Immigration Law Center, L.L.C.
P.O. Box 11032
Montgomery, Alabama  36111-0032  USA

Telephone  +334.832.9090


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Copyright, Boyd .F. Campbell, All Rights Reserved

CIS announces email addresses for adoption questions

    Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) announced that it has developed a new email system to answer parents' questions about pending intercountry adoption applications.  CIS states that the email addresses will be devoted solely to intercountry adoptions. Each CIS district office will have a dedicated electronic mail address reserved solely for customer service on intercountry adoptions.
    "Given the complex and highly charged issues surrounding international adoptions, prospective adoptive parents frequently have difficult and urgent questions that are not easily addressed through routine customer service channels," CIS said in its public release. "The new email service will expedite customer communications with USCIS on issues ranging from the completion of application forms to questions involving case status.
    Prospective adoptive parents may get the email addresses by calling the CIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.

Intercountry Adoption in the News  (Scroll down)

  Romania rejects appeals to lift adoption ban on foreigners
  Military families get time to bond with adopted children


  Latest update on suspension of adoptions from Cambodia, CLICK HERE
  Update on Romanian adoption moratorium, CLICK HERE
  State Department warning on Vietnamese adoptions, CLICK HERE
  For a link to Rep. Spencer Bachus' (R.-Ala.) letter to me, announcing passage of the Hope for Children Act and the availability of an increase in the tax credit for adoption from $5,000 to $10,000, CLICK HERE
  Information about the Delahunt Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which went into effect on February 27, 2001, CLICK HERE
  List of state-licensed and certified child-placing agencies in Alabama, CLICK HERE
  Basic information about the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, CLICK HERE
  Questions and answers regarding the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, CLICK HERE

Adoption 101:  The Basics

Attorney at Law and Civil Law Notary

    Adoption is a creature of state or national law, unless it is governed by religious principle.  What this means is that if you want to adopt a child in another state or nation, you must comply with both the laws in the other state or nation to remove the child, and you must also comply with the laws in your state or country of residence.
    Probate judges, or a judge in another state or nation who fulfills the duties of a probate judge, perform adoptions.  They follow the law strictly. In the United States, they do so mindful of a number of recent, unusual, but highly publicized cases of adoptions gone wrong. It is possible to adopt a child without the aid of a lawyer, but it is not possible to adopt a child without action by a judge or properly authorized religious cleric.
    There are three broad categories of adoptions:  (1) related or stepparent adoptions; (2) unrelated private adoptions; and (3) unrelated agency adoptions. Let's take them one at a time.

Related or stepparent adoptions

    By far the most common type of adoption, related or stepparent adoptions are usually the simplest and least costly adoptions to perform.  Because all of the parties are related by either blood or marriage, a home study (pre-placement and post-placement investigation reports which can cost $600 to $800) normally required under Alabama law, for example, is not required.  Alabama adoption law requires the "adoptee" (the child) to live in the home of the prospective adoptive parents for one year prior to filing of a petition for adoption.  For good cause, this one-year period may be waived by the probate court.
    There are two situations that most often present themselves to attorneys:  In one, a couple with children has gotten divorced and they have married other parties. The custodial parent now wishes for the stepparent to adopt his or her children.  But if the birthfather's or birthmother's legal custodial rights have not been terminated, consent must be obtained, or a hearing held on the issue of parental fitness before juvenile court or family court, with proper notice to the legal custodial parent who is not in the home with the children.  While most stepparent adoptions move smoothly through the probate court, custodial fights sometimes erupt that can make stepparent adoption risky and expensive.
    In the second situation, typically, a minor daughter is pregnant, and she has no intention of getting married. Her mother has raised four children and is not pleased with either the idea of urging her daughter to place the child for adoption with strangers or raising her future grandchild on her own. The mother has a sister or brother who is married, stable, has a good marriage, a good income, but is childless. She persuades her daughter to allow the daughter's aunt to adopt the baby. The prospective adoptive parents would be the baby's great-aunt and great-uncle by marriage, respectively.
    Sometimes an obstacle to a related adoption is obtaining the consent of the birthfather, who, if named by the birthmother and known to the court, must be found, if possible. If he cannot be found, Alabama adoption law allows publication of notice of the final hearing on adoption of the child in a newspaper of general circulation for four consecutive weeks.
    As a matter of personal practice, I always try to track down the birthfather via several means at my disposal, sometimes using reputable private investigation agencies where my clients can afford it, and pursue other means of notice authorized by Alabama law to avoid problems with provision of proper notice later on, and not just because there have been a number of highly publicized cases of birthfathers turning up and crying foul after the adoption has become final.

Unrelated private adoptions

    Whether these adoptions are done domestically -- intrastate, interstate, or internationally -- they are often involve higher risk than other adoptions.  I consider private, interstate, domestic adoptions to be the most difficult of all, and was surprised to discover their degree of difficulty when I moved into domestic adoption from the international side.
    I encourage my clients to work with professional adoption agencies and their trained personnel, or the departments of human resources in the various states, in handling unrelated adoptions both to protect my clients and the integrity of the adoption process.  But I am increasingly called upon to handle unrelated, short-fuse, high-risk interstate adoptions where the placement is being handled by a client's friends, an unlicensed "baby finder" or "referral" service, or the birthmother herself.  I have also learned, unhappily, that many adoption attorneys sometimes have scant knowledge about how to handle interstate adoptions.
    Adding to the complexities of a private, unrelated nonagency adoption is that legal notice must be served on an number people who may have an interest in the proceedings, thus setting the stage for a possible custody battle.  For a recent report of why states need to enact statutes that provide for termination of parental rights when consents to adopt are signed by birthparents, please click on the following link:  CLICK HERE

Intercountry adoption

    For an intercountry adoption, a home study, performed by a state-licensed and -certified social worker and state-licensed and -certified child-placing agency, is required by the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) in order to pave the way for bringing the child into the United States.
    The chaotic world of adoption is even more chaotic overseas. There are many stories of highly questionable child-placement activities in the United States and overseas where it appears babies appear to be for sale to the highest bidder, with price tags of $50,000 or more. Today there are many unlicensed referral agencies and adoption "facilitators" in the United States and abroad that charge big fees, find the baby, and are out of the picture.  And there are an increasing number of "open adoption" advocates in the United States who believe that no one should be involved in the adoption process except the birthmother, the prospective adoptive parents, and, of course, the open adoption agency.
    Perhaps you see why private, unrelated, nonagency adoptions get most of the attention from the public and the news media nationwide.
    I have been asked by U.S. citizens, formerly from Laos, to help them adopt a child in Laos.  This is not possible.  CLICK HERE

Representative fees:  What does it cost?

    Fees for unrelated, private, nonagency intercountry adoptions, should range from $10,000 to a high of $30,000, depending upon a number of factors, such as: (1) travel, food, and lodging; (2) whether attorneys will be hired both in the foreign country and in the United States; (3) whether an attorney must be appointed for a minor birthmother or for an adult birthmother; (4) whether a legal proceeding must first be conducted in the foreign country to terminate the birthparents' parental rights; (5) if the child is a newborn, whether there are complications in obstetrical care and delivery; and, (6) whether there was a contractual agreement to provide court-approved, reasonable, and necessary expenses of the birthmother, often including prenatal care preceding delivery.  There is not sufficient space to further explore this type of adoption.
    Fees for a related, private, nonagency intercountry adoption vary widely, depending upon the circumstances. If neither of the prospective adoptive parents is also a parent of the child to be adopted, the cost is greater.  If one of the prospective adoptive parents is a parent of the child to be adopted by the step-parent, the fees are generally lower.  Attorney's fees for these adoptions also vary widely, depending upon the circumstances and countries involved, and might range from a low of $1,500 to a high of $6,000 or more.  It is our policy to hire an adoption lawyer in the foreign country in order to verify compliance with all foreign statutes, regulations, and procedures.  This adds expense to our cases, of course, but is something that I require.  Reputable foreign adoption agencies should have a close relationship with one or more foreign adoption attorneys in the countries in which they operate.

Unrelated agency adoptions

    Unrelated agency adoptions are the preferred means to deal with the complexities of the adoption process, although they often lack the "up close and personal" qualities of a private, unrelated adoption proceeding. Reputable agencies will be able to provide you with proof of their licensure by their state department of human services.  Their personnel undergo regular, professional social work training in the intricacies of counseling and the adoption process. Typical private agency fees in Alabama range from $4,000 to $6,000, depending on the amount of time that agency personnel have spent on the adoption process. Obstetric costs can range from nothing, if the birthmother is on Medicaid, to $3,000 to $5,000 in normal birth situations, depending on the hospital or clinic used. These adoptions in Alabama normally range from $8,000 to $15,000, depending on some of the same factors listed above.
    Because the birthmother "relinquishes" her child for adoption to the agency, or to DHR, which often places the baby for a short period of time in a foster home, there is little, if any, anxiety for the prospective adoptive couple concerning (1) a live birth; (2) what the costs of the adoption will be; (3) where the baby is or how he or she is doing, etc. While such an adoption is less personal, it is often less stressful for the prospective adoptive couple.

Intercountry adoption

    Overseas, just like in the United States, the cost of adoption varies widely. If you are interested in a private, agency adoption, you should be prepared to budget up to $20,000 for the entire process, including fees, travel, and accommodations.  But many intercountry adoptions cost less, and generous tax credits are now available:  CLICK HERE
    Intercountry adoption should be given serious consideration by any prospective adoptive couple where one of the spouses is 40 years of age or older. Intercountry adoption is usually a five-part process involving (1) a pre-placement investigation (home study) performed by a licensed, certified social worker of the prospective adoptive parents and their home, (2) the foreign adoption (or legal custody) legal proceeding and/or relinquishment of custody by the parent(s) for emigration, (3) application with the U.S. consulate for an exit visa and the consular review process, (4) the local adoption in the county where the child will live with his or her new adoptive parents, and (5) application with Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (either prospectively -- before the adoption is accomplished -- or after the adoption is accomplished in the country where the child will live) and compliance with federal regulations.
    In my practice, I sometimes come into contact with foreign-born nationals who have brought a relative child (a niece or a nephew, for example) to the United States on a tourist visa for the purpose of sending the child to school in the United States. While this is a violation of federal law and subjects those who violate the law to substantial federal civil, and possibly criminal, penalties, that doesn't seem to stop the practice. Besides the violation of federal law and of State Department and CIS rules and regulations, there is the matter of providing health care for the child. Alabama law, for example, requires that a child may be declared dependent if not provided for by a parent or guardian. What happens, for example, when the child becomes seriously ill and needs emergency surgery. Could one of the child's adult "custodians" legally grant permission for the surgery?
    Fees for intercountry adoptions are generally higher than those for domestic adoptions due to travel and lodging expenses alone. It sometimes involves the greatest risk. Because of politics, both international and local, borders open and close to adoption periodically and at the worst possible time. It is a fast-changing environment and requires patience, flexibility, and some tolerance for government red tape.
    For foreign-born prospective adoptive parents who wish to adopt an older child of a relative, the adoption process is not as difficult and is often much less expensive. The older child should be no older than 14 years of age before the adoption process begins. But great care should be taken, particularly in related adoptions, to comply with all State Department and CIS regulations prior to filing a petition to adopt in the foreign country or prior to the birthmother's filing of her consent for the child to be adopted and to be permitted to emigrate from the foreign country.
    At least one of the adoptive parents in this situation should be a U.S. citizen. Care should be taken to make sure that there exists, or there may result from a petition for adoption, a judicial decree certifying that the child is an orphan, or has been abandoned by one or both birthparents. If there is a birthparent remaining, the decree should mention the factors concerning the inability of the remaining birthparent to care for the child in addition to economic problems. Further discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this article.
    There is lots of room for reform of the federal laws that govern intercountry adoptions.  I find it interesting, in my practice, that most federal officials understand this and, from time to time, will work with you in bending the rules a bit to get the adoption accomplished.  There will be frequent changes in immigration and nationality law, and adoption in particular, so you should stay abreast of the changes.  One of the most recent changes has to do with adoption of older adopted siblings.  CIS issued a memorandum on December 28, 1999, making it possible for natural siblings to immigrate together if they are adopted by hte same U.S. citizen parents.  An adoptee who was adopted between the ages of 16 and 18 may now immigrate to the United States as long as he or she is accompanying a sibling younger than 16 who immigrated under the traditional intercountry adoption requirements.

Applicable federal law

    The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides that the child of a parent or parents includes any child adopted by hte parent when the child was younger than 16, if the child has been in the legal custody of and has resided with his or her adoptive parents for at least two years.  This provision is not applicable where the child is considered, legally, an "orphan."  Adoptive parents who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents may now file a petition with CIS on behalf of an adopted child who is a sibling of a formerly adopted child and is between 16 and 18 years old.
    The new law amends the definition of "child" for purposes of filing an "orphan" petition with CIS.  The INA formerly provided that "child" includes one who is "an orphan because of the death, disappearance, abandonment, desertion, separation from, or loss of both parents, or for whom the sole surviving parent is incapable of providing proper care and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption.  The orphan must have been adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen adoptive parent or parents, and the petition to file on behalf of the orphan for an immigrant visa must be filed before the child is 16 years old.  The new law expands the definition to include the natural sibling of an orphan who meets the original definition; provided, that this older sibling was adopted abroad while younger than 18 by the same adoptive parents.
    The new law also amends the definition of "child" for naturalization purposes.  Formerly, the INA required that a child adopted before he or she reached the age of 16 was eligible for naturalization (citizenship).  Now the definition includes the natural sibling of an adopted child who meets the original definition; provided, that the older sibling is adopted, before reaching the age of 18, by the same adoptive parents.
    Under CIS regulations, children who were not seen by all relevant parents prior to their overseas adoptions are not considered to have full and final adoptions. They must be readopted in the state where they will be residing.  This rule applies even in cases where the foreign country considers such adoptions final.  One implication of the CIS position is that children who were not seen by all relevant parents prior to their overseas adoptions cannot be considered automatic citizens until readoption occurs.   Children who were seen by all relevant parents will have been issued IR-3 visa and will be eligible for automatic citizenship.  Children who were not seen by all relevant parents prior to the overseas adoption will have been issued IR-4 visas, and are required by the INS to be readopted before becoming citizens.


    Although CIS does not require readoption for children who were seen by all relevant parents prior to their overseas adoptions, and who traveled home on IR-3 visas, Joint Council recommends readoption in these cases, too.  One reason is that U.S. adoption documents are much more easily replaced than foreign ones, if they are lost or destroyed.  They are also more recognizable by schools and other organizations to which they may be presented.  In addition, readoption may make it easier for families to change their children's foreign names and to obtain state birth certificates for them.  Some attorneys feel that readoption could help to protect a child's inheritance rights.
    Readoption is a state function, and procedures are not uniform among the states.  Parents may obtain information about readoption from their state court system or via their Joint Council member local service (home study) agency or placement agency.  Families should recognize that some states have readoption requirements such as post-placement visits and/or the updating of some documents, such as child abuse and police clearances.  Other states (about half) have laws that give effect automatically to a foreign decree of adoption.
    In some states, procedures for readoption are fairly simple, and a family may feel that using an attorney is not necessary.  In others, using an attorney is advisable.  Local service agencies may be able to provide the names of attorneys familiar with readoption cases, but families may also contact their state Bar Association for the name of a lawyer who can accomplish this for them, and this is certainly recommended.
    Alabama and Florida now have appointed civil law notaries who can help adoptive parents in those states obtain a "Certificate of Foreign Birth," which looks very much like an Alabama or Florida birth certificate.  I look forward to new statutes in both states that will recognize foreign decrees of adoption and allow civil law notaries to authenticate foreign adoption records for the purpose of obtaining a Report of Foreign Adoption.

International child abduction

    Finally, I have handled some very difficult cases involving the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  For a list of the countries that have signed this Convention, please go to the following link:  CLICK HERE
    Parental child abduction involves obstacles -- not merely with respect to international law -- that require immediate attention.  The Convention operates through a Central Authority that is required to be designated in each treaty country.  The U.S. Department of State serves as that authority in the United States.  The U.S. Central Authority, which is the Office of Citizens Consular Services within the U.S. Department of State, will try to locate and check on the welfare of a child alleged to have been abducted or wrongfully retained in another treaty country.  Regrettably, it is very difficult to have abducted children returned from non-treaty countries.  You should seek out and hire the best international lawyer you can find to pursue the matter.  A roster of Alabama international lawyers is available at the following link:  CLICK HERE
    I have more information about international child abduction:  CLICK HERE

Research on adoption

    Americans' understanding and knowledge about adoption in the United States vary widely.  One of the best reflections of Americans' beliefs and thinking about adoption is contained in an authoritative public opinion survey conducted by the Adoption Institute.  To read about the survey's findings, CLICK HERE.
   While the news media are full of horrifying stories of adoptions gone wrong and given the fact that international adoption can be hazardous, the rewards are always worth it.  As an adoptive parent myself, I can assure you that adoptive couples have much to give, and the adopted children who, in many cases, begin family life for these couples, become the center of their universe.  There is no experience that duplicates parenthood.  There is no greater purpose of adoption agencies, social workers and social service agencies, attorneys, federal agencies, and the courts than to work together to insure that the best interests of children are properly served and protected, and that good parents and homes are found for children who need them.
    The oldest adoption agency in Alabama is Lifeline Adoption Services in Birmingham, Alabama.  Mr. John Carr, 78, who was laid to rest on August 3, 2001, in Birmingham, founded the adoption agency in 1981.  Back then he had read an article that a minister named Wales Goebel was hopting to start a Christian adoption agency.  Mr. Carr contact Pastor Goebel and worked without pay to establish the agency, meet with state officials, and meet state licensing requirements.  Lifeline was granted its state license in September, 1981.  Since then, Lifeline has placed more than 700 babies for adoption.  Mr. Carr retired several years ago.  He is survived by his wife Louise and several children.

International Adoption in the News

Romania rejects appeals to lift adoption ban on foreigners

    BUCHAREST, Romania - Romania's prime minister on December 22, 2005, rejected U.S. and European governments' appeals to allow adoptions by foreigners of about 1,000 Romanian children.
    About 200 U.S. families and 800 European families had filed paperwork to adopt Romanian children before 2004, when Romania passed laws that effectively banned all foreign adoptions, except for close relatives of the child. The U.S. and European governments had asked Romania to exempt about 1,000 children from that ban.
    "The Romanian legislation will not be changed, as it accords with European and international law," Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu said.
    Romania banned foreign adoption in 2004 under pressure from European lawmakers who accused Romanian authorities of tolerating corruption in the adoption system. The country hopes to join the European Union in 2007.
    "We are concerned about the children caught by a recent change in the law," Maura Harty, an official with the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, said Wednesday as she urged Romania to make an exception to its ruling. The European Parliament has also urged Romania to allow inter-country adoptions under special circumstances.
    But Tariceanu said adoption requests that were made during the moratorium would not be considered, as Romania had enough local parents willing to adopt all children who are legally considered abandoned.
    "Rather than estranging those children, I think it is preferable for them to remain on Romanian land, in families with whom they speak the same language and share the same culture and customs," he said.
    Romanian authorities and the EU have invested heavily in recent years in modernizing facilities for children and setting up foster care programs. They have also increased efforts to return children to their birth families or place them with relatives.
    But critics, including U.S. officials, say the adoption ban has prevented many children from finding permanent homes with adoptive families abroad as they languish in foster care or institutions. In addition, Harty said, families in the U.S. and elsewhere have been left in the dark about the fate of the children they were trying to adopt.
    International adoptions boomed in Romania after televised pictures of orphaned children living in squalor were broadcast worldwide following the 1989 ouster of the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who had banned birth control.  About 30,000 Romanian children had been adopted internationally since then. -- Excerpt from an article distributed by The Associated Press, December 22, 2005.

Military families get leave benefits for adopted children

    WASHINGTON, D.C. - Military families seeking to adopt children will see leave benefits and health care benefits for those children expanded under provisions sponsored by Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson and included in key national defense legislation completed by the United States Senate on December 22, 2005.
    “We should do all we can to promote adoption and that includes making it easier for military families to adopt children,” said Senator Nelson. “After everything they sacrifice to improve our lives at home, increasing the benefits of military families and enriching their families with adopted children is the least we can do to improve theirs.”
    Given the uncertain deployment of military families, adoption can be a difficult process. Senator Nelson’s amendments are designed to simplify and improve adoption for these families.
    Specifically, the first of two provisions included in the Fiscal Year 2006 National Defense Authorization Conference Report (H.R. 1815) authorizes up to 21 days of additional leave for service members to use when a child is lawfully placed in their home for purposes of adopting the child.
    The second provision clarifies adoption healthcare statutes by filling in the cracks to ensure adopted children of military families have access to quality healthcare. The current law stipulates that only children placed in a military member’s home by a placement agency are eligible for military health and dental care.
    According to the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, about 75 percent of newborn adoptions are not placed through adoption agencies, but through other lawful means such as private attorneys and other state approved individuals.
    Senator Nelson’s amendment mends this oversight and grants independently placed children in military families the same benefits as children placed by agencies.
    “As an adoptive parent myself, I know the rewards of adoption,” said Nelson. “Our military families are such a deserving group and I’ll keep working to reward them every way I can.”

    WARNING: In your search for a child, there is no -- I repeat, NO -- substitute for good, professional help.  Adoption laws vary from state to state, from country to country, and within those countries, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  I like to work with professionals and feel much more comfortable when I do. I pay professionals for their time, knowledge, and experience -- not just for what they do for me.  The value of their help is often incalculable.  You would be wise to find and cultivate relationships with professional adoption agencies and put them on your team to help you become adoptive parents.  But please do not rely on an adoption agency to provide you with personal legal representation.

    Boyd F. Campbell has practiced adoption law, both domestic and intercountry, immigration and nationality law, private international law, and official notarial services and commercial transactions in Montgomery, Alabama, since 1988.  He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), and the Alabama State Bar, and was admitted to the Bar of the United States Supreme Court in 1991.  He served as Chair of the Immigration Law Committee of the American Bar Association's General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Lawyers Section.  He was also a member of the ABA's Coordinating Committee on Immigration Law from 1994 to 1998.  He is affiliated with AILA's Atlanta Chapter.  He served as Chair of the International Law Section of the Alabama State Bar from 2000 to 2002, and is the first practicing civil law notary in Alabama, having been appointed by Alabama Secretary of State on August 20, 2001.  In that capacity he serves as a Director of the National Association of Civil Law Notaries and the Alabama Association of Civil Law Notaries.  Mr. Campbell was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America Consumer Guide published by Woodward / White, Inc.  Best Lawyers maintains a database of attorneys on its website, which is available by subscription only.

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Immigration Law Center, L.L.C.
P.O. Box 11032
Montgomery, Alabama  36111-0032  USA
Telephone:  (334) 832-9090

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