rights as any other U.S. citizen. So when he was arrested for marijuana as an adult and found out he was getting deported, he was in disbelief.

R WHITELY: I even told my mom when - after I got arrested, I said, man, I'm - they're not sending me nowhere. I'm an American. What are you talking about? I grew up in this country. I grew up here. I went to school from kindergarten till 10th grade. I got my GED. I went to college. I'm an American. What do you mean, they're going to send me away? Well, they're going to - they're trying to send you away. Like, what do you mean? I'm American. They can't send me anywhere else if I'm an American.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PERRY: Being deported at almost 30 years old, Robin felt like he had a whole life ahead of him. He was the father of four young kids at the time. Twenty years have passed since he was first deported. He's almost 50 now and has settled into his life across the border. He's now married to someone he met at a church in Mexico. They have a daughter who's 7 years old. And he and his wife have built a house in this tiny town. Before COVID, he owned and operated an American-style restaurant that was run out of that house.

R WHITELY: This was originally the restaurant. This was the dining room.

PERRY: Oh.

R WHITELY: And this was the kitchen. So we transitioned - so this is my daughter's room.

PERRY: Oh, wow. It's so pink.

R WHITELY: Right? She's into...

PERRY: This looks like a 7-year-old's room.

R WHITELY: Right?

PERRY: Because of his deportation, Robin's relationships with his four older kids deteriorated. So he views this time around with his 7-year-old as a second chance at parenthood.

R WHITELY: For kids her age...

PERRY: But it's only part time. His wife has U.S. citizenship, and their daughter was born in the US. So during the school year, they live across the border - you know, the side he can't go to. They only come home during holidays and weekends.

R WHITELY: Makes it a little bit more difficult, you know? I don't get to participate in her day-to-day life. Like, I didn't get to go with her the first day of school. I don't get to go to, you know, parent-teacher conferences. I don't get to go to open house. I don't get to go - you know, those things with her.

PERRY: Parenting and being a husband across borders is hard. He tells me he passes the day by watching TV and puttering around their home since the restaurant isn't running right now. He says he's currently living off money from a property that he sold in town.

R WHITELY: I live like a single person. I tell my wife sometimes - I told her not just the other day - I was like, man, I'm going to sell this house. Why? Because I don't need it. It's, like, a whole big old house. And I use one room of the house. And all the other part of the house is unused because I'm here by myself. Nobody is here but me. I mean, this is the life I have. I don't have much of any other choice.

PERRY: To me, Robin seems to have accepted that he might not go back. But it doesn't mean that he doesn't miss the life he had or could have had back in the U.S.

R WHITELY: Oh, what I really miss is...

PERRY: Even though we're three miles away from the border.

R WHITELY: Right? Is that, like, atmosphere, that, like - it's just, like, smells different. I don't know - just that smell, like, that freedom of being inside the United States again, you know, just, like - just want to walk and be free and just say, I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PERRY: So, Karen, guess what?

GRIGSBY BATES: What?

PERRY: There's actually a bill in Congress again that could help Robin get home.

LUCE: And would give automatic citizenship to those adoptees who were adopted in the United States or abroad.

PERRY: Coming up after the break, we'll get into all that and more, including another vulnerable group of people who are in a similar situation as Robin.

GRIGSBY BATES: Stay with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GRIGSBY BATES: Karen.

PERRY: Alyssa.

GRIGSBY BATES: CODE SWITCH.

So, Alyssa, before the break you introduced us to Robin Whitely. He's part of a group of adult adoptees who were foreign born but raised in the U.S. by parents who are U.S. citizens.

PERRY: Who are usually white, by the way, which we're going to talk about in a little bit.

GRIGSBY BATES: And yet the kids didn't receive automatic citizenship when they were adopted as young children. So some have been deported back to the countries where they were born. But you brought up a bill that could potentially fix all this. What is that bill exactly, and what would it do?

PERRY: Well, Karen, it's a provision in a larger piece of legislation called the COMPETES Act. The COMPETES Act is a huge package with measures that are supposed to promote research, innovation and manufacturing in the U.S. But there's a little piece that got snuck in there called the Adoptee Citizenship Act. I'll let Greg Luce, the immigration lawyer who we heard from earlier in the episode, break it down for us.

LUCE: There's a current pending bill that would do that and would give automatic citizenship to those adoptees who were adopted in the United States or abroad.

PERRY: As Greg just said, this provision would fix the age gap, which means that people who are in that category we talked about earlier - people like Robin, who were born before 1981 - would be eligible for U.S. citizenship.

GRIGSBY BATES: OK. So what's this bill's status now?

PERRY: Well, the House ended up passing its own version of the COMPETES Act, which included the Adoptee Citizenship Act. The Senate passed a different COMPETES Act without the same immigration provisions, so no Adoptees Citizenship Act. So now the COMPETES Act is in a congressional committee where the Senate and the House are negotiating what actually stays and goes. So the end goal is to have one reconciled COMPETES Act as early as July.

GRIGSBY BATES: And, Alyssa, do we know anything about how likely it is for the Adoptee Citizenship Act to end up in the final version?

PERRY: Well, Karen, it's tricky because the Adoptees Citizenship Act is technically categorized as an immigration amendment, and anything that has to do with immigration suddenly becomes more polarized and difficult to get bipartisan support for. Here's Greg again.

LUCE: Everyone says it's bipartisan. But when it becomes labeled immigration, then it becomes a partisan issue. And that's part of the problem of why it gets caught up in immigration, it gets caught up in family structure legislation, it gets caught up in child welfare. And no one really knows where to put it. But ultimately, it's considered an immigration issue, and then it gets completely opposed because of that label.

PERRY: So things are really still up in the air. Plus, all this negotiating between lawmakers, for the most part, goes on behind closed doors. We really don't know what everyone is thinking. But, Karen, we do know that people who would be affected by this legislation are following along really closely.

R WHITELY: When your life is on the line, you know, when your life is out there and you're wanting to change, well, you go to every length to find out information.

GRIGSBY BATES: I was wondering how Robin felt about all this.

PERRY: Yeah. Throughout all of this reporting, I spent a lot of time thinking about whose fault it is that these adoptees are in such a vulnerable position and how much of their lives depend on this bill. So I asked Robin...

Whose fault do you think it is that you're in this situation? I'm sure you've talked about this so many times.

R WHITELY: Yeah. Whose fault is it? Ultimately, it's my fault. I got to take responsibility for my actions. I'm the one who committed the crime and put myself into this situation. So I can't blame the government. I can't blame Mom. I can't blame Daddy for not doing this or not doing that. And ultimately, it's my fault. So do I think I need to be paying for the rest of my life for what I did one time? No. Does other people have to pay for the rest of their life for what they've done once? No. Did I pay, and did I do my time? Did I pay back to society what I owe, what the judge said I owed? Yes. So...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

R WHITELY: I don't think it's right. I don't think you can take somebody from their country and throw them into a country and just expect them to say, oh, OK; let me just start my life brand new at age 40, age 30, age 35. You're throwing me over here with no money. You're throwing me over here with no place to live. I tell you I have no family here. And you tell me that's not my fault; that's not my problem - that's where I get kind of frustrated with the government.

PERRY: So I guess Robin could have stayed out of trouble. But as you just heard, he thinks the problem is bigger than that, and a lot more parties are implicated.

GRIGSBY BATES: Right. I mean, obviously, there's the government. And you mentioned earlier that adoption agencies bear some responsibility here and, frankly, some adoptive parents who maybe should have been paying more attention to the paperwork the government was going to require. What else?

PERRY: You know, Karen, part of it is just a product of policies struggling to keep up with the trends of adoption. Let me just give a quick history lesson here. Adopting babies from other countries didn't take off until 1955, when Congress enabled a special act that allowed one white evangelical couple from Oregon to adopt eight orphaned Korean children who were products of the Korean War.

GRIGSBY BATES: Wait. One couple?

PERRY: Yes, one couple - Harry and Bertha Holt. They became huge champions of international adoption. They even started Holt International, which is an adoption agency that became a model for other international adoption agencies. In the decades after 1955, international adoption boomed. Parents began to adopt children from other countries, often ones that were poor, war-torn or devastated by natural disasters. So, Karen, one important thing I want to note - the demand for adoption was growing quickly. There was a lot of money involved, and there was a lack of regulatory framework that could protect everyone involved. So it was easy for corruption to start popping up.

GRIGSBY BATES: That sounds like the perfect storm.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: There are terrifying but unconfirmed reports of people using the chaos in Haiti as an opportunity to prey on children.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: They're temporarily giving up their children to be educated. Instead, they're sold to adoptive families who think they are taking an orphan in need.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: A thousand couples from the U.S. alone adopt from Guatemala each year in a business worth some $200 million annually.

PERRY: And so all of this was happening faster than Congress was passing laws to regulate this new reality. Back when Robin was adopted in the '70s, international adoption policy and immigration laws were being dealt with separately by two different departments. The U.S. State Department is in charge of all international adoptees coming to the U.S. Then, once the child is here, U.S. immigration handles the citizenship process. When Robin was adopted, immigration was known as INS. By the early 2000s, INS had become part of ICE, and it was under a whole new agency known as Homeland Security. So the laws around adoption and the bodies covering it are highly complex and always changing. And for an adoptive family, it can be really hard to keep up.

GRIGSBY BATES: Oh, I can imagine. In Robin's case, though, what exactly happened to him?

PERRY: Well, he told me that when his mom went to file for his citizenship, an immigration official told her that she needed a certified certificate of adoption from the state of Texas. But she didn't have it because she said the lawyer overseeing the adoption didn't give it to her.

LAURA WHITELY: They point the finger at the adoptive parents and say, you didn't do the right paperwork.

PERRY: I spoke to Laura Whitely, Robin's mom, on the phone. She's in her 80s, still lives in Texas and is close with Robin. And she's been really frustrated by this whole situation.

L WHITELY: In the first place, it is so confusing, and they didn't know everything about the law. I have documentation showing that we have tried for years.

PERRY: Greg, the immigration lawyer, told me it's possible Robin's parents didn't get a Mexican birth certificate or the right orphan visa because his adoption was informal. Remember, it was basically a midwife getting in touch directly with Robin's parents. And because the parts of the government that oversee intercountry adoptions aren't always on the same page, it's easy for information to get lost or miscommunicated, and the blame for that often falls solely on people like Laura.

L WHITELY: I'm just really sick and tired of them pointing their fingers at me and saying, you didn't file the proper paperwork. Well, if I didn't file the proper paperwork, it's your fault 'cause you didn't tell me about the certificate of citizenship.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

R WHITELY: And in the end, the government will never say that they were wrong. And you're always wrong. The person - the other person is always wrong. And in this case, I can tell you 100%, every interaction I've had with Border Patrol, they are like, dude, what are you doing here, like, meaning, why are you deported?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PERRY: Karen, I think it's pretty clear that Robin and other adoptees like him are in a pretty difficult situation. They're dealing with the consequences of immigration policy that they had nothing to do with and no control over. And a lot of people, both in the government and in the public, are really sympathetic to their situation. But it got me thinking a lot about another group of people who are dealing with really similar circumstances but doesn't always get the same sort of bipartisan sympathy that these adoptees are getting.

GRIGSBY BATES: I have a feeling I know who you're talking about - Dreamers?

PERRY: Yep.

GRIGSBY BATES: We've talked about them before on this show, right? They're young people who crossed the borders illegally with their parents, and they've been raised in the U.S. DACA is the program that has protected some 800,000 of them from deportation. However, there's no legal pathway for U.S. citizenship for them, so they remain vulnerable forever.

PERRY: Yeah. And even as a DACA recipient, you can get deported. And even when it comes to DACA, there's still some of the same age eligibility issues that happened with the adoption legislation. So people who are 31 years or older on June 15, 2012, aren't eligible for DACA, which again is kind of an arbitrary age limit.

GRIGSBY BATES: So Alyssa, why do you think that there seems to be more support and sympathy for these adoptees than there is in Congress and public for other people who are brought to the U.S. as children?

PERRY: So I reached out to Jennifer Chacon. She's a law professor at UC Berkeley, and she teaches immigration law. She has a couple of ideas why.

JENNIFER CHACON: So there's a sense in which relief for DACA recipients is seen as rewarding parents who violated immigration law. And this trope, I think, is part of why legislators are able to distinguish in their mind these two groups that I think are actually very similar. There's also obviously differences in terms of the political power and the racial makeups of who would be rewarded by one program versus another.

PERRY: DACA recipients and their families are most likely coming from places like Mexico and Central America, whereas adoptees, no matter what their country of origin or race, are usually placed with white families. I saw a stat from a study, Karen, that 92% of international adoptions were by white parents. I mean, I'm part of that stat.

GRIGSBY BATES: So, Alyssa, essentially what Jennifer is saying is awarding citizenship to these two groups really depends on your family and who your parents are and that there's a lot more sympathy given to adoptive families versus immigrant families without documentation.

PERRY: Exactly. I want to touch on that word, sympathy, again. People tend to be way more sympathetic to children than adults. It's part of why the conversation around DACA recipients often focuses on this high-achieving, high school valedictorian types that we see in the news every year. And when it comes to adoptees, adoptees are often described as perpetual children.

GRIGSBY BATES: Children who have been, I'm using the air quotes here, "saved" by their adoptive parents.

PERRY: I could go on about that. But, you know, I'm going to save those stories for my therapy sessions. You know, and that's something that's troubled Greg Luce for years, you know - remember, he's also an adoptee...

GRIGSBY BATES: Right.

PERRY: ...Because it has real policy implications.

LUCE: I think that part of the problem is that people - and any adoptee knows this - you are forever sort of analyzed as a child and not fully recognized as an adult. And I think that's one of the bigger problems that we're seeing with this bill as well.

PERRY: Greg says the Adoptee Citizenship Act might not be included in the final version of the COMPETES Act for that very reason. It focuses on adults, not children.

LUCE: And, in many respects, we don't care about adopted people once they're not children.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PERRY: Remember, Karen, Robin Whitely is no longer a child. He's almost 50, in fact. And he's someone that might be easy to dismiss or portray as unsympathetic. He was born in Mexico, and, as we all know, a few officials in the last presidential administration have said vile and racist things about Mexican immigrants. And...

GRIGSBY BATES: A few.

PERRY: Ugh, yeah. And Robin committed a crime. But he told me...

R WHITELY: Do I think I need to be paying for the rest of my life for what I did one time? No. Does other people have to pay for the rest of their life for what they've done once? No.

GRIGSBY BATES: You mentioned earlier in the episode that Congress might come to an agreement on the entire COMPETES Act as early as this month. But it's up in the air as to whether the Adoptee Citizenship Act will be in the final version. How's Robin feeling about that?

(SOUND OF PHONE RINGING)

PERRY: Well, I called him up recently.

R WHITELY: Good morning.

PERRY: Yeah. What's been happening?

He told me that he was waiting for his wife and daughter to cross over to Mexico so they can start summer vacation together.

R WHITELY: You know, it's not easy to be separated every day for five days, sometimes two weeks, sometimes three weeks without seeing each other. My wife has to be a mom and a dad over there - something like if she's single, you know, like, if she's a single mother trying to take care of her - our daughter. Then, you know...

PERRY: That was a few weeks ago when we talked on the phone. They're now with him for vacation. But Robin knows that's only temporary, which is part of why the Adoptee Citizenship Act is on the forefront of his mind.

R WHITELY: I just hope that Congress will finally act and do the right thing, you know, and give us relief. Let us go back to our families. Let us go back to the country that we grew up in. So we're all waiting and praying and hoping and, you know, just wanting to be together. That's all we want to be is together.

PERRY: Robin says he's prepared if the immigration portion gets cut from the bill. He says he and his wife might look at living in other countries where they can all live together legally. But that still wouldn't be the home he knows.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

R WHITELY: My mom's final wish on this earth is to see me walk across that border without being in chains. I grew up as an American. I am an American. I love the United States. Even though it doesn't love me, I still love the United States.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PERRY: And that's our show. We want to hear from you. You can follow us on Instagram and Twitter. We're @NPRCodeSwitch. I'm @alyssajperry. And Karen is @karenbates. Email us at codeswitch@npr.org, and subscribe to our newsletter by going to newsletters.npr.org.

GRIGSBY BATES: This episode was recorded and produced by Alyssa Jeong Perry, with help from Diba Mohtasham, and edited by Leah Donnella. And shout out to the rest of the CODE SWITCH fam - Kumari Devarajan, Jess Kung, Christina Cala, Summer Thomad, Taylor Jennings-Brown, Gene Demby and Steve Drummond. I'm Karen Grigsby Bates.

PERRY: And I am Alyssa Jeong Perry. Bye.

GRIGSBY BATES: See you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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