Vietnamese infant can come to U.S. INS refused to issue visa for adopted boy

Date: 2001-12-23

Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH)
Author: Stephen Koff; Plain Dealer Bureau Chief

Finally, baby Eli is coming to America.

The U.S. government late Friday relented on its yearlong refusal to let the now-15-month-old infant from Vietnam come to this country with his American parents.

"We're just bouncing off the walls," Jane Cahoon, his Medina County- born mother, said yesterday from her home here, where she and her husband, Seth Rosenberg, were making arrangements to fly to Ho Chi Minh City. "No one can ever top this present."

"We're just speechless," said Rosenberg. "This has been the greatest Christmas gift we have ever received."

The decision by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service followed a Plain Dealer article about Eli on Wednesday and a number of calls and letters from members of Congress over the last year.

The INS also said it would let in as many as 12 Cambodian infants whose immigration it had blocked.

The ABC News program "20/20" publicized their adoptive parents' plight Wednesday night.

American couples adopted these babies under Vietnamese and Cambodian adoption laws, with the U.S. government never telling them there could be problems.

But when the parents traveled to Southeast Asia to bring home their babies, INS agents refused to issue visas for the infants. The agency suspected the babies were obtained for adoption by so-called baby brokers who offered money to, or stole babies from, their birth mothers.

In the case of Eli and others, however, alleged INS evidence crumbled on close examination, leaving the U.S. government exposed to embarrassing claims that its investigations were comically, and tragically, flawed.

For instance, the agency asserted that Eli had a father named "Yamaha" living with the birth mother. It turned out "Yamaha" was "Damaha" - a female housemate of the mother's.

The INS dropped its last obstacle, one involving paperwork, about 8:30 p.m. Friday, when INS Commissioner James Ziglar's office called Eli's American mother and said the INS was granting humanitarian parole. That means Eli can enter the United States and be with his adoptive parents while the paperwork problems are resolved.

These final problems derive from Eli's birth certificate and adoption papers. His mother, a poor rice field worker named Huynh Kim Chi, could not find her identity papers, required in Vietnam for all official business.

So she borrowed her sister's identity card and used her sister's name, Huynh Kim Loan, when registering Eli's birth. She then used her sister's name and identity card when giving up Eli, born as Huynh Hoang Hung, for adoption.

The birth mother and her sister admitted to the identity card switch, and DNA tests show that Eli, his mother and his aunt are related. But the INS wanted the records cleared up before it would issue a visa - a process requiring dissolution and then renewal of the adoption, which Vietnamese lawyers said could take a year or more.

With humanitarian parole, Eli can begin life with his parents in the United States while the adults settle these problems. If the issues are not resolved within two years, Eli could be returned to Vietnam, although no one familiar with the case expects that to occur.

"It's exciting," said U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, who represents Cahoon's parents and has written several letters urging the INS to let Eli in. "It's a great holiday present for a family that has been through months and months of anguish."

The INS decision, however, could limit options of future adoptive parents.

While letting Eli and the Cambodian babies in, Ziglar announced "immediate suspension of the processing of adoption petitions in Cambodia and a review of the adoption process in Vietnam." The decision will not affect 32 American couples who already had applied to bring home infants from Cambodia in January.

"INS' responsibility to determine that a child is truly an orphan must never 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 said.

He said INS would review international adoption procedures and work with Cambodia to establish better measures that protect the interests of its people as well as American adoptive parents.

Ziglar's statement made clear that his was a reluctant decision. "I have extended an offer to families caught in the middle while ensuring that the INS is not encouraging or perpetuating the stealing, selling or other exploitation of children," the commissioner said. "I would also like to take this opportunity to remind families considering adoption that there are many deserving children who are U.S. citizens that are in need of loving homes."

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