Adoption Rules Tighten Abroad

Mary Kane

For the first time since international adoption began growing in popularity two decades ago, so many countries have either shut their doors to adoption, tightened their rules or increased domestic adoption that it's now far harder to adopt overseas.

For the first time since international adoption began growing in
popularity two decades ago, so many countries have either shut their
doors to adoption, tightened their rules or increased domestic adoption
that it’s now far harder to adopt overseas. This is changing the course
of a "revolution"
in which Americans flocked abroad to bring home orphans in record
numbers and create a new and different community of adoptive families.

"Everything’s not closing down, but there’s no question
there’s a constriction happening," said Adam Pertman, author of
"Adoption Nation: How The Adoption Revolution Is Transforming America"
and executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research organization. "I haven’t seen anything like this in 15 to 20 years."

Tom DeFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services,
which represents international adoption agencies, said that for the
first time in his organization’s 35-year history, there are more U.S.
families willing to adopt children than there are children legally
available for adoption. "This is a transformational period for
international adoption," DeFilipo said, "there’s no question about it."

Vietnam is the most recent country to pull back on adoptions, announcing
last week that it will close it doors to U.S. adopters once an
agreement with Washington expires on Sept. 1. Vietnam shut down
temporarily in 2003, after allegations of corruption and baby selling
plagued its program, then reopened in 2005 to a rush of new adoptions.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Vietnam’s announcement came after the U.S. embassy in Hanoi released a report
detailing new corruption allegations, and citing a suspiciously high
number of children listed as abandoned, which makes it impossible to
prove they were truly orphaned or that their parents knowingly agreed
to relinquish them.

The Vietnamese government strongly denied the accusations, saying
it will shut down rather than deal with what it described as
disrespectful U.S. officials. The two countries remain at an impasse.

Guatemala, also a popular county for U.S. adoptions, said
on Tuesday that it would suspend the adoptions of 2,300 children by
U.S. citizens for at least a month to investigate whether they were
handled legitimately. On April 1, the State Department announced
a total halt to new adoptions in Guatemala, as its government works to
address longstanding problems with corruption and charges that women
were enticed to put their children up for adoption for money.

Other countries are changing their policies for different reasons. China
may deny travel permission for adoptions during the Olympics this
summer because of traffic congestion, and waiting times to adopt
children has increased from nine months to more than two years. In
recent years China has moved to limit
the type of families who can adopt, excluding from its program single
parents and people who are obese or take anti-depressants.

is working to encourage domestic adoption, and last year, for the first
time since it opened its doors to foreign adoptions, more Russian
children were adopted domestically than internationally, DeFilipo said.
Korea — the trailblazer
of international adoption after poverty engulfed the country in the
aftermath of the Korean War — also has fewer children available for
adoption as it has grown more prosperous and has encouraged Korean
families to adopt.

As a result of all the cultural changes, restrictions and shutdowns,
international adoption began to decline beginning in 2005, and its
numbers are expected to keep falling, Pertman said. Adoptions had grown
from 7,000 annually in 1990 to a peak of almost 23,000 in 2004, with
Americans accounting for about half of all adoptions worldwide. The
total fell to
19,411 in 2007. Last year, despite declining adoptions, China still
ranked as the top country for adoptions, followed by Guatemala and

The influx of adoptees comprised the "revolution" that Pertman spoke
of: playgroups for children from Asia, families with a mix of
biological children and babies from overseas, culture camps
to connect children with the heritage of their countries and the
greater acceptance and high visibility of adoptive families. Celebrity
adoptions only fueled the popularity, with New York magazine declaring
blended families with children adopted internationally hip and trendy, thereby offending many adopters.

But the very popularity of international adoption also drew greater
scrutiny to its practices and abuses, as wealthy Americans and
foreigners descended on impoverished countries with available children,
paying fees that could reach $30,000 or more — money that sometimes
wound up in the pockets of corrupt local officials and adoption
facilitators rather than orphanages in need.

Adoptions ended in Cambodia
after numerous scandals, some involving birth mothers placing their
children temporarily in orphanages so they could be fed and cared for,
then returning to find them "adopted" by foreigners. The Irish
Independent in 2006 caught
on tape a Vietnamese-American facilitator talking about how she forged
birth certificates, paid off local officials and passed off children
with parents as abandoned in order to put them up for adoption. She
grossed $1 million for handling 150 adoptions.

To Pertman, international adoption is now at a turning point. The next
phase of the adoption revolution, he believes, will be smaller
countries with fewer children opening up to adoptions, like Ethiopia,
while larger countries begin cutting back. He predicts fewer
international adoptions, and more adoptions domestically of children in
foster care.

The scrutiny, Pertman explains, is a natural part of the growth of
international adoption and the process of moving to its next phase. "We want to get adoption to the point where it’s as
ethical, as thoughtful, as humane and as efficient as we can make it,"
he said. "We want to make sure that adoptions are done right, and done
for the right reasons, because kids need homes. We want to see that
adoption is done not because demand drives the process, but because the
need drives the process."

The changing nature of international adoption can be
for the good, as agencies open programs in countries where they haven’t
been before, DeFilipo said. Ethiopia has grown in popularity as an
adoption source, and other countries in Africa, Latin America and parts
of Asia are considering programs.

But the world still has 143 million orphans, and the fact that so few are available for adoption "is a tragedy for the kids," he said.

That reality is likely to prompt more international disputes like the one in Vietnam.

DeFilipo’s group and other adoption advocates are launching a campaign
next week to pressure the State Department to settle its dispute with
Vietnam and restart adoptions. He pointed out that Washington said last
December, prior to the embassy report, that it planned to end the
adoption agreement with Vietnam. Then it turned around last week and
leaked the report about corruption to the press.

He and other advocates contend the State Department is bullying Vietnam
and shutting down all adoptions, when it could work instead to end the
abuses while allowing legitimate adoptions to continue. Vietnam remains
open for adoptions from other countries.
"What the U.S. is doing is just another example of ‘The Ugly American,’" DeFilipo said.

He’s not the only one pointing the finger at the State Department. Thomas Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption,
an advocacy group, contended that frequent turnover among State
Department staffers assigned to adoptions is behind some of the

In Vietnam, staff come and go every two to three years, and officials
don’t understand the psychology and culture of adoptions, he said. A
woman might list her child as abandoned on paperwork out of shame, not
because the adoption is tainted. "They’ll go through the paperwork and
find something nefarious there when it’s not," Atwood said.

The State Department has said it stands
by its findings. Steve Royster, spokesman for consular affairs, said
it’s just not true that the U.S. government opposes adoption in
Vietnam, or that it opposes international adoption in general.

The U.S. is working closely with countries to comply with the Hague Convention,
an international adoption treaty aimed at reforming adoptions and
ending abuses. Royster said the Hague agreement will put all countries
"on the same page" when it comes to adoption rules and regulations,
making the whole process more uniform and less vulnerable to

"We’re fully committed to international adoption when it’s the best way to get families for these kids," he said.
The fight over adoption in Vietnam is likely to be
mirrored elsewhere, as more countries work to comply with the Hague
agreement and as U.S. adoption agencies begin operating in countries
establishing international adoption programs for the first time. As
Atwood pointed out, "America is not exactly at the height of its
popularity right now," ensuring that longstanding charges of bullying
and "American imperialism" when it comes to adoptions in other
countries will persist.

Even as international adoption moves to a new phase, old controversies
will no doubt follow along. And that leaves the fate of the world’s
orphans as unclear as ever.

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.