Mike – a deported adoptee and father in Ethiopia

My name is Abebe Hailu Davis (Mike Davis). I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on November 28, 1962.

When I was four months old my parents divorced, and I was placed in the care of my grandmother. She was elderly, could not work, and it became too difficult for my grandmother to care for me. I took a job as a tennis ball boy at the America Community School (now called the International Community School). There, I befriended an American lady and her son, who was around my age. One day, she offered to drive me home to my grandmother’s and was saddened by seeing where I lived with my grandmother. She knew of another man who would be stationed in Addis Ababa soon who was interested in adopting a child.

That man became my father, Master Sergeant Oliver S.J. Davis of the United States Army. My dad met with my grandmother and asked if he could raise me and send me to school. We liked each other so much, and my grandmother agreed to his offer. My birth parents, who were divorced, signed the adoption papers for the Ethiopian government. My adoption was official, and I was enrolled at the same school where I was working as a tennis ball boy. My dad, who was unmarried, and I stayed in Addis Ababa for several more years, until he was scheduled to return to the USA.

My father filed an I-600, a petition to the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) – the U.S. Immigration agency at the time – classifying me as an orphan and as an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, so I could enter the United States. The I-600 was approved in August of 1976, and afterwards, I was given a military dependent ID card, a social security card, and all the privileges and responsibilities of a non-adopted U.S. Army dependent.

In October 1976, I entered the U.S. as a legal permanent resident and lived on the U.S. Army Base in Fort Lee, Virginia. I grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school, with my hand over my heart. At the age of 16, I registered for the draft. In 1978, my father and I were transferred to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia. There, my father, who was wounded in Vietnam, retired and bought a home. I wanted to stay close by because he was my dad and his health was impacted from his military service. I started working from the age of 16 at a Domino’s Pizza, where I eventually moved into management. I graduated from high school, and since I liked business, I got some small loans and opened several small businesses, like my own pizza shop, a full-service gas station, and a convenience store. I met my wife, Laura, at my gas station. She would come there to get gas, and we would talk, and we eventually fell in love. Laura is white, and her father disowned her when she became pregnant. We moved in together, got married, and eventually had two sons together, in addition to my two sons from a previous relationship. We had a house, a family, and she was going to school. I was living the American Dream. Everything was perfect.

Mike with his wife, Laura, and their son.

In April 1991 and March 1993, I pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of marijuana, cocaine, and possession of a firearm. My sentence was 120 days of boot camp and 3 years of probation. At the time, there was no discussion of immigration consequences or deportation. 

Between 1993 and 1995, I lost my Green Card, so I went to the INS office to apply for citizenship. The officer looked at my adoption file and told me


 “You are adopted. You are an American Citizen”. Since my father was a military veteran and I entered the country with him, I believed them. While on probation in 1995, I was advised by my probation officer to visit the Immigration Office in Atlanta, Georgia. The immigration officer was unable to find my immigration file, and I was sent home. Later, in November, I was issued an Order to Show Cause (OCT), where I appeared in immigration court. There, I was given an additional charge of deportability as an aggravated felon and was advised to hire an attorney. 

I had trouble finding an attorney because of my finances. After informing the immigration court of this problem, my court date was once again rescheduled for April 21, 1997. On this date, my attorney, who did not specialize in immigration issues, claimed I was a US citizen through adoption. Immigration Judge Cassidy ordered me to show proof of US citizenship at a hearing date on August 26, 1997.

On August 26, 1997, I was on my way to attend my court hearing, over 150 miles away from my home. My car broke down. I called the court to explain, and I was advised that only the attorney needed to show. I called my attorney to explain. However, my attorney failed to show at court. The judge ordered me to be deported in absentia (in absence).

In July 2003, I was taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I hired another attorney to represent me. In October 2003, the new attorney filed a motion to reopen the absentee deportation case, but the motion was filed incorrectly. Because my attorney failed to mention my claim to derivative citizenship – the main purpose of reopening the case, my case was denied in March 2004. My attorney did not appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).

Several other legal avenues were attempted to formalize me as a citizen. My wife, Laura, filed an I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative), which was approved. The immigration judge even suggested the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office of District Counsel in Atlanta, Georgia join my motion to reopen my case to further my filing of the N-600 (Application for Certificate of Citizenship). None of these actions were successful.

On June 22, 2005, I was deported to Ethiopia. I arrived on a Saturday morning. Earlier, I had begged the officers to let my wife send me some clothing and luggage, since Augusta is close to Atlanta. They refused. I had $285 in my inmate account, and I asked them if I could cash this check. They lied, telling me I would have the option to get the money later. When I arrived in Ethiopia, I had no money, nowhere to go, no family or friends to contact, and no clothes or luggage.

One of the ICE officers gave me $20 for a taxi to the American Embassy. When I got there, the embassy was closed, but I had one of the guards call an employee, who said we could talk on the following Monday. The taxi driver was very kind, and he paid for me to stay in a hotel so that I could call Laura, my wife, who wired me money through Western Union.

I was deported to a country that I have lost all ties with due to my adoption. I had never been back to Ethiopia until my deportation. I barely speak the language, I didn’t have the currency, and I never gained employment to assist my family financially. But, I knew I had a good case: my attorneys were terrible, it was an absentia order of deportation from the judge. I was going to survive, and I was going to come home.

Because of my deportation, my wife was left in charge of our family’s pizza shop, her full time job, and our four boys. Laura tried to keep our family afloat by running the family pizza shop and working full time at BellSouth, a telecommunications company based in Atlanta, Georgia. While balancing these jobs, she was also the sole caretaker of our four children. In 2004, we lost our pizza shop. Later, she was fired for failing to reach sales objectives from BellSouth where she had worked for five years. This loss of income also included the loss of our family’s health care benefits. Laura struggled to find a new job, and it was difficult for her to provide enough food for the family. During this time, my boys – who were 8 and 12 when I was deported – also struggled, and their grades dropped because of my absence. In 2005, Laura turned the title of our home over to a real estate company, who assumed our loan. This real estate company purchased our car for $600 and bought round trip airline tickets for Laura and our four children to go to Ethiopia.

Laura and the children moved to Ethiopia. As a white woman, it was hard for her because she stood out. Within two months, it became impossible for Laura and my son: unfamiliar culture, language, territory and economic hardship. We continued to struggle to provide necessities, so in February 2006, Laura went to the US Embassy in Addis Ababa. There, she sought assistance in returning to the United States. Sending my wife and sons back to the United States was the hardest decision I have ever made. The US Embassy moved up the family’s departure date and gave $200 for hotel lodging for the layover in NY. The

Mike and his sons

Embassy officers even escorted her and my sons to the airport, but they would only speak to them, as if I wasn’t there.

I have not seen my wife and children since. I have a granddaughter I have never met. My son’s lives were altered because of all we have had to go through for one piece of paperwork. Because of the internet, my family and I talk a lot more frequently now, so for that we are thankful.

My family and I believed my order of deportation in absentia proceeding was a miscarriage of justice because I was denied an opportunity to be heard. I’m a victim of ineffective counsel and circumstances beyond my control. Even though my father and I followed all the proper procedures of 1976, I remain in Ethiopia today without US citizenship. I have lived here since without any family and friends.

Even today, the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, guarantees this right to new adoptive children. Why was I excluded from that? Why did lawmakers specifically state that citizenship is not retroactively given to children of naturalized citizens? It’s common sense: once you are adopted by a US citizen and brought into the USA, you deserve citizenship, just like any biological child. There should be no difference. That’s what is fair. I should have never been separated from my family; I never thought this would happen to me. It is inhumane, and it’s a nightmare that never ends. I’m now about 57, so I can’t get a job. I have done everything humanly possible to receive US citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act means everything to me. I want to see my family and my granddaughter and my friends. I want to come home. I want to survive long enough for this bill to pass and to make it home. Life is hard in a strange land when all you can think of is your family at home without you.

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