An Adams County couple is fighting to get their two legally adopted children to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The couple says their children’s exit paperwork is being held up by political red tape.
The Parker family is patiently waiting to bring home their two adopted children. They started the adoption process in 2011.
“We got the first referral pictures of them in July 2012. It’s kind of hard explain to people who have not been involved in an adoption, but when you see their picture, those are your kids. You immediately bond with the picture,” said Erica Finkelstein-Parker as she fought back tears.
September 23rd the Parker’s got the news they were waiting for. “We got an email from the U.S. Embassy saying congratulations, you are finished your investigation, and your children are scheduled to get their U.S. Visas. We were thrilled. We were beyond thrilled,” said Finkelstein-Parker.
Two days later that excitement disappeared. “We received notification that the migration department in the DRC was no longer processing what they called exit letters for adopted children to leave. So officially our kids were stuck,” said Finkelstein-Parker.
Sam Wojnilower, Manager of International Services at Adoptions with the Heart said this is something many families encounter. “Inter-country adoption to the U.S. has decreased by about 2/3 over the past decade. Back in the years of 2004-2005 there were approximately 23,000 adoptions annually from abroad to the U.S. and for 2013 the numbers are not out yet but they are expected to under 8,000,” said Wojnilower. “A big reason the number of adoptions have decreased. is the advent of what’s known as the Hague Convention. This is an international treaty governing international adoptions. It went into effect in the U.S. in 2008 and this put additional requirements on the adoption process. It brought U.S. Department of State into the process. The end result has been that adoptions have gotten even more complicated than they were, lengthier in process, and more costly for the adoptive parents.”
He described the situation in Congo. “For an adopted child to exit Congo and then to enter the U.S. they not only do they need a Visa issued by the U.S. Embassy, but they also need an exit permit issued by Congo. So at this point Congo has suspended issuance of all exit permits. The notice in April spoke of a temporary suspension. In September the word temporary was lifted from that and it was posted that the suspension would last up to twelve months due to concerns, not only about adoptions there and the process, but potentially how adoptees were being treated in other countries,” said Wojnilower.
Wojnilower said sometimes these cases can take time. “What happens when these suspensions, or stoppages occur, from one country or another, you have what is called pipeline cases. Perhaps the most vivid example is Guatamala back in 2008 is when adoptions from there stopped. There was thousands of cases. Children that had already been referred to families and were in the process of being adopted, as hard as it is to believe, we are in 2014, six years later and there are still several dozen of those cases that have yet to be resolved. Orphans who might have been one year old in 2008 are now seven years old. You have adoptive parents from the U.S. who are still trying to advocate for these children to come here as their adoptive children,” said Wojnilower.
Since the Parkers received the news they have faced nothing but hurdles. From delays in processing paperwork, to extra steps in the adoption process they weren’t originally aware of, to rules flat out changing. “We were told, well if you have finished your paperwork before we stopped processing the exit letters you’re going to be able to travel to bring your children home. Very quickly that changed to no, we’re not going to be able to giving any exit letters right now,” said Finkelstein-Parker.
“They’re changing the rules in the middle of the process and that’s very frustrating,” said Brian Parker. “It is heartbreaking because we were ready a year ago. We have been completely checked, we have had criminal background checks, we have been visited by the social worker, we have passed all of the tests, we have done everything we have been asked to do, and now we are waiting because of bureaucratic red tape. It is costly, the amount of time it has cost so far has been two and a half years, and tens of thousands of dollars,” said Parker.
The Parkers hope a new proposed bill, The Children and Families First Bill will be approved the the U.S. Senate and eventually be signed by the president. “That will streamline the process without losing any of the safeguards. Kids should be safe. They should not be put into homes that are not good homes,” said Parker.
Parker said he hopes the government steps in. “We want the Office of Children’s affairs to look into this, along with the Embassy. They need to do everything they can,” said Parker.