U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (UCIS) found no evidence of fraud In Nepal Adoption

January 2, 2011

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Parents caught in adoption dispute

After investigating orphanages and adoption practices in Nepal, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services found no evidence of fraud but the families who are waiting for visas for their adopted children still must prove the children were really abandoned.

By Nancy Bartley

Seattle Times staff reporter

Karalyn Carlton of Seattle was in the process of adopting a girl from Nepal when the U.S. stopped granting visas to children from the country Aug. 6. “We were completely broadsided by this,” she said.
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Karalyn Carlton of Seattle was in the process of adopting a girl from Nepal when the U.S. stopped granting visas to children from the country Aug. 6. “We were completely broadsided by this,” she said.

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TO SEE THE PETITION the “pipeline families” are circulating that asks members of Congress for help resolving their cases, go to www.petition2congress.com/3710/go

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Karalyn Carlton’s thoughts rarely stray far from the child she left behind in Nepal.

What is her daughter doing? Is she healthy? Will the child recognize her when they are reunited?

Ever since Aug. 6, when the U.S. stopped granting visas to children from Nepal because of concerns about child trafficking, dozens of families, including four from Washington, have faced a difficult choice: Stay there with their children, risking financial ruin as the investigation runs its course, or return to the U.S. and live with the anguish of separation.

Several weeks ago, the families received what should have been good news: Wally Bird, the deputy chief of International Operations Division, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (CIS), said investigators could find no evidence of fraud on the part of the adoption agencies. But, he added, visas won’t be granted until parents prove their adopted children really were abandoned.

The purpose for the extra step is to be sure the children were not taken from families who now might be looking for them, say officials. But in a poor country with minimal record-keeping and no regular practice of issuing birth certificates — as well as a law sentencing a mother to prison for years if she’s caught abandoning a child — adoptive parents say that kind of proof is unrealistic.

Bird said he didn’t know if those factors would hamper parents’ attempts to prove abandonment. He added that if a birth mother was identified, she’d have to receive some kind of protection from prosecution but, he said, the situation has never come up.

To try to meet the U.S. government’s requirements, the families have hired investigators in Nepal and attorneys in the U.S. And they’ve banded together and written a petition asking members of Congress to pressure the Department of Homeland Security and CIS to quickly resolve the cases.

“Broadsided” by ban

Between 2007 and 2009, Nepal shut down international adoptions as it investigated claims of child trafficking. There were numerous claims of older children being sent to India to work in circuses or the sex trade.

In 2009, after a new parliament came into power, Nepal reopened adoptions with new regulations. Many single women looked to Nepal to adopt because it didn’t require two parents. That same year, Nepal joined the international Hague Convention on the Protection of Children, an attempt to standardize adoption practices worldwide.

As is the common practice when countries want to join, a committee from The Hague came to Nepal and investigated the adoption agencies. The committee accused the agencies of falsifying documents to make children (who never arrive with birth certificates) more adoptable, as well as committing other fraud.

The committee also requested orphanages provide medical and social history of the birth parents, among other things.

Irene Steffas, a Marietta, Ga., attorney who represents about 20 adoptive parents, said she found the report so out of touch with the realities of Nepal, she wondered “what planet they (Hague investigators) were living on.”

Following the report, the U.S. joined 12 countries in stopping the visas. It was the start of heartache and frustration for the 80 U.S. “pipeline families” who were in the process of adoption when the visas ended.

“We were completely broadsided by this,” said Carlton, who had been in the process of adopting for three years before the ban.

“The Hague Committee criticized the (Nepali) process and I don’t believe the committee understood all the checks and balances in place,” Steffas said. “They condemned adoption in Nepal only because they didn’t dig very deeply.”

Now that the CIS has found no evidence of the fraud cited in The Hague report, the families believe the visas should be granted with no additional steps required for proving abandonment. Of the original 80 families in the process of adopting children in Nepal, nine families have been granted visas. Fifty-four are still being investigated. The remaining families have apparently given up.

“I can’t give up on her”

It was mid-August, when Carlton, her husband, Scott Holter, and their son, Emmett Carlton, 8, traveled to Katmandu to meet 18-month-old Swashti. Carlton said a shopkeeper saw Swashti, then just a baby, in an area where the bodies of deceased children were discarded among trash.

Police took the baby to an orphanage.

In the meantime, the couple wanted one more child and had spent thousands of dollars before going to Nepal to meet the shy toddler.

Finalizing adoptions is up to Nepal’s Ministry of Women and Children, but once done, the child cannot be left at the orphanage — even if the U.S. doesn’t grant a visa. New adoptive parents have no option but to wait in Nepal until the visa is granted.

Staying for that long wasn’t an option for Carlton, 41. So the family didn’t finalize the adoption. Like the others from Washington, Carlton has hired an attorney.

“I can’t give up on her,” Carlton said.

Karen Culver, 42, of Bellevue, and her husband, John, have three young boys of their own but, as she put it, they had room in their hearts for one more child. “Nepal resonated with us,” said Culver, a stay-at-home mother. They were matched with 3-year-old Sachyi.

As soon as they opened the file and saw her photo, their hearts melted, Culver said, and she thought: “She is adorable and we are so lucky.”

Like Carlton, they, too, hesitated making the adoption final until the visa was approved because it would be difficult for either of them to remain in Katmandu, and they didn’t want Sachyi to “be orphaned twice.”

“How heartbreaking it would be for me to show up and leave,” she said.

In Nepal, Chris Kirchoff, of Seattle, and Jenni Lund, of Leavenworth, live in the same apartment building, spending holidays together and supporting each other as they wait for CIS to determine their fate.

Kirchoff, 40, can’t imagine leaving her newly adopted daughter, Orion, behind. When she met the-now 14-month-old, “I saw her little face, she smiled, I cried and we have been inseparable ever since.”

For Kirchoff, a personal trainer, her Seattle business is on hold. Her elderly father is ill and she hopes Orion will get to meet him.

Lund, 45, who owns a yoga studio, also has a business on hold and has seen her savings dwindle as she waits with her son, Pukar, 2.

“I miss my family and friends, I miss my home, and I want to get medical help for Pukar’s rickets,” she said.

In the meantime, “Pukar is absolutely thriving. Each day it seems he is happier, his eyes brighter and smile wider. He has a great sense of humor, loves to laugh and learn,” she said.

As Lund played with Pukar a few nights ago she thought about the children remaining in the orphanages, how cold it is and how there aren’t enough warm clothes, blankets or even socks for all of them. She thought, too, how unwanted children in Nepal, where the caste system survives, have few options in life. Then she looked at Pukar, asleep in her bed, dressed in a bathrobe and slippers.

“What a gift adoption is to these children. Truly, I cannot believe anything else.”

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com

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