Data Mining Adoptive Parents along with Suspected Terrorists

I’m a sucker for groups of adoptive kids. Like the time when a group of Michigan families with adopted Ethiopian kids had a rambunctious reunion at my favorite Ethiopian restaurant, with the owner catering to the kids like a grandparent. Or the time I shared a restaurant in Guangzhou with a bunch of French families who had just picked up their baby daughters; they somehow expected these girls who had lived in Chinese orphanages to immediately understand how to act like proper French kids.

There’s a lot that can be abusive in international adoptions, but when I see joyful gatherings like these, I’m awestruck by the faith such parents have in our common humanity.

Which is why I’ve been obsessing by one of the implications of this post. As I noted, DHS’s Inspector General helpfully explained that among all the other people in DHS’ IDENT database are the American citizens who had adopted internationally.

Individuals with fingerprints in IDENT include persons with an immigration history, such as aliens who have been removed but have reentered the country, immigration visa applicants, legal permanent residents, naturalized citizens, and some U.S. citizens.
IDENT includes two categories of U.S. citizens:

  • Citizens who have adopted a child from abroad (which involves U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), participated in a trusted traveler program, or may have been fingerprinted by immigration officials for smuggling aliens or drugs across U.S. borders;
  • Individuals who were not citizens at the time that their fingerprints were collected, but subsequently became citizens through naturalization, legal permanent residency, or immigration.[my emphasis]

Now, we can be pretty sure that when NCTC decided it needed to acquire US agency databases and data mine them with their existing terrorism databases, complete with the US person data they included, the IDENT database–the primary purpose of which is to track people who’ve come through the immigration system–was one of the first databases they went after.

Which is another way of saying the US persons in the IDENT database should assume they’ll also be in NCTC’s databases for five years. Including those parents who adopted children from China or Ethiopia or Guatemala or Romania.

“Well, if they’ve done nothing wrong they don’t have anything to be worried about.”

Perhaps. Except that the kind of people who adopt kids internationally may also tend to have reason for a significant number of international connections, whether because of religious faith, an effort to establish some tie to their child’s native country, or a comfort with international travel.

There are a lot of people whose biometric data shouldn’t be mined along with a bunch of terrorist suspects. At the top of that list, though, are families whose primary interaction with Bureau of Customs and Immigration Services entailed adopting a baby from another country.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

10 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The official view would, no doubt, be in order to keep tabs on Americans living abroad so that they can be “protected” in any country they might live in. After all, we, the taxpayer and American public, maintain active special forces teams in almost all of them.

    More credible reasons would include the government’s now routine dragnet approach to populating its databases. Another would be the mindset that views these children – who would ordinarily remain American citizens with an unrestricted right of re-entry – as having been too exposed to views outside the extraordinarily narrow range favored by government. Not a view held by most of us, but one favored by the Cheney-bureaucrat, who would fear them as inherently “unAmerican”, and, therefore, as potential threats, directly or by association. The success of Michelle Malkin and her ilk suggests that Mr. Cheney would not be alone in having such views.

  2. klynn says:

    Funny, I know a large group of military families that have done overseas adoptions from China and Russia.

    Hmmm. I bet this news will go over so well…

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @earlofhuntingdon: I was focusing on the adoption of Americans by non-Americans living abroad, but the associational “risks” posed by international family relations would be similar the other way round.

    Funny, after the First World War, dozens of groups such as AFS and other youth exchange programs sought to avoid another war by nourishing inter-family connections. The idea was to expose youths to different ways of life before they became too set in their own, the sort of thing that would allow people to relate to others as people and not as symbolic monsters beloved of public and private propaganda. I assume such groups now face extraordinarily intrusive demands for information that the government will use to help keep us safe.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @klynn: Do walk them through this. Obviously ALL this unrestrained data mining pisses me off. But this seems like such a bureaucratically avoidable one (and if they established a separate database for US persons, then there’d be much less chance of deporting American citizens as foreigners, too).

  5. posaune says:

    Good God! Mr. posaune and I must be in their files a hundred times over! We pursued an adoption in Poland from 2002-2007 (the era of Szymany). Many, many trips to Warsaw, Krakow, Gorlice, Debnica. And yes, we knew the guy at the US Embassy whose Polish was deplorable, while his Pashto and Urdu were impressively fluent.

  6. mzchief says:

    @klynn: … And many prominent, decent people who happen to be civil service at the Fed, state, county and city levels who have adopted children from outside the US. This looks like another politically-motivated victim targeting for legalized financial crimes no different than what I saw happening in the run up to the crime wave of the mortgage fraudclosure except then the data-mining was done illegally (e.g. stolen mortgage records ignored by the state’s AG and this).

  7. posaune says:

    Yep, actually we had to renew fingerprints 4 times under the I-600A applications. Funny, one set just “disappeared,” they said.

    Actually, the naturalization process (& the fingerprinting) varies according to whether the I-600 application is filed under IR-3 or whether it’s under IR-4. If the child is identified prior to travel, the IR-4 prevails, the US recognizes the adoption certificate issued by a foreign state, and the child is naturalized automatically when arriving on US soil. A certificate of citizenship is issued.

    Under the IR-3, the child is not identified prior to travel (i.e, Ukraine style, “traveling blind,” as it is known), the foreign adoption is not recognized formally by the US, the parent must apply for citizenship after arrival in the US, based on the placement papers & foreign adoption certificate, and complete the “re-adoption” process, prior to a certificate of citizenship is issued. There is a time limit for the IR-3 process (and it’s a mess if not achieved within the time frame.) We had to reapply under the IR-4 three times.

    After all that, our adoption failed — we spent three months with custody in Malopolskie, one of the children (the 12 yo) did NOT want to come to the US; his older sister desperately, desperately wanted to come – – the judge would not split the siblings and ordered them to remain in the orphanage.

    The story ending is that we do indeed have a son now-adopted domestically – the son who was meant to be ours.

  8. orionATL says:

    “my favorite Ethiopian ”

    we have loved this food for decades. where we live ethiopian refugees have been welcomed for years (presumably, by churches) and we have a bunch of restaurants to choose from,

    fusion food:

    try taking ingera and cutting or tearing it into, say, 1″x2″ pieces, first brushing it with a little oil, salt/garlic powder/onion powder/pepper powder, as suits your taste, and then putting the pieces on a baking sheet in the oven.

    makes a wonderful tasting, healthy(teff) cracker/chip.

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