James Ziglar, commissioner of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, appears to be taking the matter of Cambodian adoptions personally.
At a recent meeting with prospective adoptive parents in Washington, the commissioner broke down and cried, the Gannett News Service reported.
The emotional outburst surprised the two dozen prospective parents who had traveled to the INS building on Feb 14 for a protest—only to be invited in for a discussion that lasted more than an hour. The would-be protesters left reassured by Ziglar’s concern and attention to the issue.
“They are moving on it. The meeting made everybody feel better,” prospective parent Steven Carnley told Gannett.
The INS suspended all visas for Cambodian children up for adoption on Dec 21, 2001, over concerns about baby trafficking. The agency claimed the Cambodian system did not provide adequate guarantees that children were truly orphans.
The decision trapped 12 US families who had already come to Cambodia to claim their infants. These families’ adoptive children were eventually granted provisional visas in an arrangement the INS called “humanitarian parole.”
Hundreds of other families who had spent several months and thousands of dollars on the adoption process received no such reprieve and felt betrayed. But now more than 100 of these prospective parents may still be able to complete their adoptions.
The INS said recently it was seeking “a limited, humanitarian solution” for families who had already finished filing adoption paperwork and been paired with a Cambodian child before the December ban.
Members of a joint task force—made up of INS, US State Department and Cambodian government officials—have been in Cambodia for several weeks investigating these cases, according to an INS fact sheet dated March 1.
“We are concentrating on those cases in which the prospective adoptive parents and a Cambodian child had been officially matched prior to the December 21, 2001, announcement of a suspension in adoption processing,” the fact sheet states.
“We have thus far identified over 100 such cases,” it continues, adding more cases are being examined for consideration. If investigators can verify the children involved are actually orphans, the prospective parents may be granted visas for them.
The task force includes himself, two INS investigators and a consular official representing the State Department, along with Cambodia’s director of immigration, a representative from the Ministry of Social Welfare and several staff, US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said.
“Some of these Americans really deserve to be parents, and there are plenty of orphans in Cambodia who could benefit from having parents to love them and give them a good life,” Wiedemann said. “But we need to separate the bad cases from the good cases. Trafficking exists in Cambodia. It is a fact.”
The task force’s activities basically consist of trying to track down the birth parents of a child purported to be an orphan. The investigators post notices in the areas from which the children are said to come, saying parents who have sold a child or had a child stolen should report to the authorities immediately.
“We hope to return the children to their lawful parents if they’ve been trafficked, and if they’re real orphans we’ll cooperate with the Cambodian government to arrange to finish processing the adoptions,” Wiedemann said.
But the longer-term problem of baby trafficking remains. The recent INS fact sheet notes, “During this special initiative we are taking unusual steps to attempt to clear cases for humanitarian reasons. The suspension [of adoptions] can only be lifted completely, however, when the [Cambodian government] establishes a transparent adoption regime, consistent with international norms.”
Wiedemann said this was the ultimate goal. “Cambodia has no law governing adoptions” or defining trafficking, he said. “We will work with them to draft a law and get it passed—one that would comport with the Hague Convention on International Adoptions,” which sets international standards for adoptions.
A personal letter from INS Commissioner James Ziglar to prospective adoptive parents of Cambodian children, dated Feb 7, indicates the INS is actively pursuing the issue.
Ziglar related an anecdote about two Cambodian children, up for adoption by US families, who were found to have been abducted from their birth mothers.
“INS’ responsibility to determine that a child is truly an orphan must not be tainted by any action that results in the exploitation of innocent children by separating them from their biological families as a result of fraud, trafficking in human beings or other criminal activity,” Ziglar wrote.
“While some may perceive this as bureaucratic, these requirements are mandated by law and ensure that the rights of the adoptive child, natural parents, and prospective adoptive parents are protected,” the letter states.
Ziglar goes on to explain the US is “undertaking several initiatives to improve and strengthen the integrity of the adoption program. In particular, INS and the Department of State are working with the Cambodian Government to establish an adoption process that will protect the interest of the Cambodian people and prospective adoptive parents.”
The letter continues, “I have dedicated substantial additional INS resources to resolve this issue as expeditiously as possible.”
But getting an adoption law that is up to international standards passed in Cambodia depends on the Cambodian government, Wiedemann said.
“It is in the interests of some individuals in the government not to have a law, because they can profit personally” without one, he said.