Well, that was interesting. As I was working and half-listening to the USCIS conference call on Ethiopian adoptions, and it was pretty informative (at least, the parts I heard). Actually, for me, this call was a bit more heartening than the one in January, as I felt it was more procedures-based. This call dealt with one particular issue facing USCIS:
Procedure as it stands now (for those of you not adopting):
This is the procedure for a perfect world. Lots of families get caught at the court stage, but let’s pretend this world is filled with rainbows and bunnies:
· A child gets referred to a family.
· The family (eventually) goes to Ethiopia, meets the child, and goes to court.
· The family passes court.
· The family is now legally responsible for the child. They are the legal parents.
· The family goes back to the US to wait for the US Embassy in Addis Ababa to process the child’s visa and US passport.
· The US Embassy re-investigates each and every case, to determine if the paperwork is accurate and the child qualifies as an orphan.
· The family returns to Ethiopia, takes custody of the child.
· The family goes to the Embassy, has an interview, gets the child’s documents.
· The family, including child, fly back to US.
See where the problem lies?
The child has been legally adopted after court, but before USCIS investigates the case. So what if:
· The US Embassy uncovers fraudulent paperwork?
· The child was illegally relinquished?
· The child, at the end of the day, does not qualify as an orphan?
I’ve asked that question before, and no one really knew the answer. It actually hasn’t happened yet, that a child was adopted by a family, only to have the adoption overturned by the Embassy. It was still very, very concerning for us. During the call today, USCIS stated that they are going to change the practice so that they investigate all cases before they go to court. Of course, this will happen after a referral is made, so we could have a referral, but not actually end up adopting the child (I don't see this necessarily happening, but I guess it is a possibility). This will happen in the “near future”. I don’t really know what this means, and have a feeling it will mean longer waits and more referral denials, but overall, it seems like a good idea. Not sure how it will shake out at the end of the day. We will see. I’m curious about the process in other countries, as the US is not the only country adopting children from Ethiopia by a long shot.
Other interesting notes:
· The vast majority of cases are not found to be fraudulent. While some cases required investigation, no children were returned to birth families.
· Wait times were discussed a tad—they will vary and will be lengthy. Gah.
· What can Prospective Adoptive Parents (PAPs ) do to help? The answer was, basically, choose a good Adoption Services Provider. How to really know who is ethical? That’s another head-scratcher. One comment was that “PAPs take more time choosing a plumber than an adoption agency.” I would strongly disagree with that!
· It was stated that most folks on the call felt that 5 cases a day is not enough. This movement to working through cases before the case goes to court may be a move to increase numbers, as it may weed out bad referrals in advance.
· It was stated that it may be possible, as the investigation is already complete, that the process may move back to one visit in Ethiopia, as the Embassy may be able to process visa, birth certs and visas very quickly. I'm not holding my breath - time will tell on that one.
So, interesting call. A lot to process. Curious what others thought.