Paperwork problems in adoption of two Vietnamese orphans bring heartache

December 4, 2007

Paperwork problems in adoption of two Vietnamese orphans bring heartache

A nursery awaits its second occupant

Photos by Karen Quincy Loberg / Star staff  Julie Carroll plays with her daughter Lillian Rose in their Camarillo home. The Carrolls adopted two girls in Vietnam, but their other daughter, Madelyn Grace, top, was denied a visa and remains in Vietnam.

Photos by Karen Quincy Loberg / Star staff Julie Carroll plays with her daughter Lillian Rose in their Camarillo home. The Carrolls adopted two girls in Vietnam, but their other daughter, Madelyn Grace, top, was denied a visa and remains in Vietnam.

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In the upstairs nursery of Steve and Julie Carroll’s Camarillo home, two identical cribs are lined with identical pink blankets.

There are two rocking chairs and two dressers. A photo of two baby girls sits on top of one dresser, and on the other rests two handmade Vietnamese bears, each bearing the name of one of the little girls.

It’s a nursery created with love for Vietnamese orphans Lillian Rose and Madelyn Grace as they embark on their new life in America. But there’s something missing from this idyllic scene.

While 6-month-old Lillian Rose sleeps snuggled up to adoptive mother, Julie, 7-month-old Madelyn Grace is still a world away in Vietnam.

Although the Carrolls are the legal parents of both babies under Vietnamese law, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security, denied Madelyn a visa to enter this country.

After four weeks of living with both baby girls in Vietnam, the Carrolls were forced to leave Madelyn behind.

“You’re torn completely in half,” said Julie Carroll. “You’re so joyful that you have finally brought your child home. But at the same time, you’re aching because your other child is thousands of miles away.”

“We’re stuck in the middle,” Steve said. “We were approved to adopt two children. We legally adopted two children in Vietnam, and now they’re telling us we’re only allowed to bring one of them home.”

U.S. officials would not comment on the Carrolls’ case specifically but say an increasing number of irregularities are appearing in orphan petitions and visa applications in Vietnam. They urge people to get visas first before traveling to pick up adopted children.

Madelyn has been placed in foster care in Vietnam along with another baby girl adopted by a Seaside, Calif., family but also denied a U.S. visa.

Adoption options researched

Steve Carroll, 38, and Julie, 36, have been married for nine years. Steve is deputy administrator for Ventura County’s Emergency Medical Services. Julie, a former social worker, is a homemaker and full-time mother to 6-year-old Jeremy, 4-year-old Grayson and Lillian Rose.

With two boys of their own already and having faced infertility issues, they decided to add to their family through international adoption.

At first, they planned to follow the lead of a cousin on Julie’s side who had successfully adopted from China. But when told it takes two to four years for a Chinese adoption to be completed, they turned to Vietnam.

After researching the options, registering with a licensed and reputable agency and undergoing the required home studies, they learned in June that two baby girls, just days apart in age, had been found for them.

Then came the first disappointment: They learned a few weeks later that one of the babies had been adopted out to another family.

Although Steve and Julie wanted to adopt two girls close in age so they could grow up together like sisters, they decided to move forward with adopting the one, whom they named Madelyn Grace.

Then they were told another baby girl, six weeks younger than Madelyn and living at the same orphanage, was also available for them. They agreed to adopt her, too, and gave her the name Lillian Rose. In mid-September, the couple and their two boys traveled to Vietnam to see the babies for the first time.

At no point, they said, were they told there could be a problem with the adoptions.

‘Cleared for travel’

“We followed all of the procedures and were told we were cleared for travel,” Steve said. “Then, while we were there, they decided to investigate our cases and then they said there were irregularities and they were going to deny one of our two babies.”

The Carrolls said U.S. officials are questioning Madelyn Grace’s documentation.

Sharon Rummery, the California spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said she could not comment on the case. But the Web site for the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi says orphan petition and visa application irregularities are increasing.

“The ongoing number of irregularities that we are currently seeing strongly indicates that the adoption process in Vietnam still lacks sufficient oversight and regulation,” the Web site says. “We are deeply concerned … by confirmed cases of child selling, and by evidence that children are being released for adoption without the consent of the birth parents.”

Rummery said the United States has a moral obligation to make sure a child being adopted is truly an orphan because of death, abandonment or the relinquishment of parental rights.

“Adoptive parents must conform to U.S. law in order to bring the child home, and that means the child must qualify as an orphan,” she said. “That means we must be able to establish through paperwork that the child is an orphan.”

The Carrolls have hired an experienced international adoption attorney, Irene Steffas, based in Georgia, to handle their appeal against the U.S. government’s Notice of Intent to Deny admission. They refuse to think about what might happen if their appeal is denied.

“We sat in the office in the embassy in Hanoi and we said if you can show us that she was a victim of baby buying or if her birth parents are looking for her, we will personally hand her back,” Julie said. “We are people of integrity, and we would never participate in anything like that.”

In addition to the emotional toll, the Carrolls are facing growing financial costs.

Lou Dunne, who helps run a Ventura-based support group for parents who have adopted children from overseas, said an international adoption can cost upward of $25,000. The Carrolls estimate they’ve spent about $40,000 so far on the two adoptions and their four-week trip to Vietnam. They’ve been told they face $20,000 more in legal fees.

They have asked California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to intervene. The senators’ offices and committee officials did not return phone calls seeking comment. A spokesman for the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, D.C., was not available for comment.

Rummery said the U.S. government has always encouraged people adopting abroad to file all their paperwork first and get visa approval before traveling to get their children.

“Whenever you travel first and then file,” she said, “you take a risk.”

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