Washington DC – The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Friday evening confirmed to India America Today that Kairi Abha Shepherd was “not in ICE custody at this time,” but clarified that “Shepherd has a final order of removal.” Virginia Kice, the Western Regional Communications Director/Spokesperson for ICE, replied to India America Today, “Before carrying out a deportation, ICE must first obtain a travel document to ensure the receiving country will admit the alien who is being returned. Once ICE obtains a travel document, the agency then proceeds to make transportation arrangements.”
“Completing the removal process can take varying amounts of time, depending on the country involved and the circumstances of the case,” said Kice.
On the same day, a spokesperson for the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC broke the silence saying, “The Embassy has seen reports concerning Kairi Shepherd, and has requested the US authorities for facts on this matter.”
Citing the humanitarian dimension of the case, “that cannot be ignored,” Virander Paul said in an email, “As reports indicate, Kairi Shepherd was brought to the United States after adoption, as a baby, and has known no other home.”
Without mentioning if the embassy had received a request from the US for travel documents for Shepherd, Paul said, “Her case deserves to be treated with the utmost sensitivity and compassion, keeping in mind the humanitarian dimension and tenets of universally accepted human rights.”
ICE gave India America Today a detailed account of the Shepherd case saying, “Shepherd was originally encountered by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers at the Salt Lake County Adult Detention Complex in October 2007, following her incarceration on unknown local charges. ERO officers processed Ms. Shepherd and placed her in immigration removal proceedings after determining she was potentially deportable based upon her criminal history.”
“An immigration judge with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) ordered Ms. Shepherd deported in February 2010, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals recently declined to take action that would have set aside that order,” ICE stated.
“Background checks indicate Ms. Shepherd’s criminal history includes two prior convictions in Utah in 2004 for attempted forgery and forgery, the latter of which constitutes an aggravated felony,” detailed the ICE statement about Shepherd’s criminal history.
“ICE has reviewed Ms. Shepherd’s case at length and believes seeking her removal is consistent with the agency’s immigration enforcement priorities, which include focusing on the identification and deportation of aliens with felony criminal convictions,” the ICE statement concluded.
A senior US State Department official on Thursday evening confirmed to India America Today that the Indian government was in touch with their US counterparts about the Shepherd case, with the official confirming, “We are in contact with India regarding this case.”
During the regular daily briefing at the US State Department, Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson, stated she was uncertain if any communication had taken place, telling journalists, “I don’t know whether we’ve been approached by the Indian side.”
Nuland, however, clarified, “One thing I did want to say about this case, further to what we have said before, is that prior to 2001, US immigration law did not provide for automatic acquisition of US citizenship for an adopted child. The adopting parents had to affirmatively apply or the child had to apply after 18.”
Nuland continued, “That has now changed. As of February 27th, 2001, the Child Citizenship Act provides that a foreign-born child of a US citizen, including an adopted child, acquires US citizenship automatically if, before reaching the age of 18, they are admitted as a lawful permanent resident of the United States and they are residing with and in the physical custody of that adopting parent.”
Answering a question from India America Today on the ongoing Shepherd case, Nuland said, “This case unfortunately arose before that stipulation, but it wouldn’t be the case were the child to have been adopted since February 27th, 2001.”
On Wednesday, India America Today received a statement from Kairi Abha Shepherd, an Indian-born American resident, adopted into an American family as an infant in 1982 and now facing likely deportation back to India after a recent court ruling upheld the US federal government’s right to remove her from the country. In her statement she denied she was in hiding or was trying to avoid the law and enforcement agencies of the US. She repeatedly thanked the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
The statement in full:
“My name is Kairi Shepherd and I am making this statement to say “Thank You” to all the wonderful people around the world who have taken my part and are attempting to block my deportation from the United States to India.
I especially want to thank the kind souls in India who are working tirelessly on my behalf and, in particular, the men and women in the Ministry of External Affairs who reportedly may deny the issuance of travel documents, thus preventing my forced departure from America. Their hearts must be filled with compassion and I truly appreciate their efforts as these efforts, quite literally, may save my life.
As many of you know by now, I was orphaned at birth in my birth country, India, and then, orphaned once again, when my adopting mother, after bringing me to America, died when I was very young. Since then, I have become ill with Multiple Sclerosis and have suffered from other debilitating diseases. The deportation order which may force me to part from my physicians, family, and friends here, could be a death sentence to me. But just when I felt most abandoned by the world and life, people from around the globe and all walks of life, have seen my plight and rallied to my defense. Again, I am so grateful.
There have been reports in the press that I am hiding from my government and the immigration enforcement authorities here. I wish to correct these reports. Yes. I am afraid of being deported. Who wouldn’t be in my condition? But I have never been in hiding or concealed my whereabouts. And I have no intention of absconding from the law. As evidence of this fact, I have paid publicly for the crimes which I have committed and which have resulted in the order of deportation. I have taken responsibility for my wrongs publicly, suffering the consequences. And I have directed my legal team (all of whom have volunteered pro bono to help me) to cooperate with the immigration enforcement authorities in order to process and resolve my status in a manner that is orderly and fair for all concerned.
I continue to pray that the spirit of human kindness, caring, and compassion, which has been shown to me thus far by all concerned and which we all have come to know and respect from the Ministry of External Affairs in India, will continue to shine forth in my situation. We are, after all, every one of us, pilgrims in this world. I feel this more deeply than ever before in my life. May God bless us all.”
On Monday evening (May 21) in an email reply to India America Today, Anand K. Jha, Consul, Consulate General of India, San Francisco said, “This Consulate’s attention has been drawn to the media reports regarding alleged deportation of Ms. Kairi Shepherd to India. India’s Ministry of External Affairs has also received a message from some concerned individuals which the Ministry has forwarded to us.”
“We are currently ascertaining the facts of the matter. The Consulate’s main priority is to ensure the welfare of Indian nationals. So far we have not been approached by any local government authorities regarding any deportation of Ms. Shepherd,” added Jha in his message.
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 shared with India America Today that she had also got a response from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs after sending a letter about the case of Kairi Shephard 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 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.
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.