Adoptee Denied Passport Because Of Amended Birth Certificate

This article from the Chicago Tribune illustrates something I’ve written about before: the increasing problems adoptees are increasingly having trying to get legal documents like passports due to their amended birth certificates.

Gabriele VanderWoude was still in diapers when she arrived in the United States, 53 years ago. In 1956, she was issued an Illinois birth certificate after she was adopted by American parents. She later obtained a Social Security number and a voter registration card. She said she has been voting since she turned 18.

Shortly after she applied for the passport, the State Department asked her for more information. She sent copies of her adoption papers, but months later the government asked for more documents. In April, VanderWoude sent a copy of the card showing her entry into the United States.

Thursday afternoon, an official with the passport office in Charleston called VanderWoude with unbelievable news: It could not issue her a passport because she is not a U.S. citizen.

VanderWoude, 55, said she and her mother have always believed she became naturalized when she was adopted 53 years ago.

Sounds to me like this woman was issued an amended (read: legally falsified) Illinois birth certificate upon her adoption. Like many adoptees I, too, have one of these legal fakeries, with no way to obtain the real one. When adoptees are adopted (NOT when we are relinquished) our original birth certificates are sealed and the fake issued in its place. When we request our birth certificates, the fake is the only one we can get. Clearly this document, which we have been assured is “just as good as” the original, is far from it.

We’ve already seen how some adoptees have been unable to use their amended birth certificates to obtain driver’s licenses. This shows how adoptees can also be barred from obtaining passports. Yet the adoption industry continues to claim that it is necessary to seal adoption records, and to put ineffective and expensive mechanisms in place of unfettered access to original birth certificates. Will this woman be forced through the ignominy of the Illinois Adoption Registry or Confidential Intermediary program, in a vain attempt to obtain her original birth certificate? I went that route, and not only did not obtain my original BC but in fact was barred from it forever, or at least until the law changes. Quite frankly I am afraid to try to get a passport or travel outside the country even though I was born here. Ms. VanderWoude and I are both nonpeople solely because we are adopted.

The article continues:

VanderWoude said she still does not understand how she has been able to vote, why she was issued an Illinois birth certificate, or how her residency status was never discovered before.

I know why she received that fake BC: because nobody cares what goes on amended birth certificates. They don’t care how adoptees may be affected by this legal fakery as their lives unfold. It is a means to render the adoption process as opaque as possible, to the sole benefit of adoption agencies and practitioners. Adult adoptees are caught unawares, just trying to go about our lives like everyone else. In short, we are rendered a subclass of society because our original birth certificates are unavailable to us.

Unfortunately I don’t think this woman will have much success. Because she was born overseas, she may have to undergo the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. This is not an isolated problem. Whether born in the U.S. or abroad, adoptees whose records are sealed are at risk. Only when ALL adult adoptees have unrestricted access to our original birth certificates, the only document that counts for anything, will we be equal to our non-adopted peers.


  1. Triona,

    Thank you again for being on top on very important adoption issues.

    Adoptees in this country, IMO, are truly a major advocacy group to speak out against these obvious discriminations. I lament that neither the AAC nor even – very sadly – BN is doing enough. Local state groups are working in each state to emend laws but I have long wished for a unified national org to bring more attention to issues that effect all adoptees and stir public opinion and legislation. Ethica is turning out to be the most active in this arena as per:

    I cannot help but look at the grassroots efforts by gays to obtain equality in marriage and how huge and effective it is compared to adoptees seeking their equal rights. Until adoptees stop being AFRAID to bit the hand that feeds them and stand up proud for themselves, they will continue to be treated like second class citizens or indentured – bought and owned – human beings!

    Mirah Riben

  2. Let me agree with Mirah…when I was lobbying in Albany the last time, one of the adoptees with my group said her brother had the same problem…that he was unable to get a passport. You would think that the government would get their act together on his issue, but so far, nothing has been done.
    lorraine from

  3. Thank you so much for posting this. I’ve heard from two separate Twitterers in Canada that they have the same issue there, and there’s an adoptee on Facebook from Canada who reported she ran into passport troubles as well.

  4. I’m not sure why adoptees aren’t more organized in fighting for their rights, even though the adoption rights movement has existed for decades. Perhaps we are still suffering from the effects of being bastardized by the media and society. I mean, in the 1940s there were very few blacks standing up for their civil rights, it was too dangerous. I know the Green Ribbon Campaign ( is one national group trying to make a difference, and there are others, but it’s an uphill battle. Many adoptees feel too ashamed or are afraid to harm their adoptive families even by searching, much less protesting at being denied their civil rights. I think a lot of adoptees don’t realize their civil rights have been denied. They may not understand the implications of the amended birth certificate unless they happen to run into problems. I certainly didn’t until I wanted to know what was behind the amended certificate. The media is also partially culpable by continuing to publish articles about adoption that completely ignore the adult adoptee and/or birth mother POV. We are still having words put into our mouths by oft-quoted “professionals” who have no direct personal experience with adoption.

    I think these sorts of irregularities with passports, driver’s licenses and the like happen far more than is generally known. I hope anyone with that experience will post a comment and let us know about it. The greater restrictions post-9/11 may have an impact. I was able to get a passport years ago but I don’t know if I’d be able to renew it now.

  5. The biggest problem in organizing a movement is the hard-wired belief that anything is better than nothing. Virtually every effort that is made to restore access is stifled by compromise: California, New Jersey, Minnesota, Connecticut, Missouri are a few of the states. And states where compromisers earlier enacted vetos are dead in the water. Adoptees there wil enver get their rights back.

    It doesn’t help that deformers claim that Tennessee and Delaware have restored rights when they have not.

    The other problem is that the vast number of adoptees want their records but refuse to acknowledge that sealed records as systemic rot. They repeatedly blather on about how wonderful adoption has been “for me.” They do not identify records access as class struggle. Most adopted-as-infants adoptees were brought up privileged, and refuse to identify themselves as a class. The all-about-me crowed don’t want to be class identified like blacks, farm workers, and queers. And if they do get their information (not particularly records) they drop out.

    It would really be nice if BN and compromisers didn’t have to spend all it’s time killing bad legislation. I would really be nice if the compromisers would just retire to the country. But that won’t happen because anything is better than nothing to these class traitors.

  6. Gabriele VanderWoude will be lucky if this is the only crap that will thrown at her. If she has had even the slightest adversarial relationship with the law, she will be subject to deportation. In act, adoptee deportations started over 10 yeas ago.

    There was a case in n Michigan where a woman who had gotten into a hair pulling fight with another girl when she was in high school got a deportation notice nailed on her over 20 years later when it was learned her adoption wasn’t “finalized.” An adoptee here in Ohio was deported to Brazil after he was convicted of a minor possession charge for which he got community service He was murdered there.

    Other people in similar circumstancdes as Gabriele may find themsleves in ICE detention camps if they apply for a student loan or a federal entitlement.

    The government has been real big on blamng aparents for this, but the real problem has been adoption agencies not telling or not following through on paperwork and INS screw-ups. New adoptees don’t have to deal with this, but the feds ahe refused to grandfathre in older adoptees.

    Gabriele needs to get a lawyer fast

  7. BD–I am right with you on compromise legislation. My own original BC is impounded thanks to Illinois’ compromise legislation. Even if the laws are changed, they may not be retroactive and my rights may forever be denied. Better no legislation, paving the way for future clean bills, than legislation that does what Tenneesee’s did to Donna (in my previous post).

    I think the mentality of “adoption has been great for me” is a knee-jerk reaction of pulling the wool over one’s own eyes. We as adoptees are so conditioned that we should be “grateful” to be adopted that very few want to rock that boat. You can love your adoptive family and still be angry about being legally treated as a second-class citizen. The threat of deportation is also a real and immediate problem.

  8. Oops, I didn’t proof, I meant BN and other non-compromisers. And, of course, compromisers are always at the fore in offering friendly compromises when non-comnpro is out there.

  9. http://Anonymous says

    You need to sue the government for taking your “liberty” away under the US Constitution.

    Suing and votes – that is the *only* way to get what you want.

    That is the *only* thing that governments understand.

    When something hurts their pocket book or power, they listen then.

    When are adoptees going to stand up together and *sue* the government for taking their liberty away? (which is what the refusal of a passport amounts to – as well as being denied a driver’s licence, etc.)

  10. http://Anonymous says

    Of course there must be open records, otherwise it’s one rule for some and on rule for others.

  11. I’ve just been denied a passport based on the insufficient proof of citizenship provided on my court-order delayed birth certificate, even though the court case ID is listed on my BC. My mother, who was single at the time of my birth, found a loving husband who felt the best thing for me was to adopt me as his own, and I’ve only known him as my father. But because the adoption didn’t go through until 2 1/2 years after my birth, I am in a legal limbo with respect to my citizenship, and my aspirations for world travel are hung in the balance. Fortunately, my mother has the court documents. I can only hope that this is enough evidence to establish my personhood.