Sentencing Hearings on IAG’s Fraud, Bribery (Finally) Held Today

Update: On October 20, 2016, I spoke with a clerk in Judge David Norton’s office who said that sentencing would not occur for at least another month. The clerk said that was because a different judge had originally heard the case. That judge has passed away, and Judge Norton “inherited” the case and apparently needs more time to decide on sentencing. The three defendants pled guilty about two years ago. The sentencing hearing was held August 29. The clerk said it is unusual for sentencing to take so long, but it was due to the previous judge’s death and a new judge in charge of the case. I am so sorry for all the families caught up in this. No such thing as closure.

 

More than two years after the staff of International Adoption Group (IAG) were indicted for fraud and bribery by the U.S.Justice Department, the three defendants finally faced a judge today for their sentencing hearing. Mary Mooney, James Harding, and Alisa Bivens, all of whom had pled guilty, appeared in court today before District Court Judge David Norton in Charleston, South Carolina. Judge Norton could make a decision on sentencing within the week, though the exact time frame is unclear.

Camille Smicz and her family are among the victims of IAG. Camille was present in the courtroom today, and provided a victim impact statement. Camille’s voice spoke for the many families, in the U.S. and in Ethiopia, harmed by the criminal actions of IAG.

Today, according to Camille, the judge mentioned his concerns with the delays in this case, including Mary Mooney’s effort to change her plea from guilty to not guilty, (That attempt was denied.) Minimum sentencing could be probation. Maximum sentencing would be five years in a federal prison. Once sentenced, the defendants have 14 days to appeal the decision.

The prosecution in this case called a forensic financial analyst as a witness, who spoke about the finances of the victims due to IAG’s actions. The prosecution is asking for restitution for some of the families. It is unclear how or whether that will happen.

Camille noted that Alisa Bivens had been a youth pastor at a church up until last month,  and recruited 26 people from her church who wrote letters on her behalf. There was at least one person from the church who plans to report back to the congregation regarding the sentencing hearing.

While it has taken an inordinately long time to reach this point, the case seems to finally be moving toward a sort of closure. I know families are exhausted from the emotional toll this has taken. The extent of the corruption, fraud, and bribery done in the name of helping children is unconscionable.

My thanks to Camille Smicz for sharing this information, and for speaking out for the victims. I urge you to read Camille’s victim impact statement.

As soon as I hear the judge’s decision, I will post again.

“What Do You See?” Music Video: Family, Struggle, Resilience, Awe

“What Do You See?” is a lovely song by the talented musician-singers Mr and Mrs. Something.

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Today, they released the song, as well as a music video that has a story line about family, parenting, struggles, and resilience. When you watch the video, you will see and hear Mr. and Mrs. Something, and you will see my daughter, my granddaughter, and me. The video is available here.

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Bryan Tucker and Brian Lee, filming Mr. and Mrs. Something, August 2015.

The director of the video is Bryan Tucker, who directed and produced the prize-winning documentary Closure (the story of Angela Tucker‘s search and reunion), among other works. Bryan came up with the story line concept, a merging of the lyrics and a story of a family, and approached us about being in the video.  It was a brand new experience for us, and was a lot of fun. I have a whole new appreciation for the art of making top-notch videos–so much time and so many details.

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Bryan Tucker and Brian Lee, filming the video for “What Do You See?” August 2015

The lyrics and the music are strong and challenging:

What do you see…the dream that has died, or the hopes yet to be?

Someone who’s loved and lost, or someone who’s learned patiently?

The song and the video are about everyone: the struggles, the failings, the fallings, the willingness to get back up. They are about mothers and daughters, parenting, interracial families, raising children, loving each other, being angry or hurt, laughing, cheering each other on, hanging in, showing up.

We’ve heard today from dear friends who saw the video and know us (including in our unpleasant, imperfect, not in the video moments), and from strangers who saw themselves in the lyrics or story: adoptees, Ethiopians, single moms, women of color, grandmothers, dancers, aspiring ballerinas, adoptive parents, step parents, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons.

Wherever we are, we can choose to see the best in each other and ourselves, even in the midst of all our imperfections.

‘Cuz I see a will to rise again from every fall.

I see a soul that’s filled with awe at the wonder of it all.

What do you see? 

You can (and should!) download the song for free, for the next 2 weeks. Mr and Mrs. Something’s album Setting Sail will be released on November 17, 2015. We are honored to have been a part of it.

 

 

 

 

Mary Mooney Pleads Guilty in IAG Adoption Fraud Case

Mary Mooney, the executive director of International Adoption Guides, has entered a guilty plea for fraud and bribery in Ethiopian adoptions. This means that the three Americans charged in this case–the others are James Harding and Alisa Bivens–have all pled guilty to charges brought against them in a Department of Justice indictment last February.

Harding and Bivens have not yet been sentenced. Mooney entered her plea yesterday. The Department of Justice press release about Mooney’s plea is available here. Interestingly, her guilty plea seems largely to involve providing false statements to the Council on Accreditation, which is the entity that accredits international adoption agencies under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.”Without that accreditation,” says the DoJ press release, “IAG would not have been legally permitted facilitate intercountry adoptions…and numerous families would have never retained IAG to provide adoption services.”

The IAG Ethiopian staff person also named in the DoJ indictment remains, apparently, in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has not yet made any public statements regarding IAG or the fraud and bribery by IAG, which included payments to Ethiopian officials.

These guilty pleas are very big and wonderful news for the adoptive and Ethiopian birth families involved, though of course they don’t change the devastating deception and fraud that occurred.

Sentencing hearings for Bivens, Harding, and Mooney will take place in the US District Court in South Carolina; the date has yet to be scheduled.

 

 

 

 

IAG’s James Harding Pleads Guilty to Ethiopian Adoption Fraud

James Harding, the program director for the adoption agency International Adoption Guides (IAG), has pled guilty to fraud and bribery charges regarding Ethiopian adoptions in 2008 and 2009.

The Justice Department’s press release is available here. Harding admitted that he and the others submitted false documents to the State Department, paid bribes to Ethiopian officials, and provided fraudulent documents about children’s eligibility for adoption.

Harding is the second of four indicted IAG staff members to admit guilt to these charges. Last fall, Alisa Bivens (IAG Ethiopian program director in the US) pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing. I wrote about it here. The trial of IAG’s executive director, Mary Mooney, is scheduled to begin jury selection on January 14. More information is available here.

The fourth staff member is Haile Mekonnen (the IAG program director in Ethiopia); he remains, apparently, in Ethiopia.

While this guilty plea cannot make up for the traumas and losses of the families here in the US and in Ethiopia, it is enormously significant. May it be a sign of movement toward much better transparency and integrity in adoption, for children and families around the world.

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My thanks to Adoption News and Events for posting/sharing this information.

Aselefech’s Ethiopia Journey: Adoption, Family, A Film

This is, of course, my daughter Aselefech’s story to tell: what it meant to her to travel back at age 26 to Ethiopia, the land of her birth and where she spent her first six years of life. What it meant to sit with her Ethiopian mother and siblings outside the house she might have also lived in, had she not been adopted. What it meant to her to see the cities and the countryside again, the breathtaking beauty and the breathtaking poverty. What it meant to consider what was, what is, and what might have been.

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She will be talking about that, about the film now in development, and more, on her newly launched blog. I’m incredibly proud of her. Please go read and share it!

It is Aselefech’s journey. Still, the thing about adoption is that those of us who love her also accompany her.

This past August, Aselefech, her then seven year old daughter Zariyah, and I spent about 20 days in Ethiopia, visiting with her family, cheering her on in a 10k trail race, and spending time with friends in Addis. It was my third trip there, Zariyah’s first, and Aselefech’s second since arriving in the US with her twin sister in 1994, when she was about a year younger than Zariyah.

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Aselefech and Zariyah in Addis Ababa.

It’s Aselefech’s story. The thing about adoption, though, is that it reaches far beyond the adopted person (the “adopted child” grows up). It’s more than the birth mother–it’s also the father, and the siblings, nieces, nephews, neighbors, grandparents. It’s more than the adoptive parents–it’s the siblings, partners, and the children of the adoptee. A very big family portrait, in which smiles and sorrows appear, disappear, and appear again. Sometimes.

We were tourists on the trip this summer, some of us less than others. We were accompanied by translators, tour guides, drivers, a talented photographer, and an insightful social worker. We didn’t all speak the same languages. We loved the food. We were saddened, inspired, enlightened, challenged, and blessed.

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Zariyah and I outside the Hilton in Addis.

The film about this trip will share Aselefech’s story, and that of her Ethiopian family and, to a lesser degree, her American family. I look into the eyes of my beloved daughter and  granddaughter, and know that while we have no biological connection, we are inexorably connected. I embrace my daughter’s Ethiopian mother, who is also Zariyah’s grandmother, and who share the same blood. So beautiful, so simple, and so complex.

Zariyah is amazing in the film clip, by the way. She is a gem.

One final note: Aselefech and other Ethiopian adopted adults have been networking and connecting with their fellow adoptees around the globe.  For anyone who is or who knows an (adult) Ethiopian adoptee, please take a look at Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Please “Like” the page. Many thanks.

Also, a big shout out to Gazillion Strong and to Red Shiba Media for their partnership with Aselefech. Powerful.

 

 

 

International Adoption Guides (IAG) Headed for Trial on Ethiopian Adoption Fraud

Almost a year after the Department of Justice indictment for fraud and bribery, two staff members of International Adoption Guides are scheduled to go to trial on January 26.

In February 2014, the US Department of Justice indicted 4 staff members of the adoption agency International Adoption Guides (IAG). Three former staff members from the US–Jim Harding, Mary Mooney, and Alisa Bivens–were arrested for fraud and bribery involving Ethiopian adoptions.The fourth staff member is Haile Mekonnen (the IAG program director in Ethiopia); he remains, apparently, in Ethiopia. The DOJ February 11, 2014, press release on the indictment is available here.

Last fall, Alisa Bivens (IAG Ethiopian program director in the US) pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing. I wrote about it here.

Jury selection for the trial of Jim Harding (IAG’s International Program Director) and Mary Mooney (IAG’s Executive Director) is scheduled to start in South Carolina on January 14, 2015. The trial itself is scheduled to begin January 26. Pretrial meetings start soon.

It is safe to say that, if this trial is like other criminal trials, there have been and will be many meetings and conversations between the prosecution and the defense. Everyone has to have a chance to examine all evidence. The lawyers on both sides are building their cases, deciding on witnesses, and defining their strategies. Until the trial actually begins, schedule and other changes are entirely possible.

For example, a plea agreement could be made for either of the defendants prior to the trial, similar to what Alisa Bivens decided to do. My understanding is that, at this point, no agreement has been reached.

According to the DOJ indictment, “the defendants allegedly engaged in a five-year conspiracy to violate laws relating to the adoption of Ethiopian children by U.S. parents. The scheme involved, among other things, paying orphanages to ‘sign off’ on contracts of adoption with the adopting parents as if the children had been raised by those orphanages — even though the children had never resided in those orphanages and had not been cared for or raised there. These orphanages could not, therefore, properly offer these children up for adoption. In some instances, the children resided with a parent or relative.

…the defendants then allegedly submitted or caused to be submitted these fraudulent contracts of adoption to Ethiopian courts in order to secure adoption decrees, and submitted or caused to be submitted the fraudulent contracts of adoption and the fraudulently procured adoption decrees to the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia in order to obtain U.S. visas for the children to travel to the United States to be with their new families. The indictment also charges that the defendants’ scheme involved paying bribes to an Ethiopian government official and agreeing to create counterfeit U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service forms that were to be submitted to the Ethiopian government.”

If the defendants are found guilty, the penalty for fraud and bribery could be five years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice the value gained or lost.

 

 

That’s the current factual update. Here are some important questions to consider in light of adoption policy:

How, if at all, will these charges and the trial affect the way adoption agencies work? How will they affect the way adoptive families pursue adoption?

The charges are for defrauding the US government. Many of the affected families, in both the US and Ethiopia, were also defrauded, and their lives immeasurably and unfairly damaged. There will be no direct compensation for them, though they have experienced considerable trauma and harm. This is especially true for the children, who are all now 7 or 8 years older than they were during the time this fraud was allegedly occurring. How can these families–now the witnesses and victims in this trial–best be helped and healed?

Some have suggested that IAG should be charged with trafficking. Trafficking, though, involves the transfer of children internationally for purposes of exploitation, such as forced labor, sexual purposes, military service, drug trade, or forced begging. While these end purposes were not the intent, as best I know, of either IAG nor the adoptive families, the way that these children were “internationally transferred” appears jarring and exploitative. The children may not have been trafficked under the current definition of international law. That does not mean, though, that serious thought should be given to a new definition of criminal offense that may not be “trafficking,” but that does relate to the way fraudulent international adoptions are handled. Such a definition should include compensation and support for all victims: birth families, adoptive families, and the adoptees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adoptive Parents Who Move to Their Child’s Country: “We Belong Here”

I wrote this article for the October 2014 issue of Gazillion Voices. I am reprinting it here with permission. Warm wishes to all families for very happy holidays, whatever their faith traditions. May all children be safe and loved, wherever they are in the world.

If you’ve adopted internationally, did you ever consider moving to and living in your child’s country of origin? If you are an international adoptee, did your adoptive parents ever suggest that the family move to the country where you were born?

How many adoption agencies suggest that parents should move There rather than bring the children Here?

Isn’t the point of international adoption to get the kids out of their country?

Some 50 years ago, when international adoptions to the US began in earnest, the dominant thought was that the children would leave their native lands, never to return. Who knew that, in only a couple of generations, not only would adoptees return in large numbers to their countries of origin, but that adoptive parents would consider raising their children in their birth countries, as well?

Korean children, the pioneers of international adoption in the 1950’s, traveled via airplane to the United States, where adoptive parents met them at the airport. Most countries and adoption agencies followed Korea’s example for years, with adoptees essentially having a one-way ticket out of their birth country, a minimal amount of information about their origins, and the expectation they would stay put in America.

In 1994, when my twin daughters were adopted at six years of age, families didn’t go to Ethiopia, and the adoption was complete before their arrival in the US. I met the girls for the first time at LaGuardia Airport in New York and then we flew together to Washington National Airport.

Within the last 10 years or so, adoptive parents have traveled to their children’s country of origin to meet their children, as more countries opened to international adoption and implemented legal processes that require the presence of the adoptive parents. Also, there was a growing belief that the adoptive parents should see, at least briefly, where their children came from. Some countries now require long stays, or more than one visit. Homeland tours have emerged, as adoptees travel back as tourists, sometimes also meeting their foster parents or first parents.

Those connections, while significant, are usually done at a distance, with sporadic visits or phone calls, often using translators.

I just returned recently from visiting Ethiopia with my daughter, Aselefech. We spent wonderful, powerful time with her Ethiopian family, with whom we had visited 3 years before. We also spent time with three American adoptive families who have chosen to live in Ethiopia, in part so that their young adopted Ethiopian children would grow up among their family, culture, and history.

Ethiopia is a vibrant, beautiful, ancient, expanding country. It’s also a third world adjustment for first world travelers in terms of convenience, with power outages, poverty, and safe water being among the challenges. Wi-Fi, trash pickup, sidewalks, and street addresses can be erratic. There’s awareness that the government controls free speech in a different way than in the west, for journalists as much as for ordinary citizens. Poverty is overt, as are physical and mental disabilities, which don’t get the attention and care we are accustomed to in the west.

So what would make American families pack up and then put roots down halfway around the world in Ethiopia? How has the fact they are adoptive parents of Ethiopian children influenced their decision?

Richelle Main is an American social worker, currently a child protection consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She and her husband, Nathan, a Canadian also working in Ethiopia, adopted their daughter, Titay, five years ago.

Richelle told me that “Before adopting Titay in 2009, both Nathan and I had spent time living in Ethiopia for short-ish periods of time –one year and then a few months’ visits when I was in grad school. We both fell in love with Ethiopia—-the good, the hard, and all of its contrasts. I would say that it was a somewhat idealized love, but not totally blind either.

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With Richelle Main (far left) in Addis Ababa, August 2014.

“When we met Titay, a child who had already spent her entire three years of life only in Ethiopia, only spoke Amharic, and only ate Ethiopian food, there was a part of us that couldn’t image taking her away from this country—her country. Nathan and I had always wanted to live here, and at that point we had had a relationship with Ethiopia for six years.

“I can’t say that adopting Titay pushed us to move here, because we had been looking for ways to move here for many years, but adopting her reinforced the IMPORTANCE that we move here. We wanted to give her diverse experiences in Ethiopia—so that she is able to see the contrasts for herself.

“I think she will always be different than some Ethiopians, since she is adopted by white American-Canadian parents, but living here might give her a sense of this being ‘her’ country. In fact, in her eight years of life, she has only lived in the US for one of those years, so I hope that she feels like Ethiopia is home and that she will always have a place here.

“We also really wanted her to understand the diversity of peoples and cultures that exist within her country. That is something that you don’t necessarily feel when you only visit. People say, ‘Ethiopia is like this,’ but it really isn’t. It’s New Year this week, and yet the area I am in now doesn’t really care or celebrate that. You can’t say a country that is this diverse eats only injera, etc. I want Titay to know and experience those nuances.”

Another family, the Benkerts, have lived in Ethiopia since 2009. They are parents of four children, two adopted and two born to them. Levi told me this: “As far as living in Ethiopia, we were actually living here already when we adopted our daughter from Ethiopia, and so it was not really much of a decision. Of course, living here is hard, and hardly a month goes by without us having a serious discussion about moving back to America, but we feel that we belong here, and are excited to see all that we can do by staying. Our daughter loves it here, as do all our kids, so that part is easy.”

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Aselefech with Levi Benkert, August 2014

Levi and his wife, Jessie, are the amazing powers behind Bring Love In, a program in Ethiopia that creates new families from widows and orphans and also works alongside families who, without the help of Bring Love In, would place their children in an orphanage. According to Levi and Jessie, “Although we are believers in adoption, personally having adopted two children ourselves, we have seen, from living in Ethiopia, that adoption only solves a minuscule part of a huge problem. More needs to be done to address the greater issues, and we know that our family is called to do just that.” Their work focuses “on keeping the orphans in country and giving them the best possible foundation, both spiritually and emotionally, to go out in their country and contribute to its future success.”

Karleen and Lance Klopp have two sons by birth and a son and daughter adopted from Ethiopia in 2007. They all moved from Washington State to Addis Ababa this past July, a big move for kids in high school and middle school. Lance and Karleen are in the process of setting up a daycare program for Ethiopian women who are widows or whose husbands have left them or are disabled. Without childcare, the women would not be able to work, thus becoming beggars or worse to support themselves. The women’s monthly salaries are often in the range of $20-30 a month. You can read more about Lance and Karleen’s work at Encourage Africa.

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With Karleen Klopp (far right) at Kaldi’s in Addis, August 2014.

Why uproot a family and take them all to Ethiopia? Since the adoptions in 2007, the Klopp family had visited Ethiopia a few times, and ultimately felt called to go live and work there. “We also felt a responsibility to our adopted children and to their birth family and culture. We have contact with almost all of the (Ethiopian) family.” As Karleen said, “Yes, we left a lot of family in the U.S., grandparents, great grandparents, etc. But I hope ALL my kids will eventually see the good here and not the frustrations and fraud we have experienced so far. Lance and I love Ethiopia-we see the beauty and the potential beyond the frustrations. We hope to be here as long as we can and hope to open the center in Kirkos in November with 20 kiddos under 2 years old.”

There have been many adjustments. The Klopps’ house had no water for 10 days and sometimes has uncertain electricity. They recently purchased a car; cars are taxed at over 200% in Ethiopia, and the roads have very few rules, signs, or traffic lights. The kids are learning (re-learning) Amharic. They have two new puppies as pets; most dogs just roam around outside in Ethiopia and are not usually let in the house. My sense is that there is exhilaration, exhaustion, uncertainty, and joy in their lives right now.

The religious beliefs of the Benkerts and Klopps were part of the motivation for their presence in Ethiopia; their Christian faith created a call in their lives that they acted on. There is overlap among the families of a deep sense of connection with Ethiopia and of a desire to help their adopted children fully know and understand their families and culture.

Some of the adopted children are in close contact with their Ethiopian family members, who are now across town, rather than across the world. The siblings of the adopted children are embracing a new culture and language—just as the adopted children did when they went to America. It’s a remarkable reinvention of the adoption Diaspora, when American parents emigrate to the land of their children’s birth.

I don’t think it ever occurred to me that our family would move to Ethiopia after we adopted our twin girls 20 years ago. I understood the importance of retaining and honoring their culture as best as possible, though I see now that the retention and honor are often superficial at best. It’s a lip service approach to understanding an international adoptee’s heritage. Pulling up (some) roots and (re) planting others may seem a feat of courage, but I bet these parents would smile and just say it is the right thing for them and their children. Moving to an adopted child’s homeland may not be feasible for most families. Still, what wonderful possibilities. What a powerful re-invention of adoption.

 

© Copyright. Gazillion Voices. 2014. All rights reserved.

Dan Rather’s Show: “Unwanted Children–The Shameful Side of International Adoption”

Dan Rather hosted an in-depth show on AXS TV called “Unwanted Children–The Shameful Side of International Adoption.” To view the show, which is available here, you will need this password: danrather.

It’s a tough and important 2 hours to watch and ingest. Much of the focus is on Ethiopian adoptions, and children who have been “re-homed,” moved to new adoptive families with little oversight, assistance, or regulation. Reuters did a series on re-homing; information is available here.

“Unwanted Children” sheds light on some terrible child welfare practices in adoption. The idea that children can be internationally adopted to the United States, and then moved to new adoptive homes with less oversight than occurs with dogs, is deplorable.

Kathryn Joyce wrote powerfully in Slate in November 2013 about some of these adoptees as well. Her detailed, insightful article “Hana’s Story: An Adoptee’s Tragic Fate and How It Could Happen Again” was part of the impetus for the Dan Rather show.

This show, on the heels of E.J. Graff’s incisive report “They Steal Babies, Don’t They?“, is an explicit call to action for change in Ethiopian adoptions. I have spoken out about this; many, many people are deeply concerned around the globe. I hope to see a response soon from organizations such as the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, the National Council for Adoption, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, and Both Ends Burning to demand changes in oversight and regulations, as well as solid improvement in services provided to adoptive and first/birth families.

Because: enough. I am so proud of groups like Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, and of Ethiopian Adoption Connection, who are speaking out and working hard to give voice to those who are too often left out of adoption policy discussions: the adoptees and the first families.

As an adoptive parent, I hope to see more eyes opened to some of the realities of adoption practices today, so that the rights of all children and parents are safeguarded, and all adoptions are done with transparency and integrity.

Please note also that a “GoFundMe” campaign has been set up to help the 9 Ethiopian adoptees who “are now homeless after being pushed out of their adoptive home,” according to the fundraiser. Information is available here.

 

 

An Ethiopian Adoptee’s Thoughts on Ferguson, Being Ethiopian, and Being Black

In response to the indictment decision in Ferguson and to conversations about race, my daughter Aselefech offered these thoughts to adoptive parents about what it means to be Ethiopian and to be black in America:

Reflections on Ferguson, and on raising black children:

It’s one thing for Ethiopians in Ethiopia to raise their children as Ethiopians. It’s completely different for white parents raising adopted Ethiopian children in the United States.
By adopting an Ethiopian child, what obligations do you have to your children? How embracing will you be of black culture? Will you take the path of least resistance and teach your children to only take pride in their Ethiopian heritage, or will you acknowledge the realities of being black?

White America will not give your Ethiopian child a pass. Your child will be subject to racial bigotry and unjust laws. Your child will be pulled over by the police. Your child will be admired for speaking good English, as if that’s a novelty. Your child will look like the majority population in U.S. prisons. Your child will rarely see herself in fashion magazines as being beautiful.

It’s not enough to eat doro wat at an Ethiopian restaurant or listen to Teddy Afro. Ethiopian children deserve to be raised with black role models surrounding them, loving them, and teaching them. We Ethiopian adoptees are Black in America. I am proud to be black, and to be Ethiopian. I want young Ethiopian adoptees to fully understand their truth.

Aselefech is a founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, a columnist at Gazillion Voices, and a contributor to The Lost Daughters. On Twitter: @AselefechE.

Ethiopian Adoptions: An Eye-Opening, Jaw-Dropping Investigative Report

E.J. Graff has written a far-reaching, detailed, urgent investigative report on Ethiopian adoptions: “They Steal Babies, Don’t They?”

Many people, including me, have been extremely concerned about the role of fraud and corruption in adoptions in Ethiopia. For far too long, according to Graff, “orphans were ‘produced’ by unscrupulous middlemen who would persuade desperately poor, uneducated, often illiterate villagers whose culture had no concept of permanently severing biological ties to send their children away.” It is heartbreaking–for the children, for the Ethiopian parents, and for the adoptive parents.

This report is an “exclusive investigation of internal US State Department documents.” These adoption-related cables, emails, and other written material were requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

There is also “an alphabetized index of every U.S. adoption agency and Ethiopian orphanage that we found mentioned in these hundreds of pages. Each item…below the name of the agency or orphanage is a link to the FOIA-ed documents posted on our site. We realize that these are raw documents, out of context, and give only partial impressions of what some Embassy staff members were thinking at particular moments. To offer a fuller picture of what was happening, we asked every U.S adoption agency named in these documents whether they would like to submit a response that might clarify, correct, or comment on anything mentioned regarding their agency.” The agencies’ responses are available here.

Graff is ultimately optimistic about the future of Ethiopian adoptions, as a result of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, Uniform Accreditation Act which took effect in July 2014 as well as the Pre-Adoption Immigration Review (PAIR). We all want children who need safe, loving families to have them. If that happens through adoption, we all want the adoptions to be transparent and ethical–nothing short of complete integrity.

As the adoptive parent of twin daughters adopted from Ethiopia in 1994, and as a mother who met my daughters’ Ethiopian family in 2008, I know firsthand the role of inequity, economics, and heartache that adoptions can have. I also know the love and joy surrounding all of us, as we have been able to meet, talk, and learn. I am hopeful that many people–especially adoption agencies, government officials, prospective parents, adoptive parents, and Ethiopian adoptees around the globe–will read this. I am less confident that Ethiopian birth parents, marginalized and too often voiceless, will have their questions answered and their fears resolved, but that is their right, and only fair. And fairness is long overdue.

My thanks to E.J. Graff for her incredible efforts on this important article, and to the US State Department for its work to make adoptions more transparent. I applaud all those involved in adoption, in Ethiopia and around the world, who are genuinely committed to ensuring an ethical process that protects the rights of children and families.

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