Kathryn Joyce, The Intercept:
When news reports first began to emerge that 81 of the migrant children recently separated from their parents had been sent into the care of one of the largest adoption agencies in the country, the response was swift alarm. Was the government planning on creating “social orphans” out of the children, then offering them up for adoption?
Horrified observers had already drawn parallels between the separation crisis and the blatantly assimilationist treatment of Native American children, starting with their mass removal to boarding schools in the late 19th Century and continuing through the Indian Adoption Project, which from the late 1950s to early 1970s removed 25 to 35 percent of all Native American children from their families. Or how U.S. slavery systematically broke apart families, selling children away from their parents.
The former head of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Barack Obama warned that some of the children who’d recently been separated would remain separated “permanently” and potentially be adopted. Reports surfaced of mothers who were told that their children would be adopted as an incentive to “behave.” On Tuesday night, the Daily Beast reported that the threat of adoption has become weaponized, as a Guatemalan mother detained by Customs and Border Protection earlier this month was allegedly presented with the ultimatum that if she didn’t abandon her asylum appeal, she would be jailed for a year and her daughter put up for adoption. And conservative figures deeply hostile to immigrant families, like Fox News provocateur Laura Ingraham, herself an adoptive mother, toggled between mocking the detention of children as akin to “summer camp” and calling to “make adoption easier for American couples who want to adopt these kids.”
International adoptions finally slowed down amid a pattern that replicated itself, country by country, of adoption booms, followed by ethical scandals, then the closure of that nation’s international adoption program. The scandals were as diverse as the countries supplying the children: coercion or baby buying in Vietnam; recruitment from poor, rural families in Ethiopia; even cases of outright kidnapping in Guatemala. The adoption programs of several frequent source countries were suspended over ethical concerns, in addition to other factors like the solidifying middle class in China, which provided stability and its own domestic adoption market, and political retaliation from Russia, which ended international adoptions to America after the U.S. passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012. International adoptions today are down nearly 80 percent since 2004. Some adoption agencies went out of business, and one adoption lobbying group closed shop as well.
As the family separation crisis unfolded on the border, adoption reform advocates noticed that the agency facilitating the foster care of some immigrant children in Michigan, Bethany Christian Services, announced a waiver of its $550 international adoption application fee for the month of June in a since-deleted Facebook post.
Bethany, which is caring for some of the separated children under a grant with the Office of Refugee Resettlement to offer transitional foster care for unaccompanied minors, has repeatedly said that they oppose the family separation policy and are involved because they believe that the children will suffer less in a family setting than in an institution. In a statement on its website, Bethany argued, “Nobody benefits from creating more orphans.” But reform advocates familiar with numerous allegations regarding Bethany’s domestic adoption program, relating to coercive and misleading practices with birth parents — some of which I wrote about in my 2013 book, “The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption” — worried that the agency was finding in the separated children a new adoption supply.
Writing at Medium, Kimberly McKee, a Grand Valley State University professor and assistant director of the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network, predicted, “Bethany Christian Services is laying the groundwork to turn these children into adoptable objects — transformed into disciplined bodies acceptable to white America.”
While there does exist an ICE directive that provides detained parents the right to be notified of any custody proceedings regarding their children, ICE isn’t required to notify a state child protective agency of a detained parent’s location so they could actually be informed. Nor does ICE have to transport parents to custody-related court hearings. Advocates worry that judges or caseworkers may wonder why parents went AWOL and aren’t showing up to fight for their child, and may eventually terminate their rights.
“What’s the legal status of the kids down the road?” asked Linh Song. “The longer they stay, will there be foster parents who will contest for custody and adopt? It would be one thing if the kids are going as unaccompanied minors or teens. But if you have an infant with you, I bet there are parents who won’t want to give that child up.” She said, “What’s the likelihood of an indigenous Guatemalan mom fighting a family in western Michigan with access to law firms and large, conservative Christian megachurches? It’s really daunting.”
She said she couldn’t imagine these children being offered for adoption, “but a lot of things are happening that I couldn’t have imagined. Could things change? Could the Trump administration overstep? Well, they already have. They’re moving out of the realm of child welfare in compromising the welfare of children in order to enforce immigration law. The question is how far will they go in harming children for the sake of enforcing immigration law? It’s not alarmist at this point.” Given that the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s mission has now been further compromised by the demand that they share potential sponsors’ personal information and location with ICE — as a recent open letter from one resettlement office counselor details — McMullen added, “It could become such an anti-immigrant police state that [potential guardians] might not claim their own children. It’s worth playing out how bad this could be if it’s not stopped right now.”