Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Latest story with quotes from U.S. agencies

Vietnam to halt American adoptions after damning US report


AP Photo
AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki





HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (AP) -- Vietnam, where growing numbers of Americans have turned to adopt a baby, announced Monday it would stop processing new adoption applications from U.S. citizens from July following allegations of baby-selling, corruption and fraud.

The abrupt cutoff cast a cloud of uncertainty over pending adoptions in the Southeast Asian country, which have surged in the face of tightened restrictions in China, Guatemala and elsewhere.

The announcement came days after The Associated Press published details of a U.S. Embassy report that outlined rampant abuses, including hospitals selling infants whose mothers could not pay their bills, brokers scouring villages for babies and a grandmother who gave away her grandchild without telling the child's mother.

"It is tragic for children that the U.S. government has not been able to find ways to work with the Vietnamese government to prevent adoption abuses while at the same time processing legitimate adoptions," said Tom Atwood, president of the Washington-based National Council for Adoption, a research and advocacy organization.

"Many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children will not have families as a result of this failure of leadership."

U.S. adoptions have boomed in Vietnam, with Americans - including actress Angelina Jolie - adopting more than 1,200 Vietnamese children over the 18 months ending in March. In 2007, adoptions quadrupled from a year earlier.

In its nine-page report, the U.S. Embassy said some American adoption agencies paid orphanage officials as much as $10,000 per referral, while others took them on shopping sprees and junkets to the United States in return for a flow of babies.

It said questions arose after routine investigations turned up widespread inconsistencies in adoption paperwork. There was also a suspicious surge in the number of babies listed as abandoned, making it impossible to confirm the children were genuine orphans or that their parents had knowingly put them up for adoption, as required by U.S. law.

Vu Duc Long, director of Vietnam's International Adoption Agency, called the U.S. allegations "groundless." On Monday, he said Vietnam was scrapping a bilateral agreement with the United States that sought to regulate the adoption system.

"They (the Americans) can say whatever they want, but we are not going to renew it," Long said.

In a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam said it would stop taking adoption applications from American families after July 1. Adoption arrangements with other countries were unaffected.

The State Department said Vietnam's government would allow adoptions to be completed in pending cases where prospective parents had been matched with a child and received an official referral before Sept. 1.

After that date, it said any dossier that had not received a referral will be closed and returned to the adoption agency. It said given the time it takes to process a claim, any adoption initiated now would be unsuccessful.

The U.S. Embassy said it respected Hanoi's decision, but was confident of the accuracy of the report.

"The government of Vietnam has made their own decision, but we believe that our report speaks for itself," said spokeswoman Angela Aggeler.

It was not immediately clear how many U.S. couples were affected by the decision.

Linda Brownlee, executive director of a Washington-based international adoption agency, said the decision would mean that 20 families on its waiting list who will not be able to be matched with children in time.

"Now their dossiers will be returned to them," said Brownlee of The Adoption Center, one of more than 40 U.S. agencies that arrange adoptions of Vietnamese children.

She said the embassy report did not cover positive aspects of adoptions in the country.

"They didn't say how many visas they had approved with no problem," she said. "I know many agencies who have done great work there and that doesn't get reported."

Keith Wallace, CEO of Families Thru International Adoption, agreed. "The (abuse) cases reported by the embassy ... are such a very small fraction" of U.S. adoptions in Vietnam, he said. "It is wrong to imply that Vietnamese adoptions are corrupt through and through."

Vietnam suspended all adoptions with foreign countries in 2003 over concerns about corruption. U.S. adoptions resumed in 2005 under a bilateral agreement intended to ensure they were above board. It was due for renewal on Sept. 1.

Vietnam is only the latest country where U.S. adoptions have been halted or severely restricted.

Suspected fraud and other irregularities have cast a cloud over the nearly 3,000 pending U.S. adoptions from Guatemala, the second-largest source of U.S. adopted children after China. Under State Department pressure, Guatemala is allowing those to go through, but would-be parents were warned last year not to initiate new adoptions.

By contrast, adoptions from Ethiopia are on the increase, growing 71 percent to 1,255 last year. "Ethiopia has become a country where, because of the transparency of the system, many are adopting," said Wallace.

In the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, American adoptive parents have become a common sight in the city's hotels.

On Monday, J.B. Sikes, of Anselmo, Neb., cradled his newly adopted son Binyam.

"It was my desire that my family represent what the Kingdom of God looks like, and that's all different colors," the 39-year-old corn farmer said.

Adopting in Ethiopia, which cost about $30,000, was less expensive and restrictive than in the United States, said Sikes, who has two other biological children.

"We started out wanting to adopt domestically, but we found we were the last one on everyone's list, because we have other children," he said.

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Associated Press reporters Vu Tien Hong in Hanoi, Carley Petesch in New York and Anita Powell in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.

Monday, April 28, 2008

New article says Vietnam closing

Not sure if this is really anything new from what we learned Friday. I think it's just Vietnam's reaction to the U.S. Embassy report. They still mention completing adoptions that have referrals by September (or July?). But it also could be the beginning of everything falling apart more quickly than earlier thought. It would be just our luck to have it all blow up just as we're getting closer to referral.

Prayers appreciated. Here's the article:

By VU TIEN HONG, Associated Press Writer Mon Apr 28, 10:03 AM ET

HANOI, Vietnam - Vietnam is ending a child adoption agreement with the United States after being accused of allowing baby-selling and corruption, officials said Monday.

The agreement was being considered for renewal but the two sides remained far apart over revisions, said Vu Duc Long, director of Vietnam's International Adoption Agency. The agreement is due to expire on Sept. 1.

In a letter sent to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi on Friday, Vietnam said it will stop taking adoption applications from American families after July 1 but will continue to process applications of families who are matched with babies before July 1.

The decision was made following a report from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi that was first obtained by The Associated Press, alleging pervasive corruption and baby-selling in Vietnam's adoption system.

The report lists cases in which infants were sold or birth mothers were pressured to give up their babies. In some other cases it describes brokers going to villages in search for babies who could be possibly put up for adoption.

It also says some American adoption agencies have been paying orphanage directors for referrals, and some others have bribed orphanage officials by taking them on shopping sprees and junkets to the United States in return for a flow of babies.

In an angry response, Vietnamese officials denied charges, calling the U.S. side's allegations "unfair."

"They can say whatever they want, but we are not going to renew it," Long said.

The decision also will lead to the closure of 42 U.S. adoption agencies operating in Vietnam, Long said.

The U.S. Embassy says it respects Hanoi's latest decision but is confident about the accuracy of the report.

"The government of Vietnam has made their own decision, but we believe that our report speaks for itself," said the U.S. Embassy's spokeswoman, Angela Aggeler.

U.S. Embassy officials began raising questions last year after their routine investigations turned up widespread inconsistencies in adoption paperwork.

They also noticed a suspicious surge in the number of babies listed as abandoned on adoption papers. That makes it impossible to confirm the infants were genuine orphans, or that their parents had knowingly put them up for adoption, as required by U.S. law.

In adoptions before 2003, 20 percent were abandoned babies. Since they resumed under tighter rules, that has risen to 85 percent, the embassy report says.

Vietnam suspended all adoptions with foreign countries in 2003 as part of its efforts to improve the legal system by centralizing adoption to prevent rampant corruption. A bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam was resumed in 2005.

Since then adoptions from Vietnam have boomed. Americans — including actress Angelina Jolie — adopted more than 1,200 Vietnamese children over the 18 months ending March 31. In 2007, adoptions surged more than 400 percent from a year earlier, with 828 Vietnamese children adopted by American families.

While China remains the most popular overseas country for adoptions, a growing number of Americans had been looking to Vietnam, which has had fewer restrictions. The wait for adoption approval also has gotten longer in China after authorities there tightened rules.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Statements from embassy

UPDATE: Excerpts from the second embassy statement here.


The latest statement from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi says that those with referrals before September 1 will be allowed to complete their adoptions, which may include us. However, it warns of "irregularities" in Vietnam adoptions. I know of at least one familiy who has chosen to pull out and go to another country after the USCIS investigation discovered that their referred baby had been unethically obtained from her birthfamily (orphanage officials shook the birthparents down for money, then forced the illiterate couple to sign relinguishment papers.) If we do ever get a referral, we will be asking lots of questions (I pray for a child who is relinguished, not abandoned) and will be patient while USCIS conducts its investigation.

Here is the statement, also posted on their website here.

Adopted Children Immigrant Visa Unit
Warning Concerning Adoptions in Vietnam
April 2008

The Department of State continues to urge prospective adoptive parents and adoption service providers not to initiate new adoptions from Vietnam at this time. The 2005 Memorandum of Agreement, required by Vietnamese law to authorize adoptions between the United States and Vietnam, expires on September 1, 2008. In addition, recent field investigations have revealed incidents of serious adoption irregularities, including forged or altered documentation, mothers paid, coerced or tricked into releasing their children, and children offered for adoption without the knowledge or consent of their birth parents.

The United States is strongly committed to processing legitimate intercountry adoptions from Vietnam if possible. Our primary concern is to ensure that the children and families involved in the adoption process are protected from exploitation. The Government of Vietnam shares this concern. Both countries acknowledge that more needs to be done to address deficiencies in the current system.

On April 25, the Government of Vietnam announced that it will allow adoption to be completed in cases where prospective adoptive parents have been matched with a child and received an official referral prior to September 1, 2008. It further stated that in accordance with Vietnamese law, the DIA will suspend the acceptance of new dossiers on July 1, 2008. On September 1, 2008 any dossier that has not received a referral will be closed and returned to the Adoption Service Provider. In view of the processing time required in Vietnam from placement to the Giving and Receiving Ceremony, an adoption process begun now cannot be completed before the current Agreement expires.

Prospective adoptive parents should be aware that documents relating to adoptions in Vietnam, such as birth certificates, abandonment reports, relinquishment agreements, and investigative reports are generally issued by orphanage directors, local People’s Committees, Provincial Departments and the Department for International Adoptions (DIA). The facts asserted in these documents are not verified by the issuing officials. Attempts by U.S. officials to verify the accuracy of these documents have routinely uncovered evidence of fraudulent or inaccurate information. Therefore, documents issued by the authorities listed above, and any other documents containing information not verified by the issuing authority, cannot be considered adequate evidence of the facts claimed. They may be used in conjunction with primary and contemporaneous secondary evidence, or must be independently verified by U.S. officials in Vietnam, before they can be considered valid for immigration purposes. (http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/reciprocity/reciprocity_3705.html)

Consular officers have routinely completed field verifications of orphan status in over 35 provinces in Vietnam. However, in some cases, Vietnamese officials have prevented the U.S. Government from conducting independent field inquiries into the status of children identified in I-600 petitions. Embassy outreach, as well as support from adoption agency officials, have thus far allowed independent investigations to resume in some areas that were previously impeded. We continue robust efforts to resolve this issue. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict when we can complete the field inquiries in areas which are still closed to our staff.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and the Department of State have instituted procedures to verify that children identified for placement meet the requirements of Vietnamese and U.S. law, before the child has been adopted under Vietnamese law. Information about these procedures is available from USCIS or through their website http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis. The Embassy strongly advises prospective adoptive parents not to travel to Vietnam until they have received notification from the Embassy that their case is ready for final processing and travel is appropriate. Parents should contact the Embassy immediately if anyone, including their adoption service provider, encourages them to travel to Vietnam prior to receiving this notification. The Embassy can work together with adoption service providers, Vietnam’s Department of International Adoptions, and local authorities to resolve issues such as the scheduling of a Giving and Receiving Ceremony.