If you have in any way been involved with the Vietnam Adoption community for the past few months then the summary of irregularities and warning concerning adoptions from Vietnam should not come as much of a surprise. Sickening? Yes. Surprising? No. Unless you’ve been playing ostrich for a while.
Shortly after my husband returned from Vietnam I said I was going to write a post about adoption from that country and about an experience/conversation he had in the airport with an embassy employee. I was going to password protect it for the sake of the unsuspecting embassy employee who had no idea his words would be summarized in a blog post. At this point, however, I guess the password would be moot.
But first, let me back up a few weeks before that chance meeting in the Hong Kong airport. Back to when we first started hearing about USCIS blocking adoptions from specific provinces because the Vietnamese people there weren’t cooperating with their investigations. Matt (yes, my husband has a real name and it is Matt) and I were talking about that with some measure of dismay.
Imagine if a Vietnamese official, or an official of any foreign government, came to you in your home or workplace here in the United States and tried to ask you questions, to include you in an investigation of theirs, without any permission, support or back up of any kind from your own government. What would you do? Would you cooperate? No, probably not. I’m sure I’d ask them to leave and then start bandying around words like “restraining order,” “my neighbor the state senator,” “national guard,” “harassment,” and “deportation.” We are Americans and we are very defensive of our rights, whether real or imagined, and we are particularly defensive of our right not to have our very personal, life-changing decisions investigated by our own government, let alone a foreign one. The idea of a foreign government trying to investigate our personal lives on our own soil is unthinkable, so the idea of our government doing it to someone else on their soil was and is, in my mind, unconscionable. My husband felt pretty much the same way.
Then he happened to meet an embassy employee who finished a stint at the US embassy in Hanoi and was on his way home to the US. This person did not work in a capacity that involved investigating or processing adoptions, but he did work in a fraud investigation capacity. I can only imagine that there was “water cooler” talk among the investigators, no matter what specific situations they were there to investigate. This embassy employee sat in the airport talking to my husband and playing with my new son, saying, “This little boy just has no idea how lucky he is to be getting out now. Not many more will get out to the United States.” He told Matt of the fraud and coercion they saw in adoptions from Vietnam. He told him, basically, what was released last week in the summary of irregularities. Again, the generalities of that summary are nothing new to those involved in Vietnam adoptions, but some of the specifics are gut wrenching.
Matt returned from that trip with a new view of the US investigations into the I600 applications. In light of the details he heard during that chance encounter, he had a little more sympathy for our government sticking its nose where it really doesn’t seem to belong. As Matt saw it, and as I also now see it, it has been a lose-lose situation for quite some time.
By doing these investigations, not only has USCIS caused children to remain in orphanages longer than should be necessary, it has also contributed to a perception of the United States government thinking it can do whatever it wants, wherever it wants. Yuck. On the other hand, if they didn’t do what they have been doing, if they didn’t do something to at least give the appearance of stemming the tide of corruption, then it would have made us all look like rich, selfish Americans just buying babies and not caring who we took advantage of or who we left behind. Again, yuck. When the announcement was “leaked” about the DNA testing for relinquished children, I knew that was the final nail in the coffin lid for adoptions from Vietnam to the United States. I believe it was the US government posturing in a way that they could say, “See! We’re trying to do something to protect the innocent and vulnerable of Vietnam!” while giving the Vietnamese government the opportunity to say “See! We can’t work with these overbearing Americans!”
I have seen the question posted on blogs and list serves: why should we hold the Vietnamese side of the adoption to a higher standard than the Vietnamese hold themselves? The answer, basically, is that we’re damned if we do but probably more damned if we don’t. Do I like it? No. Do I think all the investigations should have been happening the way they apparently have been happening? No. Did I jump for joy about the DNA announcement? No. But then the question is: what should have happened instead? And there is no easy answer.
So where do we point the fingers? Who is to blame for this mess? Do we even need to assign blame, or is that just a very tired American pastime that needs be sent to the glue factory? Well, yes, it is. But in this case, I do think there is blame to be assigned, and I think it goes directly on the shoulders of the unscrupulous agencies and “baby finders.” It also, in part, goes on the shoulders of the adopting parents, but even that is with great hesitation.
I cannot fault the birth parents who may actually sell their children or accept bribes to relinquish their children (same thing, no?) because I have never lived in the kind of grinding poverty that would make one desperate enough to even consider doing such a thing, let alone actually do it. I can only blame the Vietnamese government insofar as it has not been able to provide the education and training to help its people lift themselves out of such poverty. I do not think their government or ours should have to baby sit every agency and every provincial official with oversight and regulations. I believe individuals should have the integrity to police themselves.
But they don’t.
Which is why I primarily blame the unethical agencies who are more concerned about making money than they are about helping the people who truly need help in a way that is most helpful to them. They are the ones waving the money that instigates and perpetuates the corruption. They are the ones that make our government and the Vietnamese government look bad. They are the ones that are causing a current community of grief.
The kicker is that they are waving our money*. Maybe not mine or yours personally, but they are causing the corruption by waving the money of members of the Vietnam adoption community. They are buying babies and paying bribes with money they received from people with good intentions, who trusted them to do a job and do it right, well, and ethically. Unfortunately however, to this extent, part of the blame is ours because we willingly gave them the money.
The problem is, even though we have the money, we do not have all the power. Short of working in the adoption industry in some professional or full-time volunteer capacity, it is nearly impossible for the average adopting parent to know how to best navigate the system. What questions do we ask? What answers should we expect? How do we know if the answers we are getting are honest? What are the legalities we should look into? How about the ethical and cultural issues? Even the most honest, reputable and communicative of agencies don’t give us all the details. So we research, we ask questions, we slog through the venom on Yahoo! groups, and then we hope we’ve made the right decision and not been duped. We hope our child wasn’t bought, stolen, or held as payment for a hospital bill. We hope the check we wrote didn’t turn into the green flag of corruption being waved over a nation.
And now, for all those who are watching their plans to adopt from Vietnam go up in smoke, and for all those whose children may have been taken against their will or under false pretenses, we grieve.
*No, I really do not believe that our agency was knowingly involved in any corruption in Vietnam. In fact, I believe the agency we used has the best of intentions. However, I realize that is pretty much what every adoptive parent believes, what every adoptive parent needs to believe when they look into their child’s eyes.