Family attempts to legally adopt baby from Guatemala, years later US won't grant him legal citizenship

Joseph Strathmore by is licensed under Courtney Cesareo
Written by Courtney Cesareo


My name is Courtney, my husband is Bern and this is the love story of the adoption of our son, Joseph Strathmore, born Jose’ Mario.

Just a couple of weeks before Christmas of 2006, I received a call from the adoption agency to inform us that we were the legal parents of the son we were praying for. Later that night, we found out we were granted the VISA we needed to go to Guatemala and we scheduled our fight to get to our son on December 18, 2006. 

It seemed as though there were so many Christmas miracles working for us during this time. I had been told it was unlikely to get our VISA so close to the holiday, as Guatemala is a Catholic country and all the government offices shut down in observance. We also had a very sad event on this same day, my husband’s grandmother passed away. We have always felt that she pressed upon the powers that be to make this union happen and it was her gift to us. We will forever be grateful.

Once in Guatemala, having Joseph in my arms, at the age of four months and sixteen days, will always be the most incredible experience of my life. Bern and I were so incredibly happy and thrilled. He was such a wonderful baby, the foster mother was in tears, knowing her time with him was at an end. We were so appreciative of all the love she and her family gave him over the past four months. 

We brought Joseph, then Jose’, home to Ohio on December 22, which was my mother’s and two of my husband’s uncles' birthdays. We continue to celebrate this “Gotcha Day” every year doing fun family things together.

Shortly after the holidays that year, we got him a social security card that year and within approximately six months, we did the local adoption in Medina, Ohio, which was when his name was legally changed from Jose’ Mario Cesareo to Joseph Strathmore Cesareo.

We believed that we had done all the required paperwork needed, as well as going to court. We never imagined the nightmare we would face 17 years later.

When Joseph was about 14 months old, I had become very ill. I had had surgery and also had an undiagnosed heart murmur. I was not given the needed antibiotics that would have kept the infection that went to my heart. This slowly began to affect me in so many ways. 

I was experiencing constant headaches, memory problems, general confusion, weight loss, and constant pounding in my ears of my heartbeat. I went to doctors repeatedly and was made to feel that I was a hypochondriac. Finally, when I went to my primary care doctor and explained that I had a fever for over the past six months, she realized that something might actually be wrong. 

I had a blood culture test done and was told there was an infection. Once the results came back, I was hospitalized immediately. After several more blood tests and a resulting camera scan down my esophagus, I was told my aortic valve was compromised. I had an infected vegetation that was keeping it from closing when it should, to oxygenate my blood. This results in aortic Insufficiency. 

I was given six weeks of at-home IV antibiotics, along with a nurse who would come to our home regularly to check my port for the IV. At the end of the six weeks of medicinal therapy, I was feeling slightly better, but it did little to help the situation. I was told that I needed open-heart surgery to either repair or replace my aortic valve. This was a difficult time for our entire family entire family. I had many months of rehabilitation and doctor appointments. I have recovered well, but need to meet with my cardiologist regularly. 

This past summer, 2023, we were planning a family trip out of the country. My husband and I needed to renew our passports and I needed to get one for Joseph. He hadn’t had one since we brought him home in 2006. It was at this time that I realized I also had to have his name changed on his Social Security card, from Jose’ Mario Cesareo to his current, legal name of Joseph Strathmore Cesareo. 

I met with someone at the Social Security Office to get this done. I was then told I had no proof of his citizenship. I presented all of the adoption paperwork and his Social Security number. Other documentation I presented was a notarized copy of his local adoption that legally changed his name and a notarized copy of his school identification, which shows Joseph being a student in the same school system since kindergarten.

I went back almost every day for two weeks with more documents from Guatemala and the local court. They were very apologetic but I was still informed that none of the paperwork I provided was proof that Joseph was a legal resident or citizen. I was told that anyone could get a Social Security number and that I needed proof from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

We were devastated and knew we needed help.

I was given a number to call at USCIS and spent two days trying to get past the voicemail guards before I could speak to anyone. The outlook seemed to be long and arduous, according to the agent that I was able to speak to. He also explained that once Joseph turned 18, even though he was brought to the United States at the age of four months and the legal adoption took place many years ago, this would become his battle and that it would become much more difficult.

In addition to hiring a lawyer to help with the many questions we had, we had a meeting at USCIS and provided all the requested documentation in August of 2023. We were not permitted to ask any questions while at USCIS. Joseph’s fingerprints were taken as well as his picture. Our lawyer repeatedly tried to follow up to get updates. 

Months later, we were only told that USCIS is still working to determine an answer. 

Joseph will be turning 18 this coming August. He should have so much to look forward to. He wants to do so many of the things his friends are doing, like getting a job. This is a problem, however, because we are told he’s not a citizen and his legal name does not match his Social Security number. 

We love our son so very much and he has strong extended family ties that love him as well. He loves playing basketball, designing basketball shoes, and restoring them. He is creative and loving. We just do not understand how this was able to happen.

The judge, during our local adoption procedure, said that there is no difference between an adoption and a birth, that he is every part our son. We have always known this to be true, except for the paperwork we didn’t realize still needed to be done. It is painful to sit idly by when we don’t know what the future holds. Simply said, we need answers. 

We need help.
For corrections or revisions, click here.
The opinions reflected in this article are not necessarily the opinions of LET
Sign in to comment



It's interesting that they waited for almost 18 years to try and sort this out. Obviously there were some irregularities in the way he was adopted and that judge they dealt with seems to have poor education about it.

Powered by LET CMS™ Comments

Get latest news delivered daily!

We will send you breaking news right to your inbox

© 2024 Law Enforcement Today, Privacy Policy