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'Baby Veronica' adoption case lobbyists move to Congress



After a "Save Baby Veronica" rally earlier this year, organizers told people to hang on to their protest placards "in case we need to go to Washington, D.C."

Now, indeed, they're heading to the nation's capital Wednesday, but not quite the way they expected.

The case started in 2009, when a couple from James Island, S.C., a suburb of Charleston, adopted "Baby Veronica" from an Oklahoma woman.

Citing the baby's Cherokee heritage, the biological father filed a lawsuit under the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that was intended to help keep Indian children with their tribes.

The man won a court order to have the child returned to Oklahoma. She left her South Carolina home on Dec. 31, 2011, to live with him in Nowata.

The adoptive parents have asked the state Supreme Court to return Veronica to South Carolina, but the court has not ruled yet.

"We only want what's best for her," said Jessica Munday, a family friend who's serving as an unofficial spokeswoman for the adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco.

In April, as they rallied on the steps of the South Carolina courthouse, supporters thought they might eventually wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead, for now, they're going to Congress.

The Coalition for the Protection of Indian Children and Families, which includes members of the "Save Baby Veronica" campaign, will lobby for changes to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.

"The very intent of the law is being compromised by how it's being used," the coalition says. "This federal law was originally established to protect families and Indian children - not destroy them."

Among other changes, the group wants to give a biological parent only 30 days, instead of 12 months, to revoke consent for an adoption. They also argue that Indian birth parents should be able to choose an adoptive family for their children regardless of the family's ethnic heritage.

The Cherokee Nation has intervened in the "Baby Veronica" battle, but with a gag order in place, officials can't comment on the case specifically.

Generally speaking, however, the Indian Child Welfare Act does a lot of good, said Chrissi Ross Nimmo, the tribe's assistant attorney general, who represented the Cherokee Nation in the Baby Veronica proceedings.

The coalition wants to change the law in ways that would make it easier for non-Indian families to adopt Indian children.

"This defeats the entire purpose" of the legislation, Nimmo said.

"The public rarely hears about the thousands of cases a year that either reunite Indian children with their biological parents or the cases where Indian children find permanent, loving adoptive homes with members of their family," she said.

"The problems that you hear about in high-profile cases are not caused by the law itself. The problems are caused when attorneys, adoption agencies, and courts do not follow the federal law."

2012 Jul 11