Christians Fight to Bring Adopted Kids Home from Overseas

Image: Courtesy of the Cox Family

The last leg of Babydson and Jamesky’s journey to their new family in America was the long hallway at the Fort Lauderdale airport. The skinny-legged brothers, aged 8 and 7, were lugging big backpacks they’d packed at their orphanage in Haiti. They ambled timidly down the hallway until they were scooped up into Beau and Kari Cox’s hugs.

The Kansas couple—who felt called to adopt following a medical missions trip to Port-au-Prince—had been in the process for nearly three years before Babydson and Jamesky arrived on May 14. The coronavirus pandemic halted the process for them – along with hundreds of American families – at a time when international adoptions had already fallen to historic lows.

Even before the virus, adoption in Haiti was notoriously obstacle-ridden, delayed by political unrest, government corruption, incompetence, and lack of technology. Things got worse last year, sending the country in lockdown over violent protests and leading the US to advise against travel there.

“When the pandemic hit, we thought, ‘Can we even get them on a flight and get them out?’” Kari Cox said.

US embassies around the globe had either closed outright or continued operations with skeleton crews, and the Haitian government grounded nearly to a halt. To get the boys home now, the Coxes had to hope for a series of small miracles. A sign-off from Haiti. A passport and a visa from the US. A willing and dependable escort. A flight out.

Somehow it all lined up. The Haitian government signed the last piece of paper, after weeks of promising they’d “do it soon.” An administrator at the boys’ orphanage found an American missionary teacher outside Port Au Prince who was going home to Pennsylvania and could fly with them. The Coxes booked a flight to Fort Lauderdale, where Babydson and Jamesky were scheduled to land. They got on the plane without knowing whether the embassy had granted their sons’ visas and exit letters.

The Coxes joined five other families at the airport, meeting their adopted children from Haiti. After years of worrying the constant holdups would stall the process indefinitely, “that was kind of the first time we could breathe,” Kari Cox said.

When Babydson and Jamesky arrived a couple weeks ago in Florida, it had been nearly a year since the Coxes had seen the boys. In the cluster of kids, some younger ones ran to their families. Kari struggled to make out her boys’ faces, then suddenly, there they were. “It felt like forever for them to get to us, to walk down that hallway,” she said. “It was really precious.”

The Cox family’s story is one of the happy ones. Some families have been forced to call off adoptions from abroad due to procedural delays caused by the pandemic. The rest are left with unknown timelines in a process already made more complicated by increased regulation in recent years.

Last year, fewer than 3,000 US families adopted a child from another country, the lowest in 50 years according to US State Department Data. (In 2018, it was 4,000. And at its peak in 2004, 22,000.)

While foreign governments in more than a dozen countries limited or did away with international adoptions for a variety of reasons, the US State Department intensified its regulations a couple years ago, in the hopes of preventing unethical practices in adoption and providing greater transparency and follow-up.

Those regulations have provided additional steps in what was already an arduous process. Now, the pandemic has stalled international adoptions nearly every stage, said Ryan Hanlon, a vice president at the National Council for Adoption (NCFA). Families waiting for approval to begin an adoption can’t schedule their required fingerprinting appointment with the now-closed US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Families who have submitted paperwork are left waiting for document approval from a US embassy or a foreign embassy, many of which are also closed. Many countries require a court proceeding to finalize the adoption; courts are closed.

And, of course, families can’t readily travel overseas to either meet their adoptees (some countries, like Haiti, require a “socialization” visit before the legal process can begin) or to pick them up.

Hanlon said NCFA is aware of roughly two dozen US families currently stuck overseas waiting to bring their adopted children home. Most are in Africa, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, and Chad. Some are in Asia and Central America. They’re not waiting for flights; they’re waiting for paperwork.

“The reality is these families traveled well before the pandemic struck,” Hanlon said. “Had the Department of State done their job in a timely manner, they wouldn’t have been stuck.”

These hurdles are bound to affect the work of Christian adoption agencies and to come up in church prayer requests. Evangelicals are among the most avid supporters of adoption and are more than twice as likely than the general population to adopt a child, be involved with adoption-related causes, or know someone who has adopted from overseas.

A State Department official told Christianity Today that intercountry adoptions “remain a high priority,” but that the department does not know when routine visa services will resume overseas. The official said the department is prioritizing helping families who had already had a visa appointment at the embassies before the shutdowns, but are also trying to grant emergency appointments “as resources allow.” The agency recommended families turn to USCIS.

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Source: Christianity Today