On the Radio: Adoptees as Immigrants, via “Maeve in America”

Maeve Higgins is an Irish TV star and comedian, currently living in New York City. Among her creative projects is a series of podcasts about “funny, beautiful, and sometimes maddening immigration stories, told by the people who’ve lived them.” I recently had the pleasure of being the “context queen” on the Maeve in America episode, “The Amy Show: Seoul Searching.”

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Amy Mihyang Ginther is the focus of the show. She is a Korean adoptee, brought to the US at 3 months old. She has reunited with her birth family and has lived in Korea; you may remember reading her story in the New York Times: “Why A Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to Korea.” Amy and her mother were featured on the cover photograph.

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Amy is now an assistant professor in the Theater Arts Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. On the Maeve in America show, she shares stories about growing up as a transracial adoptee, returning to Korea, and working with students and others to develop effective voices, in performance and in advocacy.

Maeve invited me to be on the show because of my recent Slate article about Adam Crapser, the Korean adoptee deported from the United States a few weeks ago. We also talked about my being a transracial adoptive parent. Other voices on the show include the comedian (and Korean adoptee) Joel Kim Booster, and Maeve’s Jamaican-born foster-sister Aggie, who talks about her experiences in a loving Irish family, and the realities of hair and makeup as the only person of color.

My thanks to Maeve for including me, and especially for bringing light to the issue of adoptees as immigrants. Please go listen, and enjoy the show!

You can follow Maeve on Twitter: @maeveinamerica.

Let’s End the Deportation of International Adoptees

I have an article on Slate today: The Heartbreaking Way the U.S. Has Failed Thousands of Children Adopted From Overseas.

I hope you’ll read the Slate article, and then please urge Congress to pass the Adoptee Citizenship Act, S. 2275 in the Senate, and H.R. 5454 in the House of Representatives. It is long overdue.

Children have been arriving in the US for adoption from other countries since the 1940’s. Many folks–adult adoptees, adoptive parents, officials from the sending countries–are stunned to hear that citizenship has been automatic for adoptees only for the last 15 years, and then only for adoptees under 18 years old.

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Because of a 1996 immigration law, adoptees (and others) without U.S. citizenship are subject to deportation if they commit certain crimes, which can range from selling a small amount of marijuana to check forgery to assault and worse. Adam Crapser, adopted from Korea at 3 years old, has been in the news recently because he was deported to Korea about a week ago, at 41 years of age. There have been many others who have been deported (to Brazil, Germany Mexico, Thailand, Japan, and elsewhere) after having grown up in American families and thinking themselves to be Americans. The majority have not committed any crimes. Some are living in the shadows, fearful of what might happen to them.

That has to stop. They all deserve citizenship as the adopted children of U.S. citizens brought legally and transparently to the United States with the permission and oversight of both the sending country and of the U.S. government.

 

 

 

Remembering Hana Williams, Three Years After the Guilty Verdict

Three years ago today, a jury found Larry and Carri Williams guilty of the death of their daughter, Ethiopian adoptee Hana (Alemu) Williams. She would have turned 18 this year, had she lived.

Hana (Alemu) Williams

Instead, Hana died on May 12, 2011, at 13 years of age. The causes: hypothermia and malnutrition. About two years after her death, the case went to trial in the summer of 2013. Her adoptive parents were accused of the homicide of Hana, and of the abuse of Immanuel, an Ethiopian boy adopted in 2008, at the same time as Hana. I attended most of the five-week trial, blogged about it, and posted this on the day of the jury decision: Williams Trial Verdict In: Justice for Hana and Immanuel.

In October 2013, Larry and Carri Williams were sentenced to jail for decades. They also have seven biological children. They lost custody of Immanuel, of course, but also lost custody of their five minor biological children as well. The children were all adopted by relatives, as I understand it. At one point, Carri tried to get back custody of her children, but failed. I have no details on Immanuel, except that he continues to struggle. All of the children struggle in many ways, I would guess.

In recent years, adoptions from Ethiopia have dramatically declined for a number of reasons, one of which is surely Hana’s death. I am not minimizing the tragedy of her death when I say that it is an anomaly, an exception. I don’t want her to be forgotten. I want her to be remembered as a light in the world, and still in our hearts.

 

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.

“The Economist” Editorial: Blind to the Realities of International Adoption

The Economist, the British-based weekly news magazine, missed a valuable opportunity to present much-needed solutions for children without families. Instead, it glossed over recent history and current realities around international adoption, sounding uninformed and starry-eyed.

All children deserve safe, loving families. International adoption is one means of helping, but there are many other much-needed actions as well. Too often, people romanticize the notion of adoption without understanding its realities. Think “Annie.”

The Economist recently published two articles on international adoption. I was among many folks interviewed for Sarah Esther Maslin’s article, “Home Alone: Fewer Families Are Adopting Children From Overseas.” She addresses the issues of fraud and corruption in Romania and Guatemala, among other countries, noting the frustration that some folks have with the bureaucracy around the adoption process: “Such sluggishness infuriates overseas parents. But many sending countries say critics underestimate the difficulties of building a robust adoption system—and ask why, if people in rich countries really care about poor children in poor places, they do not fund domestic programmes to keep families together instead.”

Indeed.

Maslin’s article explains why international adoptions have decreased so significantly in recent decades, and it’s important that this information get out into the world at large. (I wrote about the issue in this post: “Lamenting the Decline in International Adoption? Take Action.”)

In addition to Maslin’s article, The Economist also published an editorial, “Babies without borders.” The editorial was superficial at best, failing to speak out to its 1.3 million readers about genuinely effective ways to help children have families.

Adoption can benefit some children and families. However, there is a bigger picture around child welfare advocacy that must be addressed.

Here is the Letter to the Editor I sent to The Economist:

In urging that international adoptions be made easier, The Economist’s editorial “Babies without borders” is naïve, clichéd, and shallow. It includes the following:

  • A stunning amount of faith that the Hague Convention has rooted out fraud and corruption, and thus it is now safe to move faster in processing adoptions.
  • A failure to mention how many adult adoptees have discovered the extent of deception in their adoptions.
  • A cavalier dismissal of the loss of culture and history when children are internationally adopted.
  • A noticeable silence about several countries’ efforts to promote in-country adoption and to reduce the cultural stigmas around it.
  • An astonishing exhortation that U.S. evangelical Christians specifically should not be stopped on their happy way to adopting.
  • A lack of awareness about the current paucity of post-adoption services which has led to tragic re-homing situations, as well as to international adoptees being placed, for example,  in the U.S. foster care system.

As an adoptive parent, I know the power of adoption. International adoption, though, helps very few of the children who genuinely need help. Increased family preservation efforts and child/family sponsorships via reputable organizations are only two of the possible  solutions to ensuring that many more children have safe, loving families.

Unfortunately, The Economist was busy humming Little Orphan Annie’s “Hard Knock Life,” and quoting it, rather than examining realities and proposing thoughtful solutions.

 

 

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Please read both Sarah Maslin’s article and the editorial, and share your thoughts with The Economist. You can e-mail letters@economist.com. Include your mailing address and a daytime telephone number.

 

Lions Roaring: Learning From the Stories of Ethiopian Adoptees

Our upcoming anthology “Lions Roaring Far From Home,” with more than 25 essays by Ethiopian adoptees from 7 countries, is on the final stretch to publication, and will be published this fall. It’s been a longer road than we anticipated. I am aware now of how much I did not know about the process. Had I known, would I have embarked on this adventure? Yes. It’s been wonderful to learn so much about working with diverse authors, editing across languages and cultures, engaging with translators, and grinding through the details involved in putting a book together.

Beyond learning about publishing, though, I have learned much more from the stories these amazing writers have shared.

The essays reflect a range of Ethiopian adoptee experiences. Some are happy, some are tragic. Some adoptees were deeply loved, some were cruelly abused. Yes, those are realities for non-adoptees as well. Add on the layer of adoption, though–the removal of a child from his/her mother, family, country, and culture–and both the love and the cruelty take on different poignancy.

Racism and being “other” is a constant, around the globe, sometimes low-key and polite, sometimes harsh and shocking.

Many Ethiopian adult adoptees are involved in amazing, impressive programs to give back to Ethiopia.

Some adoptees have struggled with significant depression along the way, even while in loving families, sometimes to the point of considering suicide.

Many were older at adoption, and remember well their parents and siblings. Some have searing, wrenching memories of being separated from their mothers.

Some have stayed in contact with their Ethiopian families, or have reconnected with them. Some continue to wonder why they were adopted, and have not been able to learn their truth.

For some, being adopted has had a profound impact on their becoming parents, and the way they have chosen to raise their children.

Some have returned to Ethiopia to live and raise their families.

Some adoptees have very happy memories of being in orphanages, often with their siblings.

Some adoptees, even as adults into their 30’s and 40’s, hesitate to tell their adoptive parents about wanting to learn about their birth families, or .

All these snippets give you a flavor of the book, perhaps. It’s the stories, though, that have such power.

Here are brief excerpts from 3 essays:

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Mani, Ethiopia. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

My grandpa was paying for my older sister and brother to go to school already, and when five more of us came to live with him and my grandma, he did not know what to do with us. It was a constant battle with my grandma as to what she should feed us. I don’t think he had any option but to put us in an orphanage. He never would have sent us back to the village because he knew if we went back, we never would have gotten to see the doorway of a school. Education to my grandpa was, and still is, the most important thing in life, after his faith.

 

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Woman walking in Addis Ababa. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

My mother’s brother wanted to murder my mother because she, as a young schoolgirl, without being married, became pregnant. My mother came from a Muslim family. A girl who is pregnant and unmarried shames the whole family. My mother fled to her older sister’s home in Addis Ababa, and there I was born. My mother would take me sometimes to visit my father, who comes from a wealthy Christian family, but he would not acknowledge me, given the disgrace.

 

 

 

Original art © Maureen McCauley Evans

Which family, in my heart, do I belong to more? Which parent do I love more? Where should I live once I grow up, in Ethiopia or the U.S.? Which parent do I listen to more? Which one do I call Mom? Why did I get adopted if my one parent is alive? What is my purpose in life in America? Why me?

I feel I am living a double life. I am Ethiopian, but I am also American. I have family in Ethiopia, and I have family in America. I lived my first 8 years in Ethiopia and have lived the rest in America. This has been a blessing as well as hardship for me. I feel blessed that I have my American citizenship and I got that very easily, by being adopted. I know of other Ethiopians that have immigrated to America and had much more difficulty and fewer opportunities than I have had.

On the other hand, I feel like there is a hole in my heart, because when I go back to Ethiopia, I don’t feel 100% Ethiopian. I look Ethiopian, but I can no longer speak Amharic. There are many cultural differences. When I am in America, I speak the language, but I do not look like others in my community. So, being an Ethiopian adoptee in America is both a blessing and a curse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

France Joins Other European Nations in Suspending Adoptions From Ethiopia

France has announced that it will suspend adoptions from Ethiopia. You can read the announcement in French here: Communiqué relatif à la suspension des adoptions internationales en Éthiopie (4.05.2016)

This is a Google Translate version of the announcement:

“Statement on the suspension of international adoptions in Ethiopia (05/04/2016)

The Mission of the International Adoption (DIA) informs candidates for adoption in Ethiopia in April 22, 2016, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development has sent a letter to Ms. Zenebu Tadesse, Minister for Women and Children in Ethiopia, announcing the suspension of international adoptions to the implementation of legislative and institutional reforms undertaken by that country.

Other host countries such as Germany, French-speaking Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland have suspended adoptions in Ethiopia.

The decision comes after the May mission in Ethiopia conducted from 10 to 12 February. During this mission, in May met with the Minister of Women and Children for a status report on the situation of adoption. The observation was made jointly by the need to suspend international adoptions to ensure ethical and legal certainty of procedures and to encourage local alternatives supported international adoption.

Only the procedures related families of Ethiopian children by 22 April 2016 and whose name list was transmitted to the Ethiopian authorities have received agreement in principle from the Ethiopian minister. These procedures are allowed to continue through the operators. Regarding the situation of children already adopted and arrived in France, the OAA ( Organismes Autorisés pour l’Adoption–Authorized adoption agencies)  will ensure monitoring and transmit the monitoring reports in compliance with the requirements of the Ethiopian legislation.”

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Graph showing decline in international adoptions to France

We Iive in a global adoption community. Around the world, international adoptions are declining: it’s not just the United States. Millions of vulnerable children need help, though international adoption is increasingly not an option, for many reasons. Those of us involved with adoption must continue to advocate for children in the US and around the world who need safety, food, families, and health care.

My thanks to Andrea Kay of Ethiopian Adoption Connections (EAC) for sharing this information. EAC works to connect Ethiopian adoptees around the world with their Ethiopian families. EAC also works with Ethiopian birth mothers and families to help them in a number of ways, such as empowering Ethiopian families who have lost children to adoption by providing emotional and social support through caseworker led discussion groups; education about the system through which their children were adopted; and meaningful, realistic information about reunion, potential reunion, and ongoing contact with their adopted children. Please visit their website and support their work.

 

Update on “Lions Roaring” Anthology

The road to publication has been bumpier than we had hoped, but that often happens with labors of love. My co-editors Kassaye Berhanu, Aselefech Evans, and I are incredibly thrilled to be partners on the first anthology by Ethiopian adoptees, Lions Roaring, Far From Home. We are moving ahead in good ways.

Here’s what we have been working on:

  • Selecting and editing 28 essays. The writers are from the U.S., Canada, France, Holland, Sweden, Spain, and Australia. They range in age from 8 to 47.
  • Reaching out to potential partners to assist with funding for production costs and translations (Dutch, French, and Spanish).
  • Acquiring the license for e-book publication.
  • Beginning to format and upload material for publication.
  • Reaching out to potential “celebrity” guest writers.
  • Making connections with potential partners in Ethiopia, for sharing information and promoting the book. (We would love to get it translated into Amharic, though that’s another significant potential expense. We’re working on it.)
  • Figuring out the best way to acquire the front and back cover art.
  • Lining up pre- and post-publication reviewers.
  • Setting up the book’s Facebook page (under construction but will be live soon.)
  • Keeping up with our own family responsibilities, work, job searches, health, bills, travel, and so on.

I greatly appreciate the patience of our wonderful essayists. We will soon be working with them on the promotion of the book, which we hope will include readings in various cities (hopefully sponsored by adoptee, adoptive parent and other groups). I will be asking the writers to record brief video clips reading excerpts from their essays, to be used in promoting the book.

Original artwork © Maureen McCauley Evans

The learning curve has been steep on this book, but we are getting near the finish line. (It will be so much easier on the next one!) We are grappling with funding for the production and translation costs. Please keep in mind that revenue from book sales will go toward establishing a guest house/resource center in Addis for returning adoptees from around the globe.

We are honored by the gifts of the stories in this book. The essays are straight from the heart of the adoptees, who have dealt with the joy, the sorrow, the racism, the confusion, the reality that is international adoption. Thanks for being with us on this journey. Our plan is that the next update on Lions Roaring will be the publication announcement!

 

 

 

Update on Hana Williams: Larry and Carri Williams Have Filed an Appeal to Their Murder Convictions

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams) Photo from Facebook page: Remembrance of Hanna Williams

In late October 2013, Larry and Carri Williams, the adoptive parents of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams/Hana Alemu, were convicted and sentenced to jail for Hana’s murder and associated torture. You can read about their sentencing here.

Larry and Carri have filed appeals of the conviction, and the Seattle Appeals Court has scheduled oral arguments for the appeals on Monday, November 16, at 9:30am. I will be there, and I hope many other folks in the Seattle area will be there also. A good showing by the public on Hana’s behalf could be a powerful statement to the judges. Many thanks to all who have kept Hana in their hearts.

I feel certain that many folks in Washington State, in the US, in Ethiopia, and around the globe will be watching this case closely.

We haven’t forgotten you, Hana.

Adoptee Anthology “Lions Roaring” Featured in Ethiopian Diaspora Newspaper

We are so pleased that our anthology Lions, Roaring, Far From Home was featured in Gizeyat, the first weekly for the Ethiopian Diaspora.

The article, “Ethiopian adoptees to author book for the adoption community,” quotes the co-founders of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Kassaye MacDonald says “we are creating this book because the voices of Ethiopian adoptees deserve to be heard.” And according to Aselefech Evans, “Many Ethiopian adoptees, wherever they have been raised, feel a connection to Ethiopia and want to give back in some way.”

Kassaye and Aselefech are co-editors of the upcoming anthology, due out in 2016. One of the main goals of the publication is not only to share the voices of Ethiopian adoptees, but also to fund a guest house in Addis for returning adoptees from around the world.

We are beginning the editing process now of the essays selected to appear in the anthology, and are honored by the stories that have been shared. We hope to have an Ethiopian adoptee design the cover art for the book.

Thank you to Gizeyat reporter Bereket Dereje and Gizeyat for featuring Lions Roaring!

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Original artwork by Adanech Evans © Maureen McCauley Evans