It has been a rough several months for Rebecca and Kenneth Skinner.
They had made plans to travel to Cambodia from their home in the US state of Virginia to pick up their adoptive daughter when the terrorist strikes of Sept 11 occurred.
Kenneth Skinner, who is in the military and often works in the Pentagon—where almost 200 people perished—could not be found for a couple of hours. “I didn’t know where he was,” said Rebecca.
A month later, the Skinners arrived in Phnom Penh to find themselves embroiled in an alleged baby-selling ring and unable to get a visa to take home their daughter, Makaela. After a month, they returned to the US empty-handed.
“First we had Sept 11, and then we get here and the babies can’t come home. It was the most stressful month of my whole life,” Rebecca Skinner said.
But on Dec 21 the Skinners got a call saying their baby and 11 others in limbo would be granted “humanitarian parole” by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS is suspending all other Cambodian adoptions until further notice.
The parents were allowed to take their babies home on the condition that they adopt them in the US and agree to return them to Cambodia if it is proven that the children are not orphans.
The last of the families to bring home their baby, the Skinners are scheduled to leave this evening with Makaela and the child of another adoptive family who were unable to return to Phnom Penh.
Rebecca Skinner seems unconcerned that her baby could be taken from her once they are back in the US.
“Are they going to come over to America, a year and a half from now, grab these babies out of our arms and say, ‘Oh, by the way, we found some mother way out in Cambodia?’” she said. “If they had any [evidence of trafficking] at all, they would have produced it by now.”
US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann expressed a similar point of view.
“I certainly hope they don’t have to come back,” he said. “And I told them that in the end they would be able to keep their [children]. I have no reason to believe that the policy would be carried out.”
Many of the adoptive families feel that the humanitarian visas were issued as a result of negative press that the embassy and the INS received, and from political lobbying back in the US.
The Skinners and other adoption advocates cited ABC TV’s “20/20” news program that aired on Dec 19 in the US.
“The tone of the piece was very negative toward [the US government]. I think they did a very good job and really [conveyed] the feeling that we felt of utter hopelessness,” Rebecca Skinner said.
“The embassy was saying that they had all the power and that nobody could override them.”
Wiedemann disagreed. He said that the TV program blurred the lines between the US embassy and the INS, which is a division of the US Justice Department.
The ambassador said the show made it appear that the families “were just turned down because the paperwork wasn’t in order.”
“Well, there was no paperwork,” Wiedemann said, adding that there was sufficient proof there was forged paperwork involved in the adoptions, citing signatures that didn’t match and people who signed papers, only to later deny having signed the documents.
Most of the publicity surrounded babies adopted from the Asia Orphans Association, a private orphanage. The Skinner’s baby was adopted through the Friendship Orphanage, which is run by the Cambodian government.
Citing a relatively low adoption cost of $7,500, the Skinners said they thought it was highly unlikely the Friendship Orphanage was engaged in baby stealing, and that the embassy “made some really bad decisions.”
Wiedemann said decisions were not related to particular orphanages, but rather to specific cases, and that the INS discovered that documents were fraudulent and invalid.
“All the US government did was enforce the law,” Wiedemann said. “[The families] have been victims up until now of the adoption agencies. These 12 families got caught in a situation and in the end the INS gave them a humanitarian solution.”