A Kansas Army veteran who saw six tours of duty in a 27-year military career thought he had legally adopted his niece in 2014. Federal immigration authorities, however, claimed the adoption was invalid. Now, the veteran's years-long legal effort to secure citizenship for his adopted daughter is getting help from a national organization.
After his niece, Hyebin, was abandoned by her father in South Korea, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Schreiber of Lansing, Kansas, brought her to the United States in 2012, with plans to adopt her.
"Ultimately, this is a fight about keeping a family together that wants to stay together, and it's about ensuring the courts read a federal law, that looks to the states for key questions about family law, correctly," said Josh Geltzer, executive director of Georgetown Law's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and the family's new lead counsel.
Schreiber declined to speak to the media, but according to Geltzer, Hyebin was 15 when Schreiber brought her to the United States. Schreiber and his wife, Soo Jin Schreiber, had been advised by a Kansas adoption attorney that they had until she turned 18 to complete the adoption. Because Schreiber spent the next few years deployed in Afghanistan, he put off that process.
He was able to complete the adoption when Hyebin was 17.
In 2015, federal immigration authorities rejected her visa and citizenship applications. Schreiber sued, and in September of this year, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Geltzer, who filed a new brief in federal court this week, said there are two provisions of immigration law at issue.
One is a federal statute requiring foreign-born children to be adopted by the age of 16 to derive citizenship from their adopted parents. The other is a state provision that says if a child has been "legitimated," adoption can legally occur up until the child turns 18.
The government has taken the position that Schreiber was too late, Geltzer said. But he argues Kansas law allows for legitimation of the child to occur through adoption.
He said he and the government have a completely different understanding of the law.
"In this case, (the government) seems to go at odds with the federal law's push to keep families together. That struck us as quite dangerous and concerning positions for the government to take," Geltzer said.
Hyebin, now 21, is a student at the University of Kansas on an F-1 student visa, which has held her through the ups and downs of her adoptive parents' battle for her citizenship as their daughter.
Geltzer said he expects the government to file a brief, or ask for additional time, in the coming months.
"The stakes are high, and so our hope is we'll get that opportunity to articulate in an open court a bit more about the arguments," he said.
The final decision would then come down to a three-judge panel at the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.