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Taking Footprints - A Visit from Immigration

By Pamela Chatterton Purdy

I heard a car pull into the driveway. I drew the curtain aside. A man with glasses was getting out of his car. I went to the front door.
"How do you do, Mrs. Purdy, I'm from th Department of Immigration."
I stepped out defensively onto the porch.
"So this is Hoang!{"" he bent down to look into an anxious face. Hoang's eyes examined the man from head to toe, then fixed on the briefcase.
"Is this going to take long?" I asked.
"No, no, we don't even have to go inside, Mrs. Purdy. I'll set up from my briefcase right here on the porch."
The man opened his brown leather satchel; Hoang Stephen never left his elbow.
"What this?" He grabbed a collapsed Polaroid camera.
"It's a camera, son." The officer nervously retrieved his equipment. The case contained all kinds of fingerprinting materials and official looking papers.
"What exactly has to be done?" I asked anxiously.
"It will take only a few minutes," he said, snapping Stephen's picture. "He'll just be photographed, fingerprinted, footprinted, and his United States whereabouts verified. And then I'm off."
"Yes, but what happens next?"
With a whir..r..r the photo emerged; Hoang Stephen's fingers were on it instantly. The man pried the developing image from Hoang's hand.
"Next? All this information is put on tape, the tape is flown to Saigon, and then to trucks that, with the help of loudspeakers, will drive through the streets looking for a mother or parent of these kids."
"With megaphones? Drive thorugh the streets?" I repeated in disbelief.
"Listen, ma'am, this isn't my idea! Civil Liberties wants these children reclaimed in the event some hasty decisions were made." He opened his ink pad and, one by one, pressed Hoang Stephen's fingers onto some legal papers. "You'll have to take off your sneakers, son."
"his footprints, too?" My head swam with mixed emotions; it had not been an easy year. Life without Hoang had been so much simpler. There had been moments when I would have been delights to see his mother appear! But now - now he surely had become a part of me!
Hoang sat on the steps, his wrinkled prints, one foot at a time, being pressed on the paper.
"Why his feet?"
"Some babies were footprinted at birth, some handprinted." He shrugged. "Some not at all. It depends on the province he was born in."
"How long could this search take?"
"Oh, maybe a year, Mrs. Purdy. I know this is hard for you."
"Hard? It's hard, all right! If his mother comes forward, then what?"
"The United States has to fly these children back."
If that happens, I thought, it will be the first time our government has come across with a penny for these children.
What kind of goody-goody organization was this, anyway? I turned around to hide my moist eyes. Legalities? Does such a group give one though to what a return could do to these children; to us, the families?
The officer snapped his briefcase shut. "That's all there is to it, Mrs. Purdy!"
"Goody-bye. Say good-bye, Hoang Stephen." I hoped that was all there was to it! Hoang waved good-bye and tore down the driveway on his tricycle.
What would I say if I had to tell him he was to be returned? How it would tear my heart out!
I close the door. Spread before me on the counter were recently developed photos from Flag Day. I picked one up. There was Hoang Stephen in a Statue of Liberty crown with three big white stars, a construction paper red, white, and blue flag hanging on his shoulders like a sandwich board. In front of his open mouth was a big ice-cream cone. Jessica was in a black leotard, her hair in bunches; Ronald and Kristen in play clothes; grandparents. A picture of the true American family? How many American families were going through the same process? How many had begun building, emotional brick by emotional brick, the foundations of lasting relationships?

Pamela Chatterton Purdy : Excerpted with author permission from her book, Beyond the Babylift, A Story of an Adoption