Christians are struggling to deliver adopted youngsters dwelling from abroad …… | Information reporting
The final leg of Babydson and Jamesky's journey to their new family in America was the long hallway at Fort Lauderdale Airport. The thin-legged brothers, aged 8 and 7, carried large backpacks that they had packed in their orphanage in Haiti. They strolled shyly down the hall until they were shoveled into the hugs of Beau and Kari Cox.
The Kansas couple, who felt called up for adoption after a medical mission to Port-au-Prince, had been in the process for almost three years before Babydson and Jamesky arrived on May 14. The coronavirus pandemic, along with hundreds of American families, stopped the process for them at a time when international adoptions had dropped to historic lows.
Even before the virus, adoption in Haiti was notoriously slow, delayed by political unrest, government corruption, incompetence, and lack of technology. It got worse last year, the country was closed due to violent protests, and the United States was advised against traveling there.
"When the pandemic broke out, we thought:" Can we even get it on a flight and get it out? "Said Kari Cox.
US embassies around the world had either ceased or continued to operate with skeleton crews, and the Haitian government had almost stalled. To take the boys home now, the Coxes had to hope for a number of little miracles. A deregistration from Haiti. A passport and visa from the United States. A willing and reliable company. A flight out.
Image: Courtesy of the Cox family
Somehow everything was the same. The Haitian government signed the last sheet of paper after promising for weeks to "do it soon". An administrator at the boys' orphanage found an American mission teacher outside of Port Au Prince who could return to Pennsylvania and fly with them. The Coxes booked a flight to Fort Lauderdale, where Babydson and Jamesky were supposed to land. They boarded the plane without knowing whether the embassy had issued their sons' visas and exit letters.
The Coxes joined five other families at the airport and met their adoptive children from Haiti. After years of worrying that the constant delays would halt the process indefinitely, "this was the first time we could breathe," said Kari Cox.
When Babydson and Jamesky arrived in Florida a few weeks ago, it was almost a year since the Coxes saw the boys. In the group of children, some younger people ran to their families. Kari tried to recognize the faces of her boys, then they were suddenly there. "It felt like she was coming forever to walk down the hall," she said. "It was really valuable."
The Cox family story is one of the happiest. Some families had to cancel adoptions from abroad due to the delays caused by the pandemic. The rest are left with unknown schedules in a process that has been hampered by increased regulation in recent years.
Last year, fewer than 3,000 US families adopted a child from another country. This is the lowest in 50 years, according to the State Department. (There were 4,000 in 2018. At its peak in 2004, there were 22,000.)
While foreign governments have restricted or abolished international adoptions in more than a dozen countries for various reasons, the U.S. State Department tightened its regulations a few years ago in hopes of preventing unethical adoption practices and ensuring greater transparency and follow-up.
These regulations have provided additional steps in an already tedious process. The pandemic has now brought international adoption to a standstill in almost every phase, said Ryan Hanlon, vice president of the National Adoption Council (NCFA). Families waiting for approval to begin adoption cannot make their required fingerprint appointment with the now closed US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Families who have submitted documents are waiting for a document to be approved by a U.S. embassy or foreign embassy, many of which are also closed. Many countries require legal proceedings to complete the adoption. Courts are closed.
And of course families cannot easily travel overseas to meet their adopted (some countries like Haiti need a "socialization" visit before the legal process can begin) or to pick them up.
According to Hanlon, the NCFA knows of about two dozen US families who are currently stuck abroad and are waiting to take their adopted children home. Most are in Africa, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Chad. Some are in Asia and Central America. They don't wait for flights. They are waiting for paperwork.
"The reality is that these families traveled long before the pandemic," said Hanlon. "If the State Department had done its job in time, they wouldn't have gotten stuck."
These hurdles must have an impact on the work of Christian adoption agencies and must appear in church prayer requests. Evangelicals are among the most keen supporters of adoption and are more than twice as likely as the general population to adopt a child, deal with adoption-related causes, or know someone who has adopted from abroad.
A State Department official told Christianity Today that international adoption "remains a high priority," but the Ministry does not know when routine overseas visa services will resume. The official said the department primarily helps families who had visas to the embassies before the closure, but also tries to provide emergency appointments "if resources allow". The agency recommended that families contact USCIS.
In cases where an embassy is not open to an adoption visa, the USCIS, which reports to the Department of Homeland Security, could exceptionally grant humanitarian probation. This would allow families to take their children home to the US and complete the visa process here.
Only one family working at Nightlight Christian Adoptions – the same agency that oversaw the adoption of the Coxes from Haiti – has been granted humanitarian probation to return with their child, while many others applied but are still waiting.
"The State Department's Children's Department said:" Please tell us all of your families who are stuck and we'll see what we can do, "said Daniel Nehrbass, President of Nightlight," and then the answer we received . "was:" There is nothing we can do. "
In addition to the frustration and economic hardship of not being able to find a job in the United States, the pandemic stalls can threaten adoption. In many countries there is an age limit for adoption eligibility. Nehrbass knows at least one family waiting to adopt a Hong Kong child who has turned 14, which means he has aged out of the process while waiting for his adoptive family to pick him up.
As COVID's travel restrictions prevented the family from getting there, Nehrbass said officials in Hong Kong said they would grant an extension. In a similar case in Honduras, the government will not. This adoption – prayed and planned for years – can no longer take place. "It is a tragedy for these children," said Nehrbass.
Nehrbass speculated that one reason why the State Department has tightened regulation and has apparently slowed down the international adoption process in recent years is growing concern about human trafficking. "I think there is a narrative among some in the State Department that the risk of a child being traded, real or perceived, is such an injustice that it would be better not to have adoptions than … the door easily to break up. " he said.
Still, Nehrbass said that the interruptions in foreign adoption affected by COVID are not all due to the State Department. He estimated that half of Nightlight's families who are stuck overseas are waiting for foreign courts, ministries, or embassies.
The Benik family flew from their home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to Bogotá, Colombia, in early March, expecting to leave with their newly adopted 15-year-old daughter Laura a few weeks later. They were awaiting release from the Colombian judicial system when the pandemic caused the country to close.
"The first few weeks were a roller coaster ride like this," said R. P. Benik. "Someone would say, 'We expect your adoption to be completed by the end of the week', and then someone else tells you it will never happen. At that point, we just said, 'We'. I won't worry about it anymore. We'll just squat together. "
The Beniks' lawyer said they could go back to the United States without Laura and try to come back later. "Every time they advised us to go home, we always tried to be wise and discuss it, but at the end of the day we said," We're not going, "said Benik.
They remained in Colombia for two months. They celebrated the second birthday of their youngest biological daughter and Laura's 15th, their Quinceañera, together in a mission house. They had delivered groceries. The Colombian government did not allow walks in the neighborhood. Using online notifications, they watched how weekly evacuation flights came and went.
At their attorney's instruction, the Beniks sued the Colombian government to force them to hear their case – and it worked. The Colombian president signed a decree that allowed a government agency to approve foreign adoptions of currently stranded families instead of the closed judicial system. The U.S. embassy then issued Laura's visa in a single day. Embassy officials even came to Bogotá Airport to see Laura and her new family on May 3.
Benik said his family had been in touch with South Carolina's Senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, throughout the process, and the COVID-19 pandemic had renewed some Congress endorsements on behalf of families who are adopting overseas waiting.
At the end of April, the Congress adoption caucus sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for information about how his department wanted to help families trapped overseas during the pandemic. The letter also asked the State Department to "use all available resources to ensure that international adoptions are safe and timely". The State Department didn't give an official answer.
It is unclear what long-term effects the pandemic will have on international adoptions. The landscape was already in the river. In addition to the sharp drop in the past 15 years, Bethany Christian Services – the largest adoption and care agency in the United States – announced earlier this year that it would end the international adoption program next year and work with local partners to make improvements instead local child support systems.
It is inevitable that the number of international adoptions in 2020 will fall below the historical low of last year – how much experts don't know.
Nehrbass at night said when the shutdowns arrived, he hoped it would draw attention to the existing malfunction, "but it just didn't work," he said.
He is optimistic that the crisis will not weaken family determination, especially as pandemic deaths are likely to leave more children without parents around the world.
"There are enough children and there are enough families … we just have to lower the hurdles on the way," said Nehrbass.
One of these hurdles now requires a vaccine.