In 2013, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) finalized an adoption decree, making my husband and I the legal parents of a young Congolese girl. Nevertheless, we worried, along with many other parents, that there were signs of diplomatic strain in the adoption program between the U.S. and DRC. We worried that the DRC would follow a pattern of adoption program closures and suspensions over the last decade, leaving our daughter trapped in limbo.
In September of 2013, our worst fears were realized when the DRC’s military police announced that over 1,000 legally adopted children would be prevented from leaving the country to join their adoptive families.
Parents collectively took a deep breath and trusted the State Department to do its job and find a diplomatic resolution to bring our children home. We waited. And waited. And then, in a teleconference call with the State Department in March, we learned the shocking truth: 6 months after the suspension, the State Department had not even counted how many American families were impacted by the suspension. Without a headcount of these children caught in the “pipeline,” diplomatic discussions could not even begin.
We coordinated to count ourselves. We wrote letters to our members of Congress and the President, and, with the help of tens of thousands of Americans, over 100,000 letters were sent to the Capitol within just one week.
In response to our letters, 169 members of Congress signed on to a letter to the President and Prime Minister of DRC, asking them to lift the suspension. DRC officials then abruptly cancelled a scheduled trip to the U.S. to meet with adoptive families and their Congolese children, and learn about the U.S. child welfare system.
One week later, the DRC banned American parents from visiting the children we have adopted. Senators called upon Secretary Kerry to advocate for stuck American families during his May 4th visit to the DRC, which he did. A month later the DRC released only 15 children to their American families and Italy sent a plane to escort home Italian-adopted children.
At least 13 adopted children have died during this illegal detention, and in June of 2014 I finally received special permission to visit my daughter when she almost died from malaria and malnutrition. I spent much of my summer in the DRC nursing her back to health and formed a deep bond with her. Still, my request to bring my daughter back home with me was denied and I had to leave her in DRC as I returned to the States to continue fighting for her.
Over the last several months, hundreds of members of Congress have sent more letters to President Kabila. In July, second Lady Dr. Biden met with Kabila in DRC to advocate for our families. President Kabila visited the U.S. in August and met with Secretary Kerry again. Special Envoy Russ Feingold visited Kabila in DRC in October. Numerous members of Congress have reached out to Kabila. Kabila invited a State Department delegation to visit him in December, only to shun the delegation when it arrived and stonewall attempts at progress. Numerous congressional delegations have visited DRC only to be met by DRC government officials who are suspicious of adoption only because they can’t comprehend why someone would love a child who does not share their bloodline.
2014 has been a banner year for Kabila because of the children he is holding hostage, in violation of Congolese law and international law. These kids may be the best thing that has ever happened to him. It has certainly taken a lot for the U.S. to pay attention to this brutal authoritarian dictator, but it turns out that defenseless little orphans, who are deteriorating every day while being withheld from their parents, are just the trick.