AOA Legal Battle Agonizing for New Parents

After two weeks in Cambodia, Linda Korta flew home to Chicago last Friday—not because she wanted to, but because she needs to find a job.

Her husband, Don Korta, is staying behind in Phnom Penh with the couple’s two newly adopted 2-year-olds, Joshua Kimseng and Rebecca Sokhom, waiting for the US Embassy to decide whether to grant the children visas.

“I have to go home, and I’m going to get a job as a waitress to make enough money to keep [my husband and children] here for as long as they need to be here, because we’ve already spent our next month’s mortgage check,” Linda Korta said.

The Kortas planned to be in Cambodia for just four days—a standard length of time, they thought, to complete the final in-country business for a Cambodian adoption.

But because of a US Embassy freeze on granting visas to children adopted from the Asian Orphans Association, they have been here four times that long. And they are not alone.

After six weeks of controversy surrounding the AOA, which won back custody of 12 children that had been taken from it, the US Embassy announced on its Web site last week that all adoptions in Cambodia are subject to investigation by the embassy and the US Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The Web site announcement does not single out the AOA, but the Kortas say they have watched several US adoptive parents come and go with visas and children over the past two weeks—all of them working through facilitators and orphanages other than the AOA.

Meanwhile, those involved in seven adoption cases with AOA, or who used AOA president Puth Serey as an adoption facilitator, have waited. They share information, hotel suites and babysitting duties—and they say they expect to stay in Cambodia for at least two to four more weeks before they will know whether their children can get visas to the US.

For the Kortas, the days have been full of phone calls and letters to US government officials and adoption authorities, not to mention caring for two toddlers they just met. The Kortas say they have spent $400 in two days on phone calls alone.

That is why Linda headed home Friday. But the Kortas say they aren’t giving up, and neither are the other families with children from AOA.

John Fleming is an attorney from the US state of Pennsylvania who has just completed the Cambodian legal work to adopt two-year-old daughter Isabel Champa from AOA.

“We can’t stay indefinitely, but we don’t have any alternatives for the children, because we’re not giving them up,” he says in an interview with a group of stranded parents who have adopted from the AOA. “We’re not sending them back to the orphanage.

“[The embassy] is telling us that [Puth] Serey and AOA are under investigation, and also telling us, in a roundabout way, to take our kids back to the AOA,” Don Korta says. “What sense is that?”

The parents say they were blindsided by the embassy’s refusal to grant their children visas, a policy which also affects prospective parents back in the US who have started adoption processes with  AOA.

The families here say they are especially frustrated because US officials told them to come to Cambodia, only to deny them when they arrived.

“The INS and the US Embassy said: ‘Okay, you have an appointment on this date now to come in for your visa and your final adoption,’” John Fleming says. “We’re here because we were told to be here, because we had clearance—including from the US government, the US Embassy, to get the visa. But we get here, and they say you should’ve known about this, and you shouldn’t be here.”

From afar, the parents trusted adoption agencies, adoption facilitators, the Cambodian government and the US Embassy to tell them what they needed to know about their adoptions.

“[The embassy] blamed us for not checking up on things,” Don Korta says. “Well, I went to the embassy’s Web site….[Adoption advisories] hadn’t been updated in nine, ten months.”

A US Embassy spokesman Tuesday said the embassy had no comment beyond what was now on the Web site.

 

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