Adoption is a popular way to expand a family, but did you know that adults can also be adopted? Adult adoption is the legal process of adopting a person who is over the age of 18 years old and results in the legal parent-child relationship. In the United States, the most common reason to adopt an adult is for inheritance purposes. It is easier to leave property or other financial assets to someone who is legally related to you as opposed to someone who is not.
But one con man used the adult adoption process to defraud unsuspecting immigrants. Sixty-three year old Helaman Hansen from Elk Grove, California was arrested and indicted earlier this year for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, 11 counts of mail fraud, and one count of wire fraud for operating a fraudulent adult-adoption program targeting undocumented aliens. Undocumented immigrants are foreign-born people who don’t have a legal right to be or remain in the United States.
Between October 2012 and January 2016, Hansen and his co-conspirators sold immigrants what he called a “Migration Program.” The program promised immigrants the opportunity to achieve U.S. citizenship by being legally adopted by a U.S. citizen. They got approximately 500 victims to pay more than $500,000 to join the program, and none of his victims obtained U.S. citizenship. If convicted, Hansen faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
How Do Adult Adoptions Work?
First, it is important to note that most states allow adult adoptions, although some have limitations or simply do not permit such adoptions. For example, Alabama only allows adults over the age of 18 to be adopted if they are permanently disabled or mentally retarded. In Arizona, you have to be under the age of 21 to be adopted. Michigan and Nebraska don’t allow adult adoptions.
Each state has its own legal process for adopting an adult, but generally, adoption is the same legal process whether the individual is a child or an adult. The court in the state of adoption will issue a new birth certificate for the adopted person. At the same time, any existing legal relationship the adopted individual has with biological or custodial parents is severed. The adopted adult has the option of changing his or her last name and the adoption records are typically sealed.
How Does One Immigrate to the U.S.?
It’s not easy to immigrate to the United States. However, there easier ways of legally immigrating to the United States:
One can immigrate to the U.S. and secure a job in the country in order to obtain a green card. This option is typically utilized by skilled professionals. Second, "green card marriages” allow couples to get married so the non-citizen spouse can obtain a green card. The green card lottery is the third most common way to immigrate. With the lottery, a person can get an immigrant visa to come to the U.S.
One can also immigrate to the U.S. through family based immigration, if:
- You are a U.S. citizen’s spouse, parent, or child;
- You are a U.S. citizen’s unmarried child above the age of 21, married child or a sibling; or
- You are the spouse or minor child of a Green Card holder.
Why Can’t an Undocumented Immigrant Obtain U.S. Citizenship?
The law is cut and dry on the requirements for immigration. Under the law, an adoption must be finalized before the child turns 16 years old. Further, in order to adopt an undocumented immigrant, the child would have had to have lived with you in your legal custody for two years before filing the visa petition.
Based on what we know about the Hansen case, Hansen promised undocumented immigrants the ability to become U.S. citizens. His victims were too old and did not live in the custody of the adoptive parents for two years before filing the visa petition. Hansen also had no intention of making good on his promise to help his victims attain U.S. citizenship.
Authored by Erin Chan-Adams, Legal Match Legal Writer and Attorney at Law