Date: 1999-05-28

Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ)


Author: Michael Clancy, The Arizona Republic

Adoption by Americans of Mexican babies is uncommon, and two prominent local adoption attorneys say they've never been involved in one.

An average of 100 children per year have been adopted from Mexico over the past 10 years, according to State Department figures that track the number of immigration visas issued to orphans - including children adopted from overseas.

Americans adopted almost 16,000 children from other countries in 1998.

International adoption adds a layer of paperwork and worry to the process. Adoption begins with certification, a requirement in all 50 states, that ascertains the fitness of potential adoptive parents.

Application for an entry visa follows that. A typical adoption results in a file of paperwork that is several inches thick.

Rita Meiser, of Jennings Strouss & Salmon and a past president of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, suspects the adoptive parents who helped authorities with Thursday's indictment involving an illegal adoption ring, were duped by phony papers.

''The adoptive parents may have been deceived. They have to have been given some sort of paperwork,'' she said. ''It wouldn't surprise me if it were fraudulent documentation.''

Meiser said prospective parents may never have known anything was amiss, unless the story turns out to have a darker side.

''You hope this doesn't lead to the next level, that the parents were not fit to adopt,'' she said.

One clue that she says parents might have noticed was the price.

''Twenty thousand is outrageous for any kind of adoption,'' she said - not including the expenses of foreign travel, for example. ''With that kind of money, why not do it right?''

Adoption Resource Center, a Maryland agency, charges $12,000 for Mexican adoptions.

Regardless of the parents' motivation, a situation like this one ''is proof positive that your emotions take command.''

Meiser said she knows of no one who has adopted a Mexican child, privately or through an agency.

No local agencies list Mexico as a country in which they specialize.

Emilie Sundie of Dillon Southwest, an adoption agency that works with children in Korea and other countries, says Mexico never has put in place a consistent policy on foreign adoptions.

''Everyone who (adopts from Mexico) thinks it is awful. The procedure changes by the minute,'' she said.

''The basic problem seems to be that Mexico truly believes a child is better off in the culture without a family, than with a family without the culture. That's my personal perception,'' she said.

Daniel Ziskin, founding member of the Academy of Adoption Attorneys, said he has looked into working with Mexico but found no simple way to do it.

''There are people who desperately want a child and may be willing to skirt the law to do so,'' he said. Others simply take a child into their home and do not realize until later - when a school asks for a birth certificate, for example - that a legal process must be followed.

As for unscrupulous intermediaries, Ziskin said, ''I'm not shocked that there are people out there who cheat, but I am upset that these situations cast adoption in a bad light.''


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