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USCIS Recommendations for Ethical Adoption from Vietnam

This interview with the USCIS (formerly INS) gives detailed guidance to prospective adoptive parents who wish to ensure a successful and ethical adoption. It includes advice on selecting an agency or facilitator, situations to avoid, fraudulent documentation, and the importance of communication. This article is a recap of an interview prior to the shut down of Vietnam adoptions; portions no longer relevant have been removed. It remains an outstanding guide to problems which can affect the success of your adoption.

Interview with Larry Crider, formerly Officer in Charge of the USCIS Ho Chi Minh City office.

You have described the core of the adoption program in Vietnam as "legitimate and secure." Could you elaborate on that?

The great majority of orphans referred to Americans for adoption originate from several state orphanages with a reliable track record of legitimate cases. The custody trail, orphan status, and referral process are all transparent and accessible for review upon request. This has enabling INS and DOS to easily visit the institutions, monitor the process, and ascertain consistent reliability of documentation as to the origins of the children, the manner in which a child became an orphan, and current custody of a child and legal transfer thereof.

What information should prospective adoptive parents be familiar with ahead of time? What can they do to educate themselves?

Prospective adoptive parents should ask their agency to provide them with a complete, detailed description of their operations, including the following:

The manner in which applications are submitted in Vietnam, to whom and by whom.

The identity of the facilitators used in Vietnam to process the application; specifically whether they are direct hire employees of the agency, free agents contracted by the agency, or whether the agency uses another facilitator agency in Vietnam.

The degree to which the activities of the facilitators or agencies n Vietnam are responsible to and monitored by the parent adoption agency in the U.S.

Of utmost importance is to know all details regarding the manner in which a child has been referred to prospective parents for adoption. Be cautious and careful. It is easy to immediately become attached to a child referred and be less than diligent and assiduous in finding out everything one should know before proceeding.

Pay particular attention to the following questions:

  • Who located the child and how?
  • Is that person held accountable to your agency?

Note that according to Vietnamese regulations an eligible child is to be located and referred to the applicant or their representative by the Ministry of Justice or local Justice Services Office. In practice many agencies and facilitators have located their own sources of babies. This has been a major source of problems and aberrations.

This office has confirmed that some facilitators have made cash contributions to local officials for unspecified projects. Prospective parents should question their agency regarding the nature of their work and connections in Vietnam, and how they have arranged to receive referrals.

  • What is the quid pro quo?
  • More directly, where does the fee go?

If an agency states that the child has been referred by the Justice Services Office, ask for details regarding the arrangement in place to facilitate such referrals.

  • Where does the child come from?
  • If from an orphanage, how long has the child been there?
  • If only a few weeks before receiving the referral, how did the everything take place so quickly?

Note the provision under U.S. law that a child cannot be relinquished to an institution with a particular adoptive parent in mind.

  • How did the child come to be in the orphanage? If abandoned, under what circumstances? If relinquished by parent(s), under what circumstances?
  • What documentation can the agency show at the time of referral?
  • Ask if the adopting parent will be allowed to visit the orphanage, and if not, why not?
  • If from a hospital, clinic or welfare center, how long has the child been there?
  • Where did it come from and under what circumstances? (Note: hospitals normally transfer abandoned infants to legitimate orphanages within days or a week of the abandonment, as they are not equipped for long term care.
  • Again, ask if the adopting parent will be allowed to visit the orphanage, and if not, why not?

If a directed adoption, take great care to obtain all details of the circumstances.

Read the law in regards to abandonment, desertion, disappearance, incapable of providing proper care, loss from both parents, sole parent, and single surviving parent.

  • Ask questions about your referral and demand answers to your satisfaction in light of these regulatory requirements.
  • Ask where delivery of the child will take place.
  • Ask for specifics.

Be wary of instances where the child is delivered into adoptive parents arms at their hotel.

It is important to know where the child comes from and where one will receive the child. If directed, from the mother at the Justice Services, and if from an institution, from the institution itself. If from an institution, ask if it is a government institution, rather than a private clinic, orphanage, or other place. Private institutions other than the Vietnamese Red Cross are not authorized to conduct adoptions.

Above all, prospective adoptive parents must establish an understanding with their agency or facilitator that they have the expectation and right to ask any questions of and receive satisfactory answers from anyone during the process, including the agency, its facilitators, U.S Embassy and INS officials, and Vietnamese government officials.

The embassy and INS here have been told on many occasions that petitioners have been warned against approaching INS or DOS with questions or concerns. Some petitioners have reported threats made of having a referral withdrawn from their arms (in such cases delivered to them at a hotel) upon arrival in Vietnam if they make inquiries or register complaints about the agency with the U.S. embassy or INS. Freedom of access to information is essential to a trouble-free adoption overseas.

What are the most common problems encountered in adoption from Vietnam?

Ambiguities regarding the origin of a child and how it was obtained.

Fraudulent documentation regarding the status of the child and/or the child's parent or parents, such as: single statements, abandonment statements, police reports of abandonment, certifications of relinquishment to clinics or social welfare centers (major orphanages not a problem), birth certificates (mother's name only when a father was present.)

Local and even American citizen agents or facilitators procuring infants for adoption referral by soliciting indigent woman for their babies in exchange for considerable sums of money, at maternity hospitals, clinics and market places in poor neighborhoods, and even by scouting throughout poor rural villages and hamlets, leaving cell-phone numbers as contacts. Also included in this category are documented instances of persons procuring babies using the methods just listed and transporting them across provinces to be deposited in centers or institutions for referral by local agencies to clients of U.S. based agencies as abandoned orphans.

For prospective adoptive parents, what are the warning signs of a problematic adoption they should be aware of?

The U.S. agency is unable to provide specific information and details regarding the source of the child and the method by which their facilitators in Vietnam located the child. If the child has been located by agency or independent facilitators, a photograph of a cute baby and brief, verbal assurances that the child is either an orphan or comes from a very poor unwed mother and is in need of a loving home, are no longer sufficient.

Indications that a child has been relinquished to a center only days or a couple weeks prior to receiving notice of a referral. In some such cases it has been discovered that the child was never in the center, the relinquishment document was fraudulent, and the child came directly from a mother or even two parents.

The prospective adoptive parent cannot get satisfactory answers to the questions above.

When is a direct adoption okay? And when not?

A directed adoption will successfully result in eligibility for an immigrant visa if and when all of the applicable definitions of status and circumstance have been met. If even one applicable definition is not met, an I-600 petition may be denied or referred back to INS by a consular visa officer for revocation.

There are two basic issues of concern. First, determining whether the child in a directed adoption meets the definition of an orphan. This includes determining whether all the documentation presented to establish the bona fides of the case is legitimate, and whether it accurately reflects actual circumstances. Second, determining how the child was identified, located and obtained for referral to the petitioner. It is important to ascertain whether money was offered in exchange for or as an inducement to relinquish the child. (Moderate/modest gifts at the time of giving and receiving are fine.)

Have you found it helpful to be onsite in Vietnam? What difference has this made to the INS adoption immigration program?

Both INS and DOS feel that it has indeed been helpful to the program to have an INS presence here in Vietnam. Since this office has opened in late 1998 the percentage of I-600 petitions filed in HCMC has grown to about two thirds of the caseload. For the vast majority of these cases adjudication has been completed within days. Delays have been limited to cases in were problems and issues of concern to both governments have come to light.

We also feel that our work here has been in the best interests of all parties concerned, particularly those of adoption agencies and prospective adoptive parents interested in preserving the integrity, and thus continuing presence, of the program in Vietnam. During the course of the last two years, a number of problems and illegalities have been uncovered by INS, DOS, and Vietnamese government officers and officials. This INS office has gone to great lengths to bring these problems and related issues of concern to the attention of agencies and prospective parents with the intent of assisting all parties in achieving greater understanding of the process and potential problems. We have also been successful in assisting and encouraging Vietnamese authorities to take appropriate action toward the elimination of unscrupulous and illegal activities on the part of their nationals, as well as several Americans.

Our goal has been to eliminate the causes for delays and even some cases denials in the adoption process, and sustain a viable program.


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