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AIN'T THIS SOME SHYT-----FBI investigates Sacramento nonprofit involved in adult adoptions


Americans Helping America agency aids in adult adoptions

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KCRA) —Adult immigrants in Northern California are being adopted by American families with the promise of gaining U.S. citizenship, KCRA Investigates has learned.

The concept of adult adoption leading to citizenship has spread through word of mouth and at churches within Northern California's Latino and Hispanic communities. But a KCRA 3 Investigation reveals, while adult adoption is legal, it has no effect on citizenship status.

"He told me about this program, you know, to be adopted," said Marvin DeLeon, a Guatemalan immigrant. 

DeLeon is one of an untold number of people who thought they found a path to U.S. citizenship.

According to videos on its website, Americans Helping America offers programs to help immigrants become citizens and start businesses. A center piece of its work is adult adoption.

"We have promoted that adult adoption is a family foundation," said founder and chairman of the agency, Dr. Helaman Hansen. "We develop the person to become successful."

But immigration lawyers tell KCRA 3 Investigates something different.

"It's a total scam," said attorney Joseph LaCome.

According to LaCome, AHA promises that adult adoption grants a person U.S. citizenship, which it doesn't. LaCome working with a civil lawyer, filed a class action lawsuit against AHA accusing them of fraud.

"If it was that easy, I would have adopted Mexico by now," LaCome said.

The attorney represents dozens of immigrants, who said they paid AHA $5,000 to $10,000 to be adopted.

One undocumented immigrant, who asked not to be identified, said he was promised citizenship in "a year or in less." He admitted to being skeptical until a judge approved his adoption in court.

"If you see the judge signing off on your papers, what do you think?" he asked.

Adult adoption is a legal process. It's often used for estate planning, to formalize parent child relationships, and to care for a disabled adult. LaCome said it has no bearing on immigration status.

"They put all of this money up, and it doesn't help them at all," he said.

One man asked to be identified only as Luis. He's adopted six people from his church and currently has other adoptions pending.

"We have been praying for papers for people for many years, and when I saw this, I thought this is a miracle," he said.

Now, he's worried he may have done more harm than good.

Immigration attorney Ann Block said adoption can change the citizenship status of children 16 and younger. For adults, it's much more complicated and may actually hurt their chances of ever gaining legal status. If a person misrepresents himself as a citizen, "that's a ground of deportability," Block said.

KCRA 3 Investigates spoke with a half dozen people from Northern California, who said they paid AHA. Some were adopted, while others didn't get that far. None of them are U.S. citizens at this time.

Still, Hansen defends his program as being about more than citizenship.

"We're the only agents in the United States of America that are doing something like this, because everybody wants to make money. We want to change lives." he said.

According to Hansen, his method saves immigrants money on costly attorney bills. He believes thousands of people have become citizens through adult adoption, and they are improving their lives in the process.

Americans Helping America has also gotten the attention of federal investigators.

KCRA 3 Investigates was at Hansen's office Tuesday when a dozen FBI and immigration agents served a search warrant. They were seen loading a van with about 15 computers and boxes of other items.

Hansen said he was happy the investigators came. He blames the federal investigation on a former employee, who inappropriately handled adoptions for Mexican immigrants.

No criminal charges have been filed against Hansen or the business.

By law, all adoption records are sealed. So, it's unclear how many adoptions the Americans Helping America agency has done. The family court in Sacramento County, however, did confirm a noticeable increase in the number of adult adoption cases in recent years.

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