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WASHINGTON — Air Force officers Mark and Greta Toth thought they had completed all the proper paperwork when they adopted their daughter, Katie, on Okinawa, in 1984.

It wasn’t until 15 years later, when she applied for a passport after her 18th birthday, that they realized they had missed something very important.

“[State Department officials] told me she wasn’t a citizen,” said Toth, now a retired airman and Ohio resident. “They shot down her passport, even though she had lived here all her life. I had to hire a lawyer just to get her a green card, to start the process.

“[My attorneys] told me if she had ever left the country, well, I don’t know what could have happened.”

Now the Toths have asked their congressman to make sure other families don’t face the same problems.

Last week, Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, introduced legislation allowing parents of children adopted outside the United States to petition the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for special consideration of their case.

Strickland said the goal is to make the process easier for adoptive families, especially military personnel stationed overseas.

“It seems like this was a real glitch,” he said. “I don’t think anyone would feel circumstances like that would be fair for a family.”

Jane Cramer, assistant director for Pearl Buck International House’s adoption services, said she has dealt with several cases similar to the Toths’.

Families who adopted before 2000 were required to file USCIS forms at specific events, such as when the child first entered the U.S., and children of parents confused by the requirements sometimes ended up with citizenship problems.

Since 2000, all children adopted by American parents have been granted instant citizenship, but Cramer said many families still encounter problems with getting the right paperwork and recognition.

Under Strickland’s legislation, adoptive families can ask for the USCIS to waive the standard paperwork and time-frame guidelines for naturalization and allow officials to complete an expedited case.

The legislation also will provide an easier appeals route for families like the Toths who discover problems with the process after-the-fact.

Officials from Strickland’s office said the flexibility could be especially helpful for families of those deployed overseas, allowing the USCIS to grant citizenship quickly instead of waiting for the family to be reassigned to the U.S. to finalize the process.

Toth said he hopes the bill passes quickly, since his daughter still has several years to wait before becoming a full U.S. citizen.

She’s attending John Carroll University in Ohio, studying political science.

No hearings have been scheduled for the legislation.

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