Wednesday, February 27, 2008

An Adoption Update

Sorry I have been away from the blog for a while. The process has been going a lot slower than we initially anticipated, so I have just not been in the mood to mess with this blog, I guess.

Sorry, Blog - I still love my blog, its just been hard lately. And sorry to my blogger friends who keep checking for an update and are probably tired of seeing the same old, same old.

So, I haven't really even posted about the fact that the Vietnamese adoption process has slowed down since last November or why. Its kind of complicated and extremely frustrating, to say the least.

Our paperwork is in Vietnam at our agency's office waiting to be accepted by the DIA and officially "logged in".

I found out about a new web site today called Bring Our Children Home. This website explains better than I could, why we are not logged in yet. I am going to paste the text from the website here, just to have it on record in case the web site changes.

Here is the info from the site:

"We're not here because parents want children, we are here because children need families. That's a very important difference. This is about taking care of children."

-Maura Harty, Assistant Secretary of Consular Affairs during her November 2007 interview with Vietnam TV

We are a group of prospective adoptive parents in the process of adopting orphans from Vietnam. We are American citizens living across the United States, represented by multiple adoption agencies, but bound together by a single issue. While the Vietnamese government has approved our adoptions of orphans living in Vietnam, our US government is not processing the visa applications necessary for these children to enter the United States as children of American citizens.

- Adoption of Vietnamese children by Americans requires approval from the US government. Immigration (USCIS) makes sure that the child is an orphan as defined by US law. Department of State (DOS) issues the visa for the child to travel to the US.

- Last October, at least 20 visa denials (NOIDs) were issued to families who had already become the parents of Vietnamese children under Vietnamese law. The majority of these have been overturned, but many of these children still wait in foster care in Vietnam to come home.

- Last November, USCIS and DOS initiated a program they call “Orphans First,” pursuant to which Vietnamese children are classified as orphans prior to the time their adoptive parents travel to Vietnam.

- Before this program was instituted, visa approvals for Vietnamese adoptive children took 1-2 weeks. Approvals are now exceeding two months, in addition to the multiple months needed for an orphan's paperwork to be processed after referral.

- Adoption agencies report a very small percentage of visa applications having been approved under the new program (e.g., one agency has submitted over 75 I-600 applications since the first week of December, with only 7 having been completed as of 2/26/08).

- USCIS and DOS in Vietnam have not provided waiting families and adoption agencies with the status of their applications following delivery of their applications.

- Because of this “Orphans First” program, some Vietnamese orphanages are at capacity, unable to admit additional Vietnamese children in need of care, which could have serious repercussions on the health and well-being of the abandoned and relinquished children in Vietnam.

- Without these essential US government approvals, timely adoptions in Vietnam by Americans cannot proceed, and orphanages are struggling to provide heat, nourishment and adequate medical care for the orphans.

- Orphans who were to be adopted by Americans have died from pneumonia. Nine orphans recently died in northern Vietnam, and six more have been hospitalized (Vietnam News, 2/21/08).

Since the initiation of the “Orphans First” program, several hundred visa applications have piled up in Vietnam, resulting in a back-log of cases that the limited staff of our government has not been able to review and complete in the time frame they themselves proposed. Because of this, hundreds of orphans in Vietnam, all of whom have families in the United States waiting to welcome them home, are spending many extra months in an institution. Every day a child spends in an institution creates a greater risk that the child will develop reactive attachment disorder. Furthermore, many of these children either have special needs or have medical needs that are not currently severe, but require care to prevent them from becoming severe.

Orphans should come first. It is time for the “Orphans First” program to start living up to its name by eliminating the red tape that is jeopardizing the health and well being of Vietnamese orphans awaiting loving homes in the United States.

The goal of this website is to inform and educate the public and media of the adoption issues currently happening in Vietnam. We certainly respect the right of the United States to conduct their due diligence before accepting an adoptive child into the country, but the lack of communication and significantly extended timelines leave us very concerned. At this point many of the referred children are over eight to nine months old, lying in a crib with other children, all wrapped in towels, or sleeping on a mat on the floor of an unheated orphanage during a winter of record cold in Vietnam. Although we hope they are receiving the best care that is possible, we all agree that having a child in an orphanage instead of a loving home is not in the best interest of that child.

Please help us to ensure that the best interests of Vietnamese orphans remains a priority. Contact your state's representatives in Congress about this distressing situation. Sample letters are available for use in the "How To Help" section of the website.

Prior to 2002, the average number of adoptions by Americans from Vietnam was approximately 750 per year. Over 640 adoptions between the two countries occurred in 2007, and it is estimated that there are over 2,000 pending adoption applications currently being processed by the Vietnam DIA.Adoptions were closed between the US and Vietnam from 2002-2005 as a result of evidence of unethical conduct on the parties involved in adoptions.

Adoptions between the US and Vietnam resumed in 2006, governed by a Memo of Understanding, signed July 2005, which expires in September 2008. By signing the MOU, both parties agreed to continue to work towards meeting the goals of this agreement, resolving difficulties, and facilitating adoptions until its expiration.

The current process of adoption between Vietnam and the US is as follows:

Once Vietnamese authorities have determined that adoption is the best interests of the child, consent for the adoption has been given by the appropriate persons, and that there were no improper requests for compensation, a child is offered to a prospective family by a licensed adoption service provider. Once accepted, Vietnamese authorities then direct the orphanage to assemble a dossier of the child's paperwork, which provides proof of the child's abandonment or relinquishment.

Prospective parents submit an Orphan Petition to USCIS in Vietnam, who approves or denies requests to petition to classify a child as an orphan, and directs Department of State employees at the US Embassy in Vietnam to issue a visa for a child. USCIS can direct the Embassy to conduct their own investigation into the origins of the child to ensure that the child is an orphan.

The US Embassy denied visa applications for over 20 children in the fall of 2007. Many of these families appealed to USCIS, had their rejections overruled and have returned to the US with their adopted child(ren). A few of these children are still waiting for the US Embassy to issue their visas. The US Embassy continues to refuse to reveal any information about these denials, citing privacy concerns. (More information on this can be found here.)

The families who received the denials stated in their appeals that the US Embassy employees acted improperly when conducting their field investigations. Eyewitness accounts of this failure to observe protocol occurred as recently as January 2008.

Since the fall of 2006, adoptive parents from the United States have revealed countless stories of abrasive, condescending, and combative contact with the US Embassy in the course of their in-country interviews. Out of fear of retaliation by USCIS and the Embassy against other American adoptive families, most have not voiced their experiences publicly.

Citing the issuance of the visa denials in the fall of 2007 as a basis for change, USCIS and the US Embassy each issued a statement in the fall of 2007, indicating that they were changing the approval process almost immediately for orphan petitions. All applicants are now charged with filing their petitions before they travel to Vietnam to receive their children. USCIS and the US Embassy stated that these approvals would typically be completed within 60 days, and has just recently modified their email confirmations to state “60 working days”. It is thought that working days exclude weekends, Vietnam and US holidays, and other unstated days in which the Embassy is closed.

Many prospective parents are reporting that they did not receive confirmation that the USCIS received their petitions. Parents and agencies are reporting that USCIS and the Embassy are not returning their emails and calls for status. They are also stating that over 60 days have passed from the original receipt of their petitions, yet they have no explanation from USCIS.

Due to this delay in approvals, agencies have reported that some Vietnam orphanages are at capacity, and unable to admit additional orphans until those already referred to Americans are legally adopted. Agencies and prospective adoptive parents are concerned about the well being of existing and future orphans under these conditions. (More information on this can be found here.)

Several Vietnamese provinces have shortened the period of time in which families must travel to Vietnam from 30-60 days to 7 days. They have indicated that adoption ceremonies may be significantly delayed or cancelled if families do not arrive in that short period. The Embassy has informed families that they are not to travel to Vietnam prior to receiving pre-approval of their visa, which could result in these families having to reschedule or cancel their ceremony.

The Problem

The United State Citizen and Immigration Services (CIS) and Department of State (DofS) are not adhering to the projected period for investigations which means orphans are spending months longer than they might have in orphanages. The longer children stay in orphanages, the more likely attachment disorders and developmental problems will occur. They need to be home with their families as soon as possible.

The CIS originally stated that the new process would take up to 60 days, then no longer than 60 days, then most would be completed in 60 days, then no more than 75 days and recently CIS informed a parent that the timeline is actually now a 60 business day period. These changes have all occurred since December 2007, a period of only three months.

This process was previously conducted within a two week period, with cases under investigation naturally taking longer. It is unclear why this timeline has increased six-fold from 10 business days to reportedly 60 business days when not all cases are investigated.

When the CIS and DofS exceed the 60 period, they are not contacting parents to let them know why, even though they have stated they would. Some families have waited over 80 days with no word from CIS and have no idea of where their application is - nearing completion, in investigation or pending denial.

Now, because of many unnecessary delays, the CIS has a backlog of applications that will likely cause the wait for adoptive parents and their orphaned children to become exponentially longer. One agency has submitted over 65 I-600s since the second week of December 2007. In that same period (over two months), only five applications have been completed (all were approved).The CIS and DofS are not communicating with adoption agencies. Who is monitoring the quality of service being provided by these government organizations? How should adoptive parents advocate for themselves and their children if they have no voice through their own government

We need assistance getting these children entry into the United States. It currently appears that CIS and the Department of State in Vietnam are limiting the number of I-600s that are being approved. The American government states that it supports adoptions of Vietnamese children by American citizens, but very few visas have been granted recently. We are simply asking that our government continue to process visa applications in the same timely manner that it did prior to November 2007.


Tammie said...

I love the concept of "Orphans FIrst." Now we have to get the US government with the program. I can truly imagine the frustration that adopting parents are feeling.

Vivian M said...

Wow I cannot even imagine what you are going through. I hope things change soon for the better!