Washington DC - Media outlets in India are abuzz with news of Melanie Kannokada, Miss India America 2007, arriving in Bollywood to play Seeta, an Indian girl adopted by American parents. In contrast, a real life drama is unfolding for another India-born girl, Kairi Abha Shepherd, adopted into an American family as an infant in 1982 and now facing likely deportation back to her country of origin after a recent court ruling that upheld the US federal government’s right to remove her from the country.
The story began on a happy note in 1982 when 3 month old Indian orphan Kairi arrived in the US and was adopted by a Utah woman. Her adoptive mother unfortunately died of cancer when she was only 8 years old and at age 17 (still a minor under US law), Shepherd was arrested and convicted of felony check forgery to support a drug habit. She subsequently served her sentence for the conviction.
Now at the age of 30, Kairi Abha faces deportation because Judge Scott Matheson, in a 23-page decision, said the court didn’t have jurisdiction to determine Shepherd’s legal status.
The case is clouded in a maze of technicalities, as the court found there was a failure to file a second appeal through the Board of Immigration Appeals as well as Shepherd attempted to get her petition reviewed prematurely.
In a written statement to India America Today, Anjali Pawar, director of Sakhee (a Pune, India-based non-governmental organization working on child rights) said the Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA) in India informed her in an email from J. Pati, Joint Director, “With reference to your mail dated 11.05.2012 about the case of Kairi Shephard adopted in 1982. CARA has not processed the case. However your letter has been forwarded to US Embassy for more information.”
Pawar noted she had yet to receive a response to her letter about the case of Kairi Shephard sent to S. M. Krishna, the Indian Foreign Minister, which stated, “To deport an adoptee, who is further also suffering from multiple sclerosis, is a gross violation of existing adoption norms and undoubtedly a huge human rights violation.”
When asked if the Indian Foreign Ministry or the Indian Embassy in Washington had contacted the US, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, “I don’t have anything for you on that.”
The Indian Federal Ministry of Welfare in its guidelines for adoption posted on the Indian Embassy’s (Washington, DC) website (http://www.indianembassy.org/guidelines-for-adoption-of-indian-children.php) outline very specific procedures which must take place in order for an Indian child to be adopted abroad. Questions are being raised regarding whether the procedures are actually followed, as 30 year old Kairi Abha faces deportation to a country from which she was uprooted as a 3 month old baby.
Chapter 2 of the “Liaison with Indian Diplomatic Missions,” instructs:
“The Central Adoption Resource Agency shall maintain liaison with Indian diplomatic missions abroad in order to safeguard the interests of children of Indian origin adopted by foreign parents against neglect, maltreatment, exploitation or abuse and to maintain an unobtrusive watch over the welfare and progress of such children. For this purpose, the Central Adoption Resource Agency shall inform every Indian diplomatic missions concerned whenever an Indian child is taken in adoption or for the purpose of adoption, by foreign parents. The names, addresses and other particulars of such children and their adoptive/prospective adoptive parents shall be supplied to the Indian diplomatic missions as early as possible and in any case before the end of every quarter.”
The chapter states that "Periodical Progress reports of children from foreign adoptive parents as well as from recognized social or child welfare agencies in foreign countries" should be obtained, "to examine such reports and to take such follow-up action as deemed necessary.”
It is unknown whether Periodical Progress reports were obtained in Kairi Abha Shepherd’s case or if CARA followed up after the death of her adoptive mother.
Chapter 6, under “Rights of the Child Taken Abroad,” explicitly notes, “On adoption of the child by the foreign parent according to the law of his/her country, it is presumed that subject to the laws of the land the child would acquire the same status as a natural born child within wedlock with the same rights of inheritance and succession and the same nationality as the foreign parent adopting the child.”
Guidelines penned by a task force of members from voluntary placement agencies under the chairmanship of Justice P.N. Bhagwati (the former Chief Justice of India) declared: “Even after the adoption is legalized, the enlisted foreign agency should maintain contact with the adoptive family in keeping with the need of privacy of the adoptive family and provide support and counseling services, if necessary and safeguard the interest of the child till such time as he/she attains majority.”
It appears the repeatedly orphaned Shepherd was denied her specific “rights of the child taken abroad” from India and that there were widespread failures among the checks and balances designed to protect vulnerable minor children from India who have been adopted abroad.
“She doesn’t have any known family in India, has no contacts, has lost the ability to speak any Indian language and might just die due to her serious health ailment of multiple sclerosis, after being thrown on Indian roads,” declared Pawar, questioning, “Why after her adoption in the US, her citizenship status has not been adjusted?”
“As long children from India adopted by US parents are faced with the threat of deportation, adoptions from India to the US should be halted altogether,” demanded Pawar in her letter to Indian Foreign Minister Krishna.