The US Immigration and Naturalization Service has granted “humanitarian parole” to 13 families currently involved in adoption disputes, freeing the families to take the children to the US.
“We are ecstatic about the opportunity to take our daughter home,” said Jeff Fleming, who has remained in Cambodia pending the outcome of the case.
The humanitarian parole, however, does not end the ordeal for the adoptive parents, Fleming said.
“No final decision has been made regarding visas. We are disappointed they did not rule on the merits of our case,” he said.
The ruling, released Friday in the US, requires the adoptive families to agree to two stipulations before the children can enter the US: they must legally adopt the children in the US, and they must return them to their native country if they are proved not to be orphans.
The INS stopped issuing adoption visas in November, after reports that 12 Cambodian babies and one Vietnamese infant might have been bought or stolen from their parents.
Fleming and his wife, Karen, planned to fly to Bangkok Sunday night with their daughter, Isabel Champa, hoping they could begin the long trip back to the US. But over the weekend, they were unable to contact officials at either the US Embassy or the INS offices in Bangkok, Fleming said.
By coincidence, the other parents who had been waiting in Cambodia had already left, Fleming added.
Kim Edmonds-Woulfe departed Friday to spend Christmas with her eight-year-old son, leaving her Cambodian infant in the care of a nanny. She had planned to return in two weeks and is now scrambling for an earlier flight, Fleming said.
The Greg Sferes family took their daughter, Sorya, to Bangkok last week for treatment of suspected dengue fever, Fleming said. They are now hoping to be able to continue home from Thailand, if they can find seats on a plane.
The parents don’t know when the Bangkok offices will be open, due to the Christmas holiday. Many airlines have also cut back service in the wake of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks, making it unclear when flights home will be available, Fleming said.
Confusing as that is, Fleming said the three families feel much luckier than the families who have already returned to the US . He said he had spoken to some on the telephone, who told him they had been stuck all weekend, unable to contact the INS for further information.
“Some of the families in the US have no idea what to do. They don’t know anything,” Fleming said.
The families have spent months in limbo, as what seemed to be uncomplicated adoptions became an international news story.
Allegations of child-trafficking first surfaced in September. Seven of the cases involve infants from the Asian Orphans Association, a Phnom Penh orphanage.
In November, the INS refused to issue visas to 12 Cambodian infants and one Vietnamese child who had been adopted by American families.
That meant parents who had come to Southeast Asia planning to spend a week or two finishing up the paperwork were instead forced to stay for months longer than expected.
Most were forced to return home, leaving their newly-adopted children in the care of nannies. The Sferes family told reporters they had to spend about $30,000 during their four-month stay in Cambodia, in addition to their $15,000 adoption fees.
The Flemings made arrangements to stay on pending a decision, but it wasn’t easy, Jeff Fleming said.
“I left my office expecting to be gone for two weeks, and that was three months ago,” he said. “It’s coming to an end, but it has been a long, slow process.”
Foreign adoptions from Cambodia were halted by the Cambodian government in June 2000 after allegations of improper adoption procedures and baby trafficking. They resumed in early 2001.
(Additional reporting by the Associated Press)