State Department/CIS Stakeholder Call on Adoptee Citizenship Issues

The Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) of the U.S. State Department and the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) held a “Stakeholder Meeting Call” Monday primarily to discuss citizenship as related to international adoption.

My takeaways:

  • I give credit to State and CIS for holding these public stakeholder conversations.
  • Surely adopted children, who grow up and are now (adopted) adults, must be considered to be the primary and most essential stakeholders in calls and conversations like this.
  • I believe that there were three adult adoptees who called in. I appreciate their sharing their time and voices, as well as personal expertise. There were also agency service providers and at least one adoptive parent (me).
  • The U.S. federal agencies involved with intercountry adoption are understandably focused on adopted children and the legal process for their adoption and citizenship. That said, there is a large community of now adult international adoptees who need the assistance and resources of the federal government to become citizens after their parents failed to do so.
  • The Department of State and the United States Citizen and Immigration Services need to better coordinate their services with and for international adult adoptees. Adoptee groups should receive the same attention and outreach as adoption service providers and adoptive parents. That attention should be evident on their web pages. Their officers should be better educated about the Child Citizenship Act, the Adoptee Citizenship Act, and the genuine experiences of adult adoptees. There should be consistent information provided by State and CIS staff across the country about citizenship issues for adoptees.
  • While there is voluminous information available about how to adopt on the State Department website, the information for adult adoptees is sparse indeed. In fact, the page for adoptees has not been updated since November 2014. It references on-line resources, but there are no live links. I hope they update the page soon, so it is actually helpful for adopted adults.

Here is my unofficial summary of the phone call, with the caveat that there were a number of folks from State and from CIS on the call, and I wasn’t always sure who they were and who was speaking.

General Information Not Related to Citizenship

State has authorized a new accrediting entity, Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity. IAAME joins the only other organization approved for Hague accreditations, the Council on Accreditation (COA). IAAME emerged from the Partnership for Strong Families, a child welfare organization in Florida. State and IAAME are still working out the distribution of labor, and IAAME is not yet accrediting international adoption agencies.

Suzanne Lawrence is taking over for Susan Jacobs as the new Special Advisor for Children’s Issues at State. Ms. Lawrence spoke briefly about her career as a consular officer and how she looks forward to this new position.

Trish Maskew, who handles adoption issues at the State Department, then responded to previously submitted questions:

Croatia: Adoption service providers (ASPs) may soon be authorized to work in Croatia.

China: New regs have not yet been released by China’s Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption on the hosting program and on the one-on-on partnership between ASPs and orphanages.

Ethiopia: It remains unclear why Ethiopia closed adoptions in May 2017, and they continue to work on “cases in progress.” It is unclear what “cases in progress” means, and State is actively seeking more clarity.

Kazakhstan: The Kazakhstan government continues to request post-adoption reports from adoptive families before they will reauthorize agencies to work there. There are some 225 families who have yet to submit post-adoption reports.

Citizenship Questions From People Who Called In

The State Department staffers then took questions live from callers. One question was about a family which dissolved an adoption before finalizing and before getting citizenship for a child who arrived on an I-4 visa. State said that the child would be ineligible to apply for citizenship for two years (I guess that time frame means the child has to be placed with a new family for two years before he/she becomes eligible for citizenship.)

Another question was whether international adoptees needed both a passport and a Certificate of Citizenship (CoC) as proof of citizenship. The State Department said that no federal law requires a citizen to bear proof of citizenship. That said, a U.S. passport is proof of citizenship, as is the Certificate of Citizenship. Someone from State said that one was not better than the other.

That is technically true, I would agree, but in practice, many adoptive parents and adoptees have found that the Certificate of Citizenship (which is approved by the Department of Homeland Security) is increasingly requested to prove citizenship, whether at the Department of Motor Vehicles or to obtain insurance or for other circumstances. I wish the State Department had been more forceful about this, but given that they are the ones approving passports, they may not have strong feelings about the CoC. Anecdotally, we are seeing many adoptees needing the CoC as proof of citizenship. It never expires. It’s well worth getting.

The most powerful question came from an adult adoptee from Iran, who has worked with the Adoptee Rights Campaign (ARC). The State Department folks asked about ARC, saying they did not have their contact information. This shocked me, as ARC is a well-known group leading the charge on citizenship for all adoptees. The State Department folks said they’d be happy to hear more about ARC, and gave the adoption@state.gov email address.

The Iranian adoptee asked how to bring the lack of citizenship to people’s attention—how to create a sense of urgency. She shared that her adoptive father is dead; her adoptive mother is 80 and could die soon. The adoptee is worried about working, about keeping her job, about her finances, and about retirement. She noted that many people working in immigration are unfamiliar with the Child Citizenship Act, and said to the State officials, “We (adult adoptees lacking citizenship) need your department to step up.”

State responded that they held a Congressional briefing a week ago. (I’ve had trouble finding information about the hearing; if anyone has a link or attended the briefing, please let me know.) Maskew said that the Office of Children’s Issues is very proactive on the issue of citizenship for adoptees, and has heard that Congress is planning to reintroduce adoptee citizenship legislation.

Maskew emphasized that State has offered to help adult adoptees, and that they have heard from adoptees with a range of scenarios including children who came here as visitors, or for medical purposes, and then were adopted. State said they cannot respond to hypothetical situations. (I would guess that would be questions like What if I get arrested? Or What if someone tells ICE that I don’t have citizenship?) State said they are doing all they can, and again provided their email address: adoption@state.gov.

A staff person from Hope International agency in Texas asked about the processing times for Certificates of Citizenship. What is the average timeframe for DHS to issue them? Carrie Rankin of CIS told the caller to refer to the website where people can check their case status. Processing times vary by office, she said.

I am hearing that the issuance of CoCs is taking many months, sometimes well over a year. The CoCs currently cost $1,170. Information on how to apply is available here.

A caller asked which federal department tracked the number of intercountry adoptees who are not citizens. Neither the State Department nor CIS has these numbers. The caller asked if there is a list of adoptees deported since 1954. She was told that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) might have a list like that.

The best source that I am aware of for that information is Pound Pup Legacy, which has a wide range of data around international adoption, including deported adoptees.

Then it was my turn. I started by saying I was surprised that the State Department and CIS didn’t know about the Adoptee Rights Campaign, per the earlier conversation with the Iranian adoptee. I reiterated the sense of urgency for citizenship for all adoptees, especially in our current political climate where immigration status is so complex. I then said I was puzzled about why the citizenship issue for legally adopted people is such a controversial issue. Maskew responded that the controversy seems tied to the criminal activity that can result in anyone who is not a citizen–which can include adoptees–being deported. She noted that the numbers of adoptees in need of citizenship are numbers that the adoptee community has put forward–some 15,000 to 35,000 people. Some in Congress may conflate the number of adoptees needing citizenship with the numbers who have committed crimes. I’ve posted many times about the absurdity that international adoptees, whose immigration to the United States was agreed to and overseen by both the U.S. and the sending country, are not all automatically U.S. citizens. It is a shameful part of our government’s responsibility not to provide citizenship to all international adoptees.

I also asked about the comment that the Certificate of Citizenship and the passport being equal, and said that we are hearing increasing examples of adoptees needing their CoC, and not just the passport, as proof of citizenship, for insurance, for the Department of Motor Vehicles, for sport travel team purposes, and for other situations. State and CIS noted again that both are proof of citizenship, but the CoC never expires. I noted also that the CoC is issued by the Department of Homeland Security, and the passport by the State Department. The two databases are not shared, and increasingly the CoC seems to be requested as proof of citizenship. I have written about this issue multiple times as well; information is available here.

A caller from the Korean adoptee group also-known-as asked if there is a clear set of guidelines for adoptees to use in order to get citizenship, beyond sending an email to the State Department. CIS said there are resources available on-line, and suggested that folks should also consult an immigration attorney.

The caller then suggested a case management system for adult adoptees trying to get citizenship, which I think would be a great idea. My take: State and CIS provides resources to Adoption Service Providers and adoptive parents–why not equal resources for adoptees, who are Adoption Services Recipients?

I had the sense, listening to this caller, that he was asking specifically about adult adoptees, but that State and CIS were responding as if to an adoptive parent. State and CIS referred the caller to their website for Adoption News information for adopted children. They said there is a list of low-cost and no cost attorneys, and that there is a CIS office in almost every state. They provided a CIS phone number to call: 877-424-8374, which is the National Benefits Center.

They noted that most legal issues are handled by the Department of Homeland Security, and not so much by State. That is certainly true, as it is officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which falls under DHS, that are in the news for deportation raids and other actions.

An adopted person from Haiti called in, asking when adoptees stop being adoptees. She noted that she is in her late 30’s, and when she is dealing with immigration issues, it is as if she is coming to the U.S. for the first time, not as someone who was adopted as a child by U.S. citizens. Her experience has been that immigration officers often do not understand adoption, or the experiences of internationally adopted adults, and often are unable to help.

The caller also asked about post-adoption reports: Were they supposed to be from adoptive parents or from the adopted persons themselves? My take: I’m pretty certain the caller knew that post-adoption reports are to come from parents, but her point in suggesting that adoptees submit post-adoption reports is an excellent one. It would be great if both the U.S. government and the sending countries were genuinely open to receiving such reports, if not in fact making them mandatory.

Information on post-adoption reports to the State Department is available here.

I welcome comments and responses, especially from others who listened in or participated on the call.

Runner’s World on Gabe Proctor: Ethiopian Adoptee, Championship Runner, Suicide

Gabe Proctor with his siblings Joanna and Samuel, in 2000 and in 2013

 

Gabe Proctor lived a short, loving, and complex life. Adopted from Ethiopia around age 10 after his mother died, he grew up in Vermont, went to college in Kansas and Colorado, became a championship runner, worked hard to support his family in Ethiopia, and died by suicide at this past May at age 27.

Sarah Lorge Butler has written a thoughtful profile of Gabe in Runner’s World: After Runner’s Suicide, Anguish and A Search for Answers. She spoke extensively with Gabe’s family, as well as his coaches and running partners. The sorrow and loss are palpable, as are the questions that can never be answered.

I am among those quoted in the article, and I have written many times about suicide and adoption. There are simply no clearcut answers. According to the Runner’s World article,  ” ‘In understanding mental health and adoption, researchers now think about a combination of risk factors,’ said Maria Kroupina, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. Adoption itself is one risk factor. Others include prenatal stress to the child’s mother. Genetics, or family history of mental illness. Stress in early childhood, from scarcity of resources or abuse or neglect. The loss of a parent.

It’s a process for adopted children and the adults in their lives to navigate these issues from the past. ‘Children and young adults need ongoing help,’ she said. “No health care providers would put a child with asthma or a heart condition in a family and say, ‘Please figure it out.'”

Gabe’s family remembers him as a talented, thoughtful, loving son and brother. His coaches remember him as incredibly hard-working and determined to push himself to achieve his best.

From the article: “During his best year in 2014, he had the fifth-fastest half marathon time in the U.S., but his heart is what people remember. Proctor especially looked out for those who had trouble fitting in or seemed burdened in other ways.”

Like many adoptees, especially those adopted at older ages and with siblings, Gabe never forgot his Ethiopian connections. “Gabe made four trips to Ethiopia over the years, and as his running career progressed, he realized his talent could help his relatives in Ethiopia. As a professional, his singular goal was to use his running to support his family. Gabe had a shoe deal from Asics, and he lived simply, never owning a car, for example. Samuel says before Gabe’s death, his brother had built houses that his Ethiopian family could use for rental income.”

Gabe Proctor in Ethiopia, July 2006

I give credit to his adoptive parents, Caryl and Jim Proctor, for sharing their son’s story. They and others who loved Gabe urge “family and friends of people who are struggling with depression to confront it head on.” Jim Proctor “implores parents to pay attention: ‘Accept that the warning signs are warning signs,’ he said…’Don’t ignore it.'”

There are many resources available to help with suicide prevention; I have listed many of them in this post: Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption. Whether or not adoption is involved, we should all be aware of resources for depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. Yes, these are tough topics. And they need to see the light of day, because that’s the only way we can help each other.

‘Gabe was adamant about this,’ his younger brother, Samuel, said. ‘Always treat people the absolute best you can, because you don’t know what they’re dealing with.’

 

 

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24/7, is 800-273-8255. You can also text 741741, the crisis text line available 24/7, and text with a trained crisis counselor.

IAG Officials Sentenced

The three defendants from International Adoption Guides were sentenced yesterday, : Mary Mooney got 18 months in prison. James Harding got 12 months in prison. Alisa Bivens got probation. All had pled guilty to the charges of fraud, bribery, and corruption brought against them by the US Justice department; the crimes all involved Ethiopian adoptions. Many families, in the US and in Ethiopia, were harmed by IAG.

Correction/Update: The charge also involved adoptions from Kazakhstan. Mary Mooney was sentenced for accreditation fraud for Kazakhstan. Harding and Bivens were sentenced of conspiring to defraud the United States in connection with Ethiopian adoptions.

In addition, the three defendants have been ordered to pay restitution. Mooney was ordered to pay $223,946.04 to victims who adopted from Kazakhstan. Harding was ordered to pay $301,224.25, and Bivens $31,800.00, presumably to victims of the Ethiopian fraud. The court will be contacting the victims individually with the restitution calculations.

I do not know if any Ethiopian parents are included as victims.

It is unclear when Mooney and Harding will begin their prison terms.

Here is the press release from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the sentencing: “Founder, CEO, and Employee of International Adoption Guides (IAG) Sentenced For Adoption Fraud Schemes.”

Support A Family in Ethiopia: A Little Boy Needs Your Help

A little boy in Ethiopia has a rare, painful disease, and his parents are doing everything they can to keep him healthy, comfortable, and with them. A GoFundMe campaign is a great opportunity for all of us in the adoption community (or in any other human community) to preserve and support a family.

The child’s name is Sofoniyas, and he turned three in June. He was recently diagnosed with Epidermolysis Bullosa, or EB. It is a rare connective tissue disorder, the symptoms of which are extremely fragile skin that blisters and tears from even the smallest irritation (including clothing, or bumping, or falling, or touching). It is constantly painful. The care involves daily treatment of the blisters and wounds, along with pain management and protective bandaging.

Sofoniyas and his mother. Photo © Jemal Countess

In countries with top-notch medical resources, management of EB is challenging. In Ethiopia, children with EB often suffer gravely. Some die much too young. Some are separated from their families, and might get adopted, due to the difficulty and costs of treatment in country.

Both of Sofoniyas’s parents are currently involved full-time in his care. They do not have all the supplies needed to care for their son: sterile needles for lancing the blisters, Medi-Honey, loose clothing, sterile bandaging, doctor visits, and support for the family’s day-to-day expenses.

To help them, Jemal Countess, a dear friend of mine (and of Ethiopia, of children, and of those in need), who is a photographer with Getty, has set up a GoFundMe campaign for Sofoniyas and his family. Jemal came with us to Ethiopia in 2014, and took amazing photos and video. He has traveled extensively in Ethiopia and Africa, and always does so with a compassionate, unflagging heart. Jemal is currently in Ethiopia, and is helping to coordinate the delivery of supplies to the family.

Please contribute to this GoFundMe campaign, which will change the life of a vulnerable child and his loving parents. Please share the campaign widely. Many thanks.

 

Quilting, Comments, and A Young Girl’s Smile: A Happy Story

My mother was an avid, talented quilter. On the back of one of the quilts she made me is the embroidered acronym ARHM, the shorthand version of what she often said and wrote to me:  “Always remember how much I love you.” Mom died almost 14 years ago, and having her quilts is like having her near.

I am a beginning quilter, with many good intentions and a few modest outcomes. I love the fabrics, the colors, the art of it all. My granddaughter, born four years after my mother died, loves sewing. She took a local quilting class recently, and was (rightly) proud of her finished quilt.

© Maureen McCauley Evans

I am an avid, talented grandmother. I decided to post Z’s photo in the Facebook group Quilting Space, which has some awesomely gifted quilters from around the world. It’s a huge group, and they are often very helpful to beginners, candid in their critiques, focused in their skills. It’s not unusual for posts to get several hundred responses.

I was absolutely blown away by the response to Z’s quilting: about 2400 people “liked” it, 420 “loved” it, and 65 said “wow:” more than 2,800 people.

What generous hearts.

 

Beyond that, over 300 people took the time to comment, and every single one was encouraging. “Way to go, sweetie! We’ll be so pleased to see how you grow into a Master Quilter.” “Very pretty–the yellows are awesome.” “Spectacular first quilt!” “Wow, you are a great quilter. I could send you some fabric if you like.” “Hugs from Idaho.” “Keep it up, baby girl. Grandma will not steer you wrong!”

Our whole family was proud of Z, because that’s what family does. My mother would have adored her great-granddaughter, and I like to think she is guiding Z’s hands. Reading these encouraging comments from strangers who took the time to offer compliments and support to a little girl they don’t know was almost overwhelming. I am sharing this today because, for me, it was a lovely reminder of how kind people can be. Even in the comments.

 

 

 

Bonus: A common saying among writers is “never read the comments.” I’m all for healthy discourse. Nonetheless, we have all read our share of trolls, meanness, vulgarity, and cruelty in comments. I thought this was an interesting approach to consider: “How To Wage Peace In the Comments Section: Three Things You Should Start (and Stop) Doing.”

 

 

Angelina Jolie and the Traumatization of Orphans

Update: Angelina Jolie has refuted the context and accuracy of this incident, via Vulture, Variety, and others. I have not yet heard a response from the writer of the original Vanity Fair article cited in this blog post, and I hope that writer speaks out also. A controversial description like this one, of a casting call involving orphans and manipulation, should have raised red flags for fact checking prior to publication.

 

Why would Angelina Jolie exploit orphans?

Thousands admire her, as well as her rainbow family, even as some are bemused by her behaviors. My guess is that Angelina Jolie years ago gave up caring about what other people think of her, and goes ahead with her creative journey, sharing personal information when the time is right. The new Vanity Fair cover story is one such example, in which she talks about life after Brad, dealing with health issues, and her days as a cleaning up and cooking mom.

Jolie also talks about her new Netflix movie, First They Killed My Father, and her time in and love for Cambodia. Her first son, Maddox, was adopted from there in 2002, and Jolie is a Cambodian citizen.

In Vanity Fair, Jolie talks about the casting for her movie, and this is where the heartache really begins.

“To cast the children in the film, Jolie looked at orphanages, circuses, and slum schools, specifically seeking children who had experienced hardship. In order to find their lead, to play young Loung Ung, the casting directors set up a game, rather disturbing in its realism: they put money on the table and asked the child to think of something she needed the money for, and then to snatch it away. The director would pretend to catch the child, and the child would have to come up with a lie. ‘Srey Moch [the girl ultimately chosen for the part] was the only child that stared at the money for a very, very long time,’ Jolie says. ‘When she was forced to give it back, she became overwhelmed with emotion. All these different things came flooding back.’ Jolie then tears up. ‘When she was asked later what the money was for, she said her grandfather had died, and they didn’t have enough money for a nice funeral.'”

Looked at orphanages, circuses, and slums, specifically seeking children who had experienced hardship?

Set up a game?

Rather disturbing?

How about exploitative, cruel, and arrogant? To knowingly impose trauma, humiliation, and shame on little girls, many of whom have likely experienced tremendous losses, including the loss of parents? Yes, deeply disturbing.

Not surprisingly, Jolie is receiving a lot of criticism for this.

The Telegraph in the UK reports that this incident has sparked outrage. Business Insider says the casting method is being deemed cruel. Twitter is busy on #AngelinaJolie.

I’d venture that the adoption community is divided about Jolie. Many people outside the community think it’s warm and wonderful that she adopted a bunch of cute kids, and I have no doubt that many people looked into adopting because Angelina adopted and People magazine wrote all about it. Many people within the community express concern about celebrity adoptions, making a tempting trend out of the intense complexity of international, transracial adoption.

The Vanity Fair article describes Jolie’s adoption process in Cambodia:

“…she visited an orphanage in the provincial town of Battambang, having promised herself that she’d go only to one, that she wasn’t going to shop around. But Jolie felt uneasy as she wandered the rooms, meeting the children. ‘I didn’t feel a connection with any of them,’ she recalls.

‘They then said, ‘There’s one more baby.’ Baby Maddox was lying in a box that was suspended from the ceiling. She looked at him. He looked at her. ‘I cried and cried,’ she recalls.”

I have no idea what agency Jolie used, or the details of the adoption process. Most countries don’t allow prospective parents to “shop around,” the phrase Vanity Fair uses to describe Jolie’s process. This commodification of children in adoption is but one of many reasons that international adoption has declined.

Cambodia has suspended adoptions several times in the last decade, largely due to trafficking. Jolie has also adopted from Ethiopia and from Vietnam, both of which have also essentially closed to international adoption. Jolie’s daughter Zahara, from Ethiopia, was not an orphan; there have been several media stories about Zahara’s Ethiopian mother wanting to hear from Zahara.

While most internationally adopted children have living parents or other close family members, and very few are actual orphans, the children have lived through tremendous trauma and dangers. The children still in orphanages and slums around the world deserve compassion, family preservation, literacy, and safety.

The Cambodian children who were recruited to try out for a part in a movie–children from orphanages and slums–were treated cruelly by people who should know better, especially an adoptive parent.

Angelina Jolie is a powerful, beautiful, wealthy, western woman. I’ve no doubt she has done much good in the world. I am sure her presentation in the media has flaws and inaccuracies, but, as presented in Vanity Fair, this movie casting method, this exploitation of impoverished children, speaks only to selfishness and creative focus gone tragically awry. My heart aches for the now forgotten, cast aside orphans and other vulnerable children.

 

 

Here’s one way to help: The Cambodian Children’s Fund.

Korean Adoptees, Scholars, Activists Call For End to International Adoption

A large and impressive group of scholars, activists, adopted persons, and adoption practitioners has sent a Declaration Calling For An Immediate End to the Industrial International Adoption System from South Korea. (My thanks to @Koreanadoptee76 for the link; see swedishkoreanadopteesnetwork.wordpress.com.) Directed to the government of South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in, the declaration calls on the government  to do the following:

  • Terminate international adoptions from South Korea
  • Improve support for unwed mothers and for their children
  • Implement comprehensive post-adoption services
  • Audit adoption agencies
  • Address citizenship failures
  • Provide adequate services to deported adoptees

The signatories are many. This is an impressive, important document, not just in terms of South Korea, but for international adoption globally.

Korean adoptees are the largest and oldest group of international adoptees. They number in the hundreds of thousands, and range in age into their 60’s. Their decades of experiences provide solid information about the impact of adoption: some good, some bad, all over the spectrum. Many in the adoption community look to them as historians of an important past and as bellwethers of the future of adoption.

Having this group of academics, activists, adult adoptees, and many adoptee organizations call for an end to international adoption from Korea is extraordinarily significant. The call, which I’d argue has been simmering a long time, is partly in response to the tragedy of Korean adoptee Phillip Clay’s deportation and suicide, partly to the deportation of other adoptees from the U.S., partly to the need for better post-adoption services, and partly to demands that more resources be provided to single mothers in Korea, an economically vibrant country.

Another significant point is that these adult adoptees are also calling for better preservation and management of adoptees’ records. So many adoptees have returned to Korea (and other countries) to search for their adoption records, hoping to find their birth families, only to be told the records do not exist or were destroyed in a flood or a fire. Others have found their records only after multiple requests and incredible perseverance, often at high emotional and financial cost.

The maintenance of records by orphanages, adoption agencies, and countries of origins is vital. The records allow adopted persons to know their truths, to know their identities, to know who they are–all basic human rights. This is not a matter of paperwork–for some, it is restoration, salvation, freedom.

The deportation of international adoptees from the United States is one of the most shameful practices of our country. I can only imagine how the sending countries (Korea, Brazil, India, Germany, Mexico, and many more) feel about the fact they sent their children here and we in the United States did not grant them automatic citizenship until 2000, and still have not made citizenship retroactive for those whose parents failed to naturalize them. Talk about broken trust.

Adoptees are not the only ones publicly calling for an end to international adoption. Take a look at this powerful post by the adoptive mom of two now young adults from Korea: Off the Fence, at Third Mom blog.

I am still on the fence. Adoption can change the lives for the better for children, not just in terms of economics. I believe it should be an option. That said, I deeply respect the views and the writers of this Declaration. The traditional narrative of rescue and saviorism must end, along with the fraud and corruption–and it may not be possible to ever end fraud and corruption. Orphan prevention and family preservation have to be paramount. We adoptive parents should be speaking out strongly for both of these, as well as for citizenship for all international adoptees and for post-adoption services for adoptees and for first/birth families.

Please share the Declaration.

 

Why Are American Adopted Adults Denied the Right To Know Who They Are?

There is simply no good reason. As an adoptive parent of two sons born in the United States and twin daughters born in Ethiopia, I believe that adopted people have the basic human and civil right to know their original family, to know their original names, to know their medical history, and to choose whether they want to pursue a reunion, once they have this information.

Still, today, in 2017, no other group except American adult adoptees is denied the right to their original birth certificates, to know who their biological parents are, who their biological grandparents are, who their biological siblings are, what their ethnicity is, and what their genetic history is.

It astounds me how many non-adopted adults and how many adoptive parents are willing to continue to deny adopted persons access to information about who they are.

How about if we listen to adult adoptees, as well as the many organizations which represent them, as the best advocates for the right to their own birth certificates?

Right now, in New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo is being urged by 45+ national and international adoptee organizations, as well as hundreds of individuals, to veto a bill that is costly (Adoptee Rights Laws estimates a cost of $6 million),  convoluted, and thoughtfully opposed by organizations such as the New York-based Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI). Read the article “Give adopted people unencumbered access to their origins” by DAI chief executive, and adopted person, April DInwoodie. Read the list of adoptee organization and individuals who oppose the bill and urge Gov. Cuomo to veto it here. Information from New York Adoptee Equality is available here.

New York, and many other states, can enact far better, less costly legislation that is fair and transparent.

One commonly touted reason for opposing access to original birth certificates is that birth parents were promised confidentiality about the adoption. However, if they were promised this by a lawyer or doctor or adoption agency worker, it was an unenforceable assurance. There has never been any law that guarantees that birth parents would never be contacted by their children. It simply does not exist. In fact, adoption records were largely public until about 60 years ago. Records were sealed largely because of the stigma of illegitimacy then, but not to prevent people from contacting each other. Records have been unsealed in many states since, and judges can unseal records in emergencies. We have moved in the adoption community away from shame, secrecy, and lies, toward transparency, openness, and fairness. The Donaldson Adoption Institute’s report An Examination of the History and Impact Of Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates provides detailed information.

Another common rationale is that allowing access to adopted persons will increase the number of abortions. There is little evidence for this claim. Further, abortion is an alternative to pregnancy, not to adoption. Adoption is an alternative to parenting. “The abortion rates in both Alaska and Kansas, states which grant adult adoptees unconditional access to their original birth certificates, were lower than the national average as a whole – 14.6 and 18.9 abortions, respectively for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44, compared to the national rate of 22.9 (Source: Alan Guttmacher Institute http://www.agi-usa.org/pubs/journals/3026398.html). More information on this is available here and here.

A few U.S. states currently allow full access, though many states require adopted adults–not children anymore–to undergo mandatory counseling, to work with state-employed intermediaries, and to pay high fees. These requirements essentially infantilize adopted persons, treating them as children, buying into the narrative that adoptees should simply not be curious about who they are. Understanding who we are is a basic human pursuit and instinct.

I would be remiss if I did not note that DNA testing has affected search and reunion in adoption on a local, national, and global scale. Mothers are locating the children they placed for adoption; siblings and cousins are finding each other. Facebook groups provide astonishing amounts of support and guidance for adoptees to locate their birth family members. Among the many resources are DNA Detectives, DNA Adoption Community, and the Global Adoption Genealogy Project. Amazon Prime has sales on DNA kits today. All that said, adult adoptees should still have the legal right in the U.S. to access their own records, just as every non-adopted person does.

Adoptees raised in loving homes by loving adoptive parents have the right and perhaps the need to know as much as adoptees who had miserable adoptive families. The issue of gratitude is a volatile one in the adoption community, but being happy or grateful that one was adopted does not seem to me to be a reason not to want (or deserve) to know one’s original family.

Foster children who are adopted have their personal histories, their medical histories, and their names. Many international adoptees have their original birth certificates.

But American adults adopted as babies are denied the basic human and civil right to know who they are, a right which should be held higher than an ostensible promise of privacy. Only nine states in the U.S. currently allow total access to original birth certificates. Other countries around the globe allow far better access for adopted persons to their records. American adult adoptees should be allowed to know who they are.

 

IAG Sentencing Rescheduled Yet Again

Update: The sentencing hearing for defendants James Harding, Alisa Bivens, and Mary Mooney has now been set for August 10, 2017, 10:00am, Courtroom 2, the Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting St, Charleston, SC,  before Judge David Norton.

 

 

To perhaps no one’s surprise, given the years this process has taken, the sentencing hearing for the three International Adoption Guides’ defendants, all of whom pled guilty about three years ago, has been rescheduled from July 13 to Thursday, August 17.

The sentencing hearing for Mary Mooney is now scheduled at 10am, for Alisa Bivens at 10:30am, and for James Harding at 11am. The hearings will take place in Courtroom 2, at the Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC, before Judge David Norton.

I have no idea why the sentencing has been rescheduled. It could be for the judge, for the probation officer, for the defendants, for the lawyers. I have been told that these delays are not unusual when it comes to sentencing for federal crimes.

Here’s hoping for justice.

 




 

An Academic Analysis of Ethiopian Illegal Adoptions: A Sobering Roadmap

“Children for Families: An Ethnography of Illegal Intercountry Adoption From Ethiopia,” an article by Daniel Hailu, Ph.D., in Adoption Quarterly, provides a stunningly clear road map of how illegal adoptions have occurred in Ethiopia. His research corroborates many anecdotal experiences, discusses the impact of Ethiopian sociocultural views, and offers suggestions for reform.

The issue of illegal adoptions from Ethiopia has been simmering for years. I don’t think anyone has statistics on how many adoptions have been legal or illegal. Families have shared stories on Facebook. Adult adoptees have learned, after search and reunion, that their adoptive parents were not told the truth about why adoption was needed. Birth/first families were deceived or coerced into placing their children in an orphanage. Blame can be focused on many people: adoption agencies, police officers, brokers, government workers, adoptive families, first/birth families, and almost anyone involved with adoption and fees.

Adoptions from Ethiopia have declined dramatically in recent years. In May of this year, the Ethiopian government suspended adoptions, though it appears that children who were in the legal custody of their adoptive parents have been allowed to leave Ethiopia. I posted recently about the upcoming sentencing hearing of three International Adoption Guides’ officials, who have pled guilty to charges involving fraud and corruption in Ethiopia. A frequent source of debate on Facebook among adoptive families is whose adoption was fraudulent, whose adoption agency was checked out thoroughly, whose adoption was “clean.” Some prospective and new adoptive families discount the stories of families who have discovered lies and deceits in their children’s adoptions.

Dr. Hailu’s article describes how illegal and unethical adoptions occur. He interviewed 54 “informants,” people intimately engaged in adoptions in Ethiopia. He writes:

“At the root of illegal adoption are fabricated documentation and false testimonies that establish the legal basis for the subsequent adoption processes. Informants reported that these bases could not be established without the support and protection of local authorities, including some police officers.

An orphanage involved in illegal adoption perceived four major advantages in involving local authorities, as summarized by an informant:

First, local authorities facilitate identification of brokers from within the local community where orphanages have no other trusted link.

Second, officials in clandestine support brokers in recruiting children: The authorities identify children for potential adoption and also coax parents and guardians into giving their children away for adoption.

Third, the official expedites issuance of a letter of testimony that the orphanage needs from the kebele (neighborhood or ward) administration or the social court in order to take the case to the First Instance Court.

Fourth, the officials buffer the orphanage from any allegations that may be posed by any higher authority against recruiting an ineligible child.”

No one disputes, I hope, the role that money has played and continues to play in adoption. Between 1999 and 2016, some 15,300 Ethiopian children arrived in the U.S. Using a fee of $30,000 per adoption, some $459 million went from the U.S. to Ethiopian adoptions. Granted, not all of it went to Ethiopia. Still. Millions of dollars poured into Ethiopia from adoptive families, not just to the adoption agencies, but also to the orphanages, and to others working in the network to secure children for adoption.

Here is one matter-of-fact and chilling quote:

“The following description of a country representative of an adoption agency regarding the relationship between adoption agencies and orphanages is shared by several other informants in the industry:

‘Take my case as an example. I have entered adoption agreement worth millions. Neither UNICEF nor any government subsidizes me. Rather I get the money from adopting families. They expect me to give them babies. My boss expects babies. So, I expect the babies from the orphanages to whom I agreed to give part of the millions. It is a clean supply and demand relationship that exists among adopting families, adoption agencies, and orphanages. Essentially, we are providing children for families rather than finding families for children without parental care.’ ”

And how would country representatives or brokers convince families to place their babies and children in the orphanages, and thus for adoption?

That method, according to Dr. Hailu’s article, is also matter-of-fact and chilling.

“Three techniques were identified that brokers applied to coax parents and guardians into voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. The first was to appeal to the natural wish of parents for the future well-being of their children.

An informant explained:

As a first strategy, “Brokers would convince parents/guardians that it was better for the child to grow under better care than suffer with them: They promise that the child would be sent to [a] good school, eat well, [and] wear nice clothes and would generally live comfortable life. The brokers also give them the false promise that they would get to see the child once in a while whether the child is adopted locally or internationally.”

These promises have generally proven false, of course. Many adoptive parents and adopted persons have encountered Ethiopian birth parents who beg them to find out about the children they lost to adoption and have never heard from, despite the “promises” they were given. One important resource is Beteseb Felega—Ethiopian Adoption Connection, which has reunited many adoptees with their Ethiopian parents. Whether the adoptive parents had made the promise or not, many Ethiopian parents were told there would be contact. I’ve heard of adoptive parents finding out that the Ethiopian parents hoped to know if their children were alive and well—and the adoptive parents refused to respond. I hope they can face their adopted children and tell them this someday, as the children will grow up and likely find out their truths.

The second strategy of brokers to acquire children is to draw the attention of parents or guardians to their poverty and entice them with a promise of economic gain that they would potentially accrue by giving their child away for eventual adoption.

Another informant explained:

“The broker calls the attention of guardians to the financial assistance and visits that some guardians who have previously given away their children may have obtained from adopting families. There may be many such stories known to the people that brokers use for their purpose. For example, adopt[ive] parents of a child had sent money to the biological parents in our area, who used it to open their own beauty salon. Some guardians have reported to have come to the orphanage for the purpose of giving their bank account number to the adopting family in anticipation of transfers.”

The issue of how, whether, and how much adoptive families contribute to the financial support of their children’s Ethiopian families is a hot button topic. Some people feel it encourages other Ethiopian families to place their children for adoption, hoping to get a financial return, a concern borne out by Dr. Hailu’s article. Other parents feel it is their ethical right and responsibility to send their child’s siblings to school, or to buy a goat, or to wire money on a regular basis. It’s complicated. There is no question there has been an impact, in any case. I hope there will be more studies done, by the Ethiopian government or by academics, on the financial contributions to birth/first families.

In the third strategy, the broker capitalizes on the socially constructed prestige that could be accrued out of having a child living abroad.

“A related enticement is the social prestige that can be derived out of forging familial linkage with a ferenji (i.e., a white person). Although guardians are the main targets, these coaxing rhetorics have a stronger influence on older siblings of the child being prepared for adoption, who consider this a special opportunity presented to their younger siblings. This is due to increasing globalization that is creating an image of opportunities and affluence that may be available in the freng hager (i.e., the country of white people).

Consequently, in addition to persuasion by brokers, siblings who are too old to be adopted put pressure on their parents to place their younger siblings in the hope that the above reported social and economic benefit may eventually trickle down to them as well.”

Many adoptive parents have been told their children were abandoned. Dr. Hailu’s informants describe how the abandonment is staged.

“Staged abandoning of a child takes the form of a play in the theater. The play is written and directed by the broker. He also casts the characters and assigns them roles. In this drama the parents/guardians are coaxed into leaving the child at a predetermined place and time that is out of public view.

Soon after the child is seemingly abandoned, an assigned person reports the case to a predetermined police officer. The police officer who is ready to take on his role goes to the site and takes the child to the police station where all necessary records are made. The police officer then takes the child to the temporary custody of the orphanage on whose behalf the broker has directed the drama. The case is then taken to the First Instance Court.

Abandoned children pose much less procedural and legal challenges for orphanages. To begin with, the strategy is, informants reported, generally applied with infants who had not yet developed verbal capacities lest the child leak information regarding his or her guardians or the staged abandoning.”

While there is much information in this article to process, some of which is familiar to many, some of which will be eye-opening and jaw-dropping, Dr. Hailu also offers some solutions.

A referral system could enable unparented children to benefit from NGO services, and hence avoid institutional care and intercountry adoption. Hailu writes that “In Ethiopia, there already exist thousands of NGOs that provide community-based services to children. For example, 275 NGOs that are operational in Addis Ababa in 2013 had implemented more than 291 child-focused projects investing Birr 703, 641, 865 (Hailu, 2013). But there is currently no referral system to connect the children in need to the services that could be provided.”

Dr. Hailu also writes that “Informants reported that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, when making decisions based on the recommendations of its regional counterparts, generally does not undertake an independent investigation about the child’s social economic status. This is partly because it lacks the institutional capacity to travel to the child’s locality of origin to conduct the investigation, and partly because regional governments could construe the attempt at independent investigation by the federal government as interfering in their autonomy.”

I believe Dr. Hailu is suggesting here that independent investigations by MOWA, if feasible and done with transparency, could provide oversight and confirmation of accuracy of reports from the regional governments.

Changing sociocultural attitudes about adoption in Ethiopia could also, Dr. Hailu suggests, help to minimize illegal adoptions.

In testifying that a child is an orphan or abandoned, “witnesses see their false testimony as an act of benevolence, or even socially required action, to both the child and family. If they refuse to falsely testify, they could be regarded as miqegna (literally means one who does not wish the good of others), with potential negative social repercussions. Therefore, transforming the cultural and social-psychological allure within local communities is a critical strategy to minimizing illegal intercountry adoption.

This may involve preventive interventions of systematic and sustained public education regarding child rights, the adverse impacts of institutional care and intercountry adoption on children, and legal adoption processes. It also requires protective interventions of strict legal enforcement against participation in illegal intercountry adoption.”

In terms of the financial incentives inherent in international adoption, Dr. Hailu writes that “criminalizing direct adoption-related transactions between adoption agencies and orphanages” could be effective. “This will require setting up a centralized agency under a relevant ministry managed by a public/private partnership. The agency may be part of a national social welfare system that may be mandated to undertake individualized assessment of each unparented child and refer the child to various alternative care options including intercountry adoption.

As part of the welfare system, institutional care providers may be given subcontracts or grants by the centralized agency (and not by adoption agencies) to provide institutional foster care until a better placement is found for the child. Measures to ensure accountability and transparency in the operations of the agency need to be put in place in order to prevent officers of the agency from establishing corrupt relationships with adoption agencies and orphanages.”

There are many possible ways to curb or perhaps end fraud in adoptions from Ethiopia. They require diligence, funding, infrastructure, marketing, training, and sustainable capacity. I know many people and organizations argue that ending international adoptions is the only way to end the fraud and corruption. I know others who say that adoptions should continue only for children with special needs who cannot get appropriate (life-saving) care in Ethiopia. Others argue that adoptions, not life in abject poverty in an orphanage, would be best.

I’d argue that family preservation, orphan prevention, and in-country adoption are goals that everyone who cares about Ethiopian children should prioritize. I’ve written about the many ways to help children in Ethiopia: If Adoptions Decline, What Happens to the Children?

I hope Dr. Hailu’s article, which is available here (a paywall), will be widely read by anyone connected with Ethiopian adoptions, or who has an interest in child welfare. Although I was familiar with much of this information anecdotally, it is quite powerful to see it set in academic terms.

Ultimately, of course, it is Ethiopia’s decision to decide how to end fraud in Ethiopian adoptions, and how to make enact policies that best help children. I believe there are many in the adoption community who are watching the next steps carefully, and who are willing to help. I hope that, in addition to the usual government workers or international lawyers or lobbying groups, Ethiopian adoptees and birth/first families play a vibrant role in any discussions.