Kairi Sheperd: How An Adopted Indian Girl Is Now A Global Orphan

Kairi’s story forces us to look at the fate of children who are adopted from India by people in other countries.  Kairi who was adopted as a baby, and is now 30,  is virtually stateless because her adopted mother in the United States failed to do the paperwork for her citizenship before she died.

Kairi  was an orphaned baby who was adopted from India by an American woman, Erlene Shepherd.  Erelen took Kairi with her back to the United States when Kairi was just 3-months-old.

Erlene died of cancer when Kairi was 8-years-old.   Erlene’s death left Kairi in the lurch because now not only was she orphaned for the second time, but suddenly she also had no citizenship.  How did that happen? To claim Kairi’s U.S. citizenship, Erlene had to file papers with the US government re-adopting the child before she turned 21.  However, Erlene died without doing so, leaving Kairi orphaned and stateless.

Kairi fell through the cracks of the system again as happens so often with abandoned children.  And she developed a drug addiction.  Later, Kairi was arrested and convicted of felony check forgery – a crime she committed to feed her drug habit.  This is one the factors that prompted deportation proceedings against Kairi. She is being deported as a “criminal alien.”

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the deportation proceedings were in line with immigration enforcement priorities.  Their spokesperson Virginia Kice said, “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 identification and deportation of aliens with felony criminal convictions.”

At the age of  30, Kairi  now is staring at the prospect of being deported from the United States to India, a country she left when she was 3 months old and has never been to since.

Kairi says being sent back to India would end her life as she knows it.  Kairi who suffers from multiple sclerosis says, “The deportation order which may force me to part from my physicians, family, and friends here, could be a death sentence to me.”

There are at least 40 cases of adults adopted as children in a foreign country who  have been deported to their countries of origin.

In 2008, Jennifer Haynes was deported from the US to India in a similar manner. Adopted by an American couple, she was sexually abused by her foster father, and spent years being shipped from one foster parent to another. Charged in a case of drug possession, she was sent back to India at the age of 32.  Her children- eight and nine years old- are growing up in the US without mother.

“I am away from them for more than four years now and I am not sure if I will ever see them again. What kind of law is this?” asks Haynes.

Kairi however cannot be deported if India does not issue travel documents to her and there is no sign that the Indian Embassy or consulates will do so.  Her family, adoptive sibling, friends, and lawyers working pro-bono on the case, are hoping the Indian government will simply ignore US efforts to persuade New Delhi to accept her.

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