News10NBC investigates 80-year-old law that denies basic birthrights

January 24, 2019 07:56 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- A week-long News10NBC investigation into how Rochester Police treated a young man who wanted to be a police officer has sparked another investigation.

Our original stories showed how the RPD demanded the candidate prove his race and RPD told him to get his parents and grandparents' birth certificates. 


But an 80-year-old state law made that impossible for the police candidate and for tens of thousands of families in New York. 

The police recruit who was asked to prove his race was adopted as a child from Bulgaria, a country on the border of Europe and Asia.

There was no way Peter Abee could get birth certificates to prove his identity because New York state law seals the birth records of adopted children forever. 

"This is me when I was about a year old or so," Kamron Simpson said pointing to a picture of her and her adoptive parents. 

Simpson grew up in Irondequoit.

When she was 12 years old, she learned she was adopted. By the time she was 20 years old, she wanted to know more.

But when Simpson tried to get her birth records from the state, she was denied. Like every other adopted child, state law sealed her original birth records and that of her biological parents for good. 

"New York state was no help at all," Simpson said. "They will not give you your original birth certificate. They won't give you any names, phone numbers, nothing."

The law goes back to the 1930s.

It was signed by Governor Herbert Lehman who adopted a child from a notorious baby broker named Georgia Tann.

Multiple reports say Tann sold babies to the rich and powerful. The law made it impossible for anyone to know how Governor Lehman adopted his child. Now, there's an effort to change the law by the group called New York State Adoptee Equality.

"It's important to me from a civil rights perspective," said Carolyn D'Agostino, co-founder and Albany lawyer. 

D'Agostino contacted News10NBC after our story about Peter Abee.

Abee's application to the RPD was shut down when the department didn't believe he was Asian Pacific Islander.

That's the box he checked on his application. Abee was asked to show birth records to prove it. But as an adopted person in New York, that's impossible. 

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "If someone were applying for a job and they were told to produce their parents or grandparents' birth certificates and they themselves were an adoptee, the law in New York right now says you could not do that?"

Carolyn D'Agostino, co-founder NY Adoption Equality: "Correct and for example, if you were to try to apply for a scholarship based upon your ethnicity, if they asked for proof of that, you might not be able to prove it."

Kamron Simpson was able to track down her birth mother through an AncestryDNA test. And then came the shock. 

It came in the form of information about her birth that she got from her biological mother, information denied by state law. 

Brean: "You grew up with the name Kamron."

Simpson: "My whole life."

Brean: "But the name on the original birth certificate is what?"

Simpson: "Lucy."

Even Simpson's birth date is different. She's been celebrating it on May 28.

Brean: "And on your birth certificate, it's what?"

Simpson: "It's supposed to be June 4."

Brean: "If the law in New York changed, how would that change your life?"

Simpson: "For me, it would be knowing my identity, knowing my truth."

The state tried to change the law last year but it got so watered down, Governor Cuomo vetoed it.

The Adoptee Equality group met with Assemblyman Michael Benedetto from the Bronx Wednesday.

News10NBC spoke with him as well. He's trying to get a bill number which starts the process. The bill would grant access to birth records at the age of 18.  

According to NYS Adoptee Equality, approximately 20 states have some access to birth records for adoptees. Nine states have full access including Kansas, Hawaii, Maine, Missouri, Illinois, and Oregon. 


'My dream went down the hole': RPD rejects minority candidate's DNA proof

News10NBC finds proof after RPD rejects minority candidate

RPD asked a job seeker to prove he's Asian. Is that even legal?

City, RPD changes policy about minority recruits after News10NBC investigation


Berkeley Brean

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