Some families in South Florida have waited for years to adopt children from foreign countries.
The process is often mired with bureaucracy and red tape.
Chris Cruz, an administrator at Miami-Dade College, knows how painful international adoption can be. For four years she spent many sleepless, tearful nights worrying the Guatemalan newborn that she says she fell in love after seeing his picture for the first time, would never be coming home
“At one point I was 99 percent certain the adoption wouldn’t happen,” said Cruz.
The Guatemalan government had halted foreign adoptions.
“I was determined that even if this was not going to be my son he would have a family. Because in the 4 years and the multiple times I want there I saw way many kids who didn’t have families," said Cruz.
In 2007, when Cruz started her adoption, Guatemala’s adoption industry was booming. But so was the corruption. In some cases, babies were being bought and others stolen. Facing pressure from human rights groups and other governments, including the United States Guatemala halted adoptions in 2008 in order to fix the system. The families who had already begun the process were told they were grandfathered in and could finish their adoptions. But years later, hundreds of families still remain without answers and without their children. Cruz’s story eventually had a happy ending.
An influential Guatemalan attorney helped the family win their case but Albert and Robin Sarkees from North Florida aren’t as lucky. They have made 28 trips to Guatemala and spent almost 90 thousand dollars in the hopes of bringing Micah home – a boy they met as a newborn. That was 4 and half years ago.
“These children are being held hostage by their governments. That a government can come in and do this to these human lives. That you know they have these families waiting for them, waiting to embrace them, said Robin Sarkees. “That’s what I guess has confused us the most. How can this happen? It seems like a terrible nightmare that we’re living.”
Other countries like Ethiopia and Vietnam have also dramatically slowed down adoptions because of allegations of corruption. Adoption countries around the world making it a lot harder to adopt. According to the State Department, the number of international adoptions in the U.S. has plummeted by almost 60 percent from its peak in 2004 of more than 20,000 children.
The problem is affecting hundreds of families across the country. The children, who they thought were going to be a part of their family. are stuck in their native countries and , they say, growing up without a real home.
South Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says families are being held as political pawns by some countries as the U.S. holds countries to a higher standard when it comes to adoptions.
“There’s no doubt that the Guatemalan government and the Vietnamese government want to send the US government a message that they feel discriminated against that they feel slighted and their using the pain of these American families to send a message to the state department as pawns to the state department to say approve us, find some waiver get us in this adoption program again and we’ll let these children go.”
Lehtinen says she doesn’t expect any fast resolution for these families or for the high number of Guatemalan adoptions to return to what they were in the foreseeable future.
Dr. Veronica Accornero, a pediatric psychologist from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and an adoptive parent herself, says government leaders need to remember that early childhood is critical for kids when it comes to attachment issues.
“I certainly understand the need for careful oversight and monitoring. But there has to be a balance when that type of oversight and red tape and paper works is being prolonged for years that that’s no longer in the best interest of the child and can cause long term consequences for
the child and can cause long term consequences for the child,” said Accornero.
Anthony suffered from night terrors when he came home. Despite some early challenges, however, Anthony is a happy, sweet boy who loves Batman and playing with his sister. But for the Sarkees and many families like theirs, they wait and hope for a future that may never come.
Micah was recently moved from a foster home to an orphanage. But the Sarkees say they need him as much as he does them.
“The phone will ring and it will be him on the other end of the line," said Albert Sarkees. “'Ola mama! Ola papa! Te quireo mucho' l look at Robin and I’m like 'How did he know?'”
The Sarkees’ say it’s a possibility Micah could eventually be adopted by a Guatemalan family. Other families just like theirs have recently been told their children are being adopted domestically. But they say that until that happens they’ll continue to fight to bring him home.
"He is our son. We will not abandon him, never. He’s forever our child not matter what Guatemala decides to do.” said Robin Sarkees.