Last Friday, a group of US adoptive parents in Cambodia got the phone call they had awaited for the past seven weeks—but it didn’t bring the words they wanted to hear.
On the line was US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann, telling them the US Immigration and Naturalization Service has “the intention to deny” their new children US visas.
“I told them there was evidence that these children were not ‘orphans’ under US law and could have been the victims of trafficking and fraud,” Wiedemann said Monday.
The parents were involved in 11 adoption cases that have been under investigation by the US Embassy and the INS since mid-October. Embassy officials have said this was part of a larger investigation into possible “systematic” trafficking of babies in Cambodia.
Seven of the 11 denied cases involve children adopted from the Asian Orphans Association, a Phnom Penh orphanage that has been under scrutiny from human rights groups and the government the past three months for suspected child trafficking.
Wiedemann said his calls on Friday did not give the parents a full report on their cases, but was advance notice of an official report the parents will receive sometime this week from the INS.
“I was basically trying to respond to their stated concern,” Wiedemann said. “I told them I would seek to get them an answer as soon as I could…as a matter of courtesy and service.”
The parents say they still have no solid explanation of how their children were originally obtained by the groups offering them for adoption.
“We have no more information than we did [seven weeks ago]….We don’t know what their credible evidence is, we don’t know the facts,” said Jeff Fleming, an attorney in the US and one of the adoptive parents.
Some of the parents who have been waiting in Cambodia for up to seven weeks are still not giving up.
Like all of the adoptive parents, Karen Fleming, Jeff’s wife, planned on being in Phnom Penh for just a few days to finalize the adoption of two-year-old Isabel Champa.
Now she is looking for teaching jobs in Phnom Penh and expects to soon move out of her hotel into an apartment. “We’re geared up for a lengthy battle,” she said.
That battle will likely come in the form of an appeal of the INS decision, an avenue Wiedemann said will be open to the parents as soon as the INS issues its statement.
Several parents have begun speaking to immigration lawyers in Phnom Penh. Others say they will pursue their appeal from the US.
On Wednesday, Doeung Pheap, the Cambodian woman whose complaint that she could not get her children back from AOA sparked a police raid of an AOA facility, will speak to investigative judge Ham Meng Se.
Four AOA workers are now under criminal charges for violating Article 3 of the anti-trafficking law. After speaking to Doeung Pheap, “then we will see what steps to take with the suspects,” Ham Meng Se said.