With the president of Congo coming to Washington for a U.S.-Africa summit, hundreds of frustrated American families are hoping he can be persuaded to lift a suspension that has stalled efforts to adopt children from his troubled country for the past 10 months.
The families and their many supporters in Congress are urging President Barack Obama to personally intervene by raising the issue now with Congolese President Joseph Kabila, and then pressing for action when Kabila arrives in Washington along with dozens of other African leaders for the Aug. 4-6 summit.
The pressure campaign has included a call-in to the White House phone line Wednesday by the affected families and their allies, as well as a letter sent to Obama last week by 167 members of Congress requesting his intervention.
According to the letter coordinated by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., 148 Congolese children have been legally adopted by U.S. families and have U.S. visas, but are still waiting for exit permits to leave the country. In all, according to Landrieu, more than 900 U.S. families seeking to adopt from Congo are "stuck in limbo" because of the suspension.
"This suspension is having tragic consequences," the letter said. "Already, 10 children who were matched with American families have died since the suspension went into place and many more have urgent, life-threatening medical problems."
Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House's National Security Council, said the Obama administration is working with Congress on the issue.
"We are seeking a resolution to these cases as quickly as possible so that adopted children, some with serious health conditions, can join their families in the United States without unnecessary delay," Price said.
Until the suspension was announced in September 2013, Congo was viewed by adoption advocates in the U.S. as a promising option at a time when the overall number of international adoptions has been plummeting. Congo accounted for the fifth highest number of adoptions by Americans in the 2013 fiscal year — 311 children, according to State Department figures.
Initially, the Congolese government attributed the suspension to allegations that some children were abandoned by their adoptive parents and others were "sold to homosexuals." More recently, authorities in Congo have indicated that they view their entire adoption system as beset by corruption and falsified documents, and they say no exit permits will be issued to any adopted children — regardless of the status of their cases — until a new adoption law is enacted.
The depth of these concerns was illustrated earlier this month when Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, discussed the matter with Congolese lawmakers and officials during a visit to the Congo.
The lawmakers "cautioned that they consider many Congolese judges to be corrupt and that few government officials have confidence in completed adoptions," according to a State Department account of Biden's meetings.
Several high-level State Department officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have raised the issue recently with Congolese authorities. The department has offered to provide technical advice to Congo as it drafts new adoption legislation and also has invited Congolese officials to the U.S. to learn about America's adoption and child welfare systems.
On Wednesday, several senators — including Landrieu and James Inhofe, R-Okla. — had a conference call with some of the affected families. Inhofe, who has met Kabila in the course of his frequent travels to Africa, said he would seek to broach the issue with the Congolese leader.
Among the families in limbo are Justin and Alana Carroll of Jefferson City, Tennessee, and their 8-month-old daughter, Carson. Well before the suspension was imposed last September, the Carrolls had obtained final approval to adopt two boys, Neema and Canaan, from Congo.
Justin spent a few months with the boys in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, hoping exit permits would be issued, but returned to Tennessee in February after finding a foster family to care for the boys. Their vigil continues, and Alana, a devout Christian, has chronicled it in a blog.
"I've been a mother for 16 months to 2 little boys I've never met," she wrote recently. "I don't understand why and I'm still questioning God as to why He's doing this ... I know He has chosen us to walk this road and be the parents to these two little guys, but man has it been hard."Comment on this story
Another family's plight was described July 16 during a hearing on African orphans held by the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa. Among the witnesses was Jovana Jones of Oxon Hills, Maryland, who — along with her husband Robert, an Air Force master sergeant — has been trying since April 2013 to adopt a deaf girl from Congo.
Jones, who has three biological children, spoke of her family's extensive efforts to learn sign language and prepare their house for a deaf child, and of their frustration over the delays.
"We have done our part," said Jones, speaking on behalf of all the affected families. "We sincerely appreciate the efforts that have been made thus far, but frankly it's not enough ... We pray that our government mirrors our dedication and acts now so that our children come home soon."
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