exposing the dark side of adoption
Register Log in

Litigator-Mom Takes on International Adoption


Everything attorney Kelly Ensslin knows about international adoption, she learned first hand, through gut-wrenching experience. In 2007, Kelly was in the process of adopting a child from Vietnam when the United States changed the rules for processing international adoptions from Vietnam. The United States began investigating the orphan status of every child sought to be adopted by American families, causing enormous delays in the process and requiring unreasonable results from the investigations. For instance, the U.S. sought to locate birth mothers in Vietnam whose identities were unknown, including those the government of Vietnam had already investigated and been unable to find.

Kelly had a picture of a little girl: her little girl. This was the daughter she made a commitment to adopt, the daughter she loved; but her child’s birth mother was unknown, which meant locating her would be nearly impossible. Without adoption, her little girl would grow up without an education, or proper nourishment, or medical care, never mind a family to love and care for her. As a teenager, she would be kicked out of the orphanage and forced onto the streets. Kelly simply and utterly refused to let that happen. “Adoptive parents are not any different than biological parents,” explained Kelly. “If your child was stuck in another country, you would jump on the first plane to bring them home.” That is exactly what she determined to do.

On April 28, 2008, Kelly traveled to Vietnam with the full knowledge that she might not be able to return to the United States with her daughter. On April 29th, she finalized the adoption of her daughter in Vietnam, but that wasn’t the end of the story. Her daughter was not a U.S. citizen. Without the U.S. granting immigration status, the family was stuck in Vietnam. With the determination of a battle-tested litigator, and the ferocity of a mother’s love, Kelly spent two months drafting letters to Congress, making compelling calls to Senators. Finally, she drafted a demand for immediate adjudication to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency responsible for determining immigration for her daughter. Within three days of filing her demand, she had the necessary approvals to bring her daughter home.

Shortly after returning home, in October 2008, Kelly began her own international adoption legal practice. Since that time, she has helped dozens of American families complete the adoptions of their children. She is working for families seeking to adopt from all over the world, including Haiti, Congo, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal. “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” she advises families. “Kids’ lives depend on it.” Kelly is currently attempting to bring awareness to congress about the realities of the international adoption process. She hopes ultimately that the U.S. Government will change its policies and become champions for all children.

In addition to her legal practice, Kelly serves on the Board of Directors for Both Ends Burning, an organization with a global mission to transform international adoption. As part of her work with them, Kelly will travel to various countries including Cambodia, Korea, Nepal, and Vietnam to evaluate current adoption processes and help identify areas for improvement. Currently, the average international adoption takes 40 months to complete. The goal of this evaluation process is to decrease that timeline to 9 months, which means more kids arriving safely in loving homes, faster. That’s Kelly mission.

2011 May 20