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The Leaked DNA Memo

It’s my guess that everyone connected to Vietnam adoptions has seen the internal USCIS memo regarding a new DNA requirement that was posted on Bring Our Children Home yesterday. This memo was news to us as it was to most people in the adoption community – although it appears that USCIS did notify some agencies and organizations ahead of time. As soon as we learned of the memo, we went to work contacting sources and doing research online to find verification and clarification. An assistant to the author of the memo told us this:

the memo that was posted to the Bring Our Children Home website was for internal guidance.
Accordingly, it did not include the level of detail normally provided in documents intended for public dissemination. A corresponding update to our website on this issue is also being prepared and should be posted shortly.

We have also learned that the USCIS has been considering implementing this requirement for at least a month.

At this point, we still have many questions and can only hope that the USCIS announcement will answer them. But there are a few answers I can provide based on information we already have.

Abandonment – This term has multiple meanings. For most of us, it means anonymously leaving a child. But the USCIS definition is somewhat different and more complex. In its entirety, from the USCIS Guidebook for international adoption the definition reads as follows:

Abandonment by both parents means that the parents have willfully forsaken all parental rights, obligations and claims to the child, as well as all control over and possession of the child, without intending to transfer, or without transferring, these rights to any specific person(s). Abandonment must include not only the intention to surrender all parental rights, obligations and claims to the child, and control over and possession of the child, but also the actual act of surrendering such rights, obligations, claims, control and possession. A relinquishment or release by the parents to the prospective adoptive parents or for a specific adoption does not constitute abandonment. Similarly, the relinquishment or release of the child by the parents to a third party for custodial care in anticipation of, or preparation for, adoption does not constitute abandonment unless the third party (such as a governmental agency, a court of competent jurisdiction, an adoption agency or an orphanage) is authorized under the child welfare laws of the foreign sending country to act in such a capacity. A child who is placed temporarily in an orphanage shall not be considered to be abandoned if the parents express an intention to retrieve the child, are contributing or attempting to contribute to the support of the child, or otherwise exhibit ongoing parental interest in the child. A child who has been given unconditionally to an orphanage shall be considered to be abandoned.

So, basically when USCIS says “abandoned” they mean relinquished permanently and unconditionally, or a child who is available for international adoption.

The complication is that in Vietnam, apparently 85% of children are anonymously abandoned. And what is not clear at this point is what the new regulation will mean for those children. Also not clear is what would happen to a child who was legally relinquished some time in the past but now the birth parent(s) can not be located in order to do a DNA test. These are just two of the many questions I have and hope that USCIS will address as soon as possible.

My reason for posting today, aside from clarifying the meaning of the word “abandoned”, is to attempt to be a somewhat calming influence on what is clearly a very stressful situation. First, I want to say, I know what people are feeling. No, this exact thing did not happen to me, but actually something worse. With absolutely NO notice, USCIS suspended all adoptions from Cambodia – while we were right in the middle of adopting our daughter. The announcement was made on a Friday night, right before Christmas and it was literally weeks before we got any answers. So I will be the last person to minimize how scary and frustrating these sudden USCIS announcements can be. But the good news is that in time there was some additional information – and while at first it seemed we were facing a brick wall, in fact we found the wall was not immovable and USCIS did eventually work with all the families involved to resolve our cases and our daughter came home.

My suggestion for those in process right now is to look to your agencies and your congressional offices for help and support. Check in with you agency and find out what they know. Probably at this point they are still gathering information, but just hearing that they are on top of things will be a reassurance. Your congressional office can be a great resource at times like this. During our Cambodian experience, USCIS told us they preferred to work with our congressional representatives. And your congressional office is required to open a file for any constituent who calls with a specific need. So when you call, explain your circumstances and be very clear about what you want them to do for you. (ie, “Please contact USCIS and find out what the new DNA regulation means, when it takes affect, and how it will impact cases in process.”) If you don’t know how to contact your congress people, a good place to start is Congress.org – it’s an independent resource that allows you to enter your zip code and then displays all your local elected officials and their contact information.

Hopefully in the days to come we will have more official statements and information to post. But as we wait, please remember that we are all in this together – we all came to this place wanting nothing more than to open our hearts and homes to Vietnamese children in need of families. Let’s not bicker or attack one another, but instead do what we can to support each other and work together toward that common purpose.

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Comment by Cinnamon
2008-04-02 17:07:24

Thanks for this clarification. I thought that I was reading different definitions of abandonment but The letter on BOCH was a bit confusing.

Comment by T
2008-04-02 17:26:47

Thanks. So what does relinquish mean? The memo specifically states that relinquishment does not constitute abandonment. They clarify in the memo that relinquishment should not be confused with abandonment.

“A relinquishment or release by the parents to the prospective adoptive parents or for a specific adoption does not constitute abandonment. Similarly, the relinquishment or release of the child by the parents to a third party for custodial care in anticipation of, or preparation for, adoption does not constitute abandonment…”

Comment by Alicia
2008-04-03 08:47:55

Actually, if you carefully read the CIS definition of abandonment, you’ll realize that it means unconditional relinquishment to a third party that is authorized under the child welfare laws of the foreign country to act as custodians in anticipation of the child’s adoption. So in other words, the third party cannot be any Joe Bloe off the street; it must be a licensed third party that is recognized as such by the country. This could include an adoption agency. The statement qualifies that the “abandonment” cannot be temporary (i.e. birth parents hope to retrieve the child at some later date). It must be permanent and unconditional. The memo that the CIS leaked indicated that the DNA testing policy applies to abandoned children in which a birth parent has been identified. To the rest of the adoption community, this is the traditional definition of a relinquished child.

Comment by kristin
2008-04-02 18:14:18

Thank you so much for your voice of reason and calm… It is so refreshing.

Comment by Alicia
2008-04-03 08:38:43

The memo (which apparently has already been removed from the BOCH website) indicated that abandoned children in which a birth parent has been identified are the ones who are subject to the DNA testing, at the PAPs’ expense. This would seem to preclude anonymously abandoned children from the testing. Moreover, it makes absolutely no sense to perform expensive DNA testing on a child for whom no birth parents have been identified. What is the point? What does this accomplish?

IMO, it is highly irresponsible of the CIS to release or leak a memo of this nature without first thinking through all the ramifications and ensuring that all scenarios have clearly been identified, described, and clarified. I think this latest episode highlights one of the major problems of the Orphans First program: the failure of the CIS to communicate clearly, promptly, and responsibly.

Comment by Jessica
2008-04-04 03:26:10

Out of curiosity, to whom shuld we turn if we are US citizens living abroad (non-military)? Clearly we don’t have a specific congressman to speak of… who then will speak for our family?

Comment by bella
2008-04-04 04:30:28

you go to the congressperson/senator of your homestate. You are still a constituent.

Comment by monica Dailey
2008-04-04 07:44:29

Has anyone talked to their agency about this? I spoke with mine and they said if the child was left and parents cannot be found then the DNA testing does not apply and the process would move forward without..

What should I think about this response?
Thank you for any help you can give…

Comment by bella
2008-04-04 08:42:04

That is exactly what ours said, as well as 2 other agencies I know of. Our director and coordinators are waiting to update us when CIS has clarified this process.

Comment by Amy
2008-04-04 15:32:33

Any word on when USCIS or the US Embassy is going to post something official? I’m really surprised that we haven’t heard anything yet. And with it now the weekend in Vietnam, I’m starting to wonder if we will hear anything until next week?

Comment by Nicki
2008-04-04 15:39:17

I, too, am surprised that we have not heard anything more official yet. I hope it is forthcoming. It has been a VERY long and emotional week.

2008-08-31 20:25:11

[…] is not the only linguistic stumbling block, Look here for a definition of how “Abandonment” is defined in relation to the USCIS Guidebook for […]

2010-01-19 18:15:02

[…] is not the only linguistic stumbling block, Look here for a definition of how “Abandonment” is defined in relation to theUSCIS Guidebook for […]

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