Corruption in international adoptions

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Trail of Corruption, cable from Vietnam

Startling quotes

Below are selected excerpts from State Department documents that were received after the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to the Vietnamese adoption crisis. Each document title links to the document itself, which is posted on our website. Not every document is represented here with an excerpt. To see the list of all the documents, click here.

“…demand for ‘as young as possible’ infants is creating a very real financial incentive for Vietnamese to fill their orphanages to meet this demand. While there are legitimate orphans in Vietnam, the corruption in the adoption process has become so widespread that [the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi] believes that there is fraud in the overwhelming majority of cases of infants offered for international adoption.”

“Vietnam Adoptions: A Trail of Corruption”

July 31, 2007
Consular Activity Update - July 2007
“On July 26 and 27 we conducted 2 investigations in Hanoi. One case revealed that false information was provided on a child relinquishment document at a local hospital.”

October 22, 2007
Vietnam September Adoption Issues Cable
“In the 14 cases we reviewed, significant fraud concerns were found in all 14 cases. In seven cases these issues led USCIS to issue Notices of Intent to Deny the I-600 petitions….”

“In all but three of the cases investigated, post saw a common pattern of children abandoned under highly improbable circumstances. In several cases, when interviewed by consular officers, the persons who supposedly found the abandoned children (“child-finders”) completely disowned the statements in their original affidavits….”

The Embassy “has seen a rush of particularly troubling cases from certain [agencies] trying to ‘beat the deadline.’”

October 25, 2007
OFFICIAL INFORMAL O-I #142-07 October 25, 2007
“The adoptions cases we are getting are increasingly problematic, with strong indications of a return to ‘baby buying’ and worse. The paper trail for almost every case raises questions, and we find problems and further questions in virtually every case we investigate. Some of this is due to orphanages and others trying to discover ways to hide facts so that we can’t get to the bottom of cases, but also cannot find smoking guns….”

“If we then discover that the child does not fit the U.S. definition of an orphan, the [prospective parents] are very often devastated.”

October 29, 2007
RE: (SBU) Cable - DAS Marciel protest conoff harassment (State 149168) (email)
“FPU [fraud prevention unit] is investigating a case that all concerned are almost certain is fraudulent [sic] but can't really be denied without proof. …”

“…ominously, the ERO reply includes the specific language that we have to give them the exact details in advance ‘in order to avoid problems as occurred in An Giang province on October 10, 2007 and to ensure the safety and smooth coordination for the delegations of the Consulate General traveling outside consular district.’ I say 'ominous' because that certainly could be read as a direct threat."

October 29, 2007
Vietnam Adoption - DIA Objects to Recent NOIDS and Abandons Plans For Fee Schedule
“Long explained that DIA needed this information so that it could assist [American adoption agencies] in meeting with local officials to prepare a rebuttal to the NOID [Notice of Intent to Deny an adoption visa application]. Long added that DIA will check to see who committed fraud, but that in his experience there has ‘never been a case where DIA found problems with an adoption in Vietnam.”

“The revelation of ASPs making up front payments for "future deliveries" is clearly of concern. It stands as further evidence that the problems we are seeing in Vietnam are serious and systemic.”

October 31, 2007
FW: Email to CA Adoptions team
"Scot Marciel … told the [Vietnamese] Chargé continued harassment of our officers would force the USG to consider reciprocal measures."

November 1, 2007
Amb Meeting with Minister of Justice
"The Ambassador … expressed our concerns on fees, and baby selling. The Minister seemed genuinely surprised and upset to hear that children were being released for adoption without the consent of the birth mother.”

November 6, 2007
Vietnam Adoption Fraud: No Going Back: Birth Mothers Unaware Children Up For International Adoption
“SUMMARY: While previously nearly all infants from Phu Tho province were documented as abandoned children, the Embassy recently received four relinquishment cases from the province. Thus, the Embassy was able to peek behind the curtain of fake abandonments and speak with birth mothers directly. A two-day investigation led to troubling new information: financial inducements offered to birth mothers, birth mothers unaware their children are to be adopted by foreign parents, and the use of financial and psychological tactics to prevent birth mothers from reneging on their promises to relinquish.”

November 8, 2007
Vietnam Adoptions - DIA's Initial Response to Ambassador's Letter
The Embassy “began the meeting by delivering two letters to Dr. Long from the Embassy seeking clarification regarding apparent irregularities in five adoption cases…. He noted that several provinces have told him that they will not continue co-operating with U.S. ASPs [adoption agencies] if the verification trips continue...”

“Long then reminded [us] that adoptions are regulated by the provinces and  that DIA lacked the authority to interfere in the affairs of the provinces. Thus, even if DIA was aware of irregularities, the most it could do would be to notify the provincial authorities and ask them to investigate….”

“…Dr [sic] Long’s comments reinforce our     serious concerns about the DIA’s willingness and ability to act … to safeguard the rights of children and birth parents in Vietnam. Long made it clear that DIA would act only at the request of the Embassy and that even then DIA would be at the mercy of provincial officials…. Further, his repeated threats to cut off adoptions if the U.S. does not agree to joint investigations, is an indicator that he believes the U.S. will always choose [sic] to compromise rather than walk away…”

November 13, 2007
Vietnam Temporarily Suspends Adoptions From Phu Tho Province
“However, the DIA has indicated … that the suspension is a sign of their displeasure with the Embassy’s public statement and field investigations…. [T]hey are quick to point out that they will continue to allow citizens of other countries to adopt in Phu Tho. This is because these countries are less ‘troublesome.’”

November 21, 2007
Addressing the Challenges of Intercountry Adoption with Vietnam
"In this message, I outline specific concerns, which include the radical increase in clearly 'doctored' case information, confirmation that the [government of Vietnam] focus is on 'moving babies,' not vetting cases to minimize irregularities, the [government of Vietnam]'s unwillingness or  inability to regulate fees and increase transparency, and even threats to our ability to investigate suspected fraud.”

“…throughout the country the rate of child abandonment has increased exponentially since the MOU was signed. This rapid increase in the number of newborns in orphanages indicates that local adoption facilitators are actively supplying infants to meet the demand created by U.S. adopting parents… adoption facilitators and government officials are actively seeking to obscure the true facts concerning the child.”

“Looking behind these abandonments, my consular officers have discovered networks that recruit pregnant women, pay them for their children, arrange for them to stay in safe houses, and then create fraudulent documents to make it appear that the child was abandoned. In addition, I am deeply concerned by cases where children have been released for adoption without the consent of their birth-parents, or where fraudulent paperwork has resulted in Americans unknowingly adopting children with life threatening illnesses.”

“… a DIA official commented that…it would be ‘inhumane’ to deny any child a visa, and that their role was to make sure every case was approved, regardless of the issues raised by the case. This is clearly a recipe for disaster, given the clear abuses uncovered in current cases before us.”

“…are we prepared to accept the current level of corruption and irregular adoption practices in Vietnam… While we would all like to see adoptions continue, I think we have to acknowledge that at present we cannot answer yes….”

“Ideally we will be in a position where we can ethically renew the MOU. However, we must also consider our options if the Vietnamese government remains unable to regulate adoptions in this country. In my view, we might still have options short of a total shut down.”

December 6, 2007
A/S Harty Addresses the Challenges of Intercountry Adoption with Vietnam
“A/S Harty stated that the MOA can be extended only if there were actions taken to punish those who violate Vietnamese law; a schedule of fees is published; and consular officers are allowed to verify information in adoption cases without hindrance by the [government of Vietnam].”

“Long replied that the cases raised by the United States did not involve a pattern of fraud, but rather misunderstandings about paperwork. A/S Harty responded forcefully that the Embassy has discovered clear patterns of child selling, emphasizing that this is something we cannot tolerate and that it highlights the need for independent consular verification.”

Truong Xuan Thanh, Deputy Director General of Consular Affairs, “said that the problems of high demand for children, the competitive pressure created by the presence of over 60 [adoption agencies] in Vietnam, and the lack of a central authority have produced an unhealthy situation where children are sometimes treated as a commodity.”

A/S Harty “voiced her ‘frustration, concern, and disappointment’ over the lack of progress, but stressed that, although walking back from the MOA would be a shame, letting even one child be sold would be far worse.”

The Embassy “regularly receives reports of ASPs [adoption agencies] instructing PAPs [prospective adoptive parents] to bring thousands of dollars in cash for donations. DIA has never taken action against this practice, although they have stated on occasion that it is illegal.”

“Officials are clearly embarrassed by the information uncovered by our consular investigations, but would prefer to address this by preventing consular officers from doing their jobs rather than by addressing the core problems of corruption and child selling.”

December 6, 2007
OFFICIAL INFORMAL O-I #169-07 (email)
"Abuses include baby buying and farming." Bulleted summary of how often the Department of State has discussed their concerns about irregular adoptions with the Vietnamese government.

December 11, 2007
Talking Points on Adoptions for Your Meeting with Vietnamese Officials
"Adoption Service Provider recruiters appeared to be coordinating with local medical center staff to identify potential birth mothers who were unmarried, illiterate, and/or extremely poor to promise financial incentives and payment of medical fees for a healthy child."

December 18, 2007
Vietnam Adoptions - Concealing Mental Illness Through Fraudulent Documents
“Several ASPs and DIA have told [us] that the high levels of international demand for healthy infants from Vietnam significantly exceeds the number of orphaned infants, putting pressure on orphanages to find additional infants.”

December 27, 2007
RE: Vietnam/Adoptions -- way ahead (email)
The Embassy “reminded all that they had not been stingy on approving adoption visas. In 2007, Emb Hanoi issued 800 immigrant visas for adoption cases, and only 20 ‘NOIDs.’”

January 3, 2008
Vietnam Adoptions - Backdating Investigations
“… local officials are willing to create documents to cover ‘discrepancies’ in a case. Further, the miraculous arrival of over 30 infant girls at Hanoi Center 1 within five months of the opening of that center for international adoptions is not an atypical trend in Vietnam. We have frequently seen that areas and orphanages not engaged in adoption only have older children and those with special needs. This is a clear illustration of the supply being created to meet demand…”

“This case also illustrates the difficulties in regulating adoptions in Vietnam solely through investigations. The investigation showed a clear pattern of document fraud and corruption in this case, as well as a strong nexus with other cases of baby buying in Vietnam. However, as a result of the unwillingness of the DIA to seriously investigate these cases, and our inability to locate the birth mother, or document a fraudulent abandonment, the case was issued.”

January 8, 2008
Vietnam Adoptions: A Trail of Corruption

“…investigations have documented widespread adoption fraud and organized networks engaged in child buying and laundering throughout Vietnam. [The Embassy] has been able to piece together a picture of how adoption service providers (ASPs), orphanages, and Vietnamese officials are colluding to create a supply of orphans to meet international demand for ‘as young as possible’ infants. While the specific details vary from orphanage to orphanage, the general pattern is consistent throughout all regions of the country. The trail begins with ASPs passing out large sums of money to orphanage directors and ends with infant children, often of unknown origin, in the arms of unsuspecting prospective adoptive parents…

“Through numerous field investigations over the past two years, particularly since July 2007, post has pieced together a more complete picture of how infant children progress their way through the international adoption system in Vietnam. This cable will trace each step of this progression, and show how demand for ‘as young as possible’ infants is creating a very real financial incentive for Vietnamese to fill their orphanages to meet this demand. While there are legitimate orphans in Vietnam, the corruption in the adoption process has become so widespread that post believes that there is fraud in the overwhelming majority of cases of infants offered for international adoption…

“STEP ONE – SETTING UP SHOP: When the U.S. and Vietnam signed the [Memorandum of Agreement] on adoptions in July 2005, American Adoption Service Providers [ASPs] eagerly jumped at the opportunity to begin matching prospective adoptive parents with Vietnamese orphans. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese Department of International Adoptions (DIA) exercised little discretion in granting licenses for ASPs to operate, with the result that 42 ASPs began competing for a limited supply of young infants. In order to obtain a license from DIA, an ASP had to strike an agreement with a provincial-level orphanage, specifying the donations that the ASP would make to the orphanage and a per diem rate that the ASP would pay for the care of each child for whom they arranged an adoption.

[Paragraph redacted.]

“As a result, given the limited supply of young infants in orphanages, the directors and ASP facilitators began efforts to recruit new “orphans” to meet the demands of the international adoption market…

“STEP TWO - RECRUITMENT: In several provincial orphanages, notably [redacted line], [Embassy] field investigations have documented startlingly high numbers of abandoned infants under the age of 1. This is even more striking when local officials confirm that prior to 2005 (the year the MOA was signed) there were no abandonments in their provinces and the orphanages had few, if any, infants. This leaves us with the logical question: Where did all those babies come from?

[Redacted paragraph.]

“…In a variation on this theme, [the Embassy] has discovered “safe houses” in [redacted] where women are offered lodging, medical expenses and money to “start a new life” in exchange for their child. Again, women are often referred to the safe houses by nurses and hospital workers. The women are required to sign agreements promising to relinquish their children before entering the safe houses and are often separated from their children immediately after birth. Tragically, in some instances these women were told that their children would be adopted domestically and that they would return home once they were 11 years old. Even worse, one hospital in [redacted] essentially kidnapped infants from their parents by refusing to release the child until they paid their medical bills. When payment was not forthcoming, the hospital declared the children “abandoned” and placed them for adoption without the birth parents’ [sic] knowledge or consent…

“STEP THREE – HIDING THE TRAIL  Currently in Vietnam the vast majority of children offered for international adoption have been abandoned. Orphanages and hospital throughout Vietnam all report that prior to 2005 there were very few abandonments at their facilities, today these facilities may have as many as 15 purported abandonments a month. These abandonments are shams designed to obscure the child’s true origins from the [U.S. government.]

[paragraphs redacted]

“These abandonments are so common in several villages with less [than] 2000 residents, single individuals have found multiple abandoned children. At Hospital A in [redacted] abandonments are now a weekly occurrence….

“WHEN THINGS GO WRONG – DIA TO THE RESCUE: [The Embassy[ has repeatedly shared info from field investigations with DIA regarding violations of Vietnamese law and fraudulent abandonments, urging DIA to take action to punish those responsible. In response, DIA has repeatedly sprung into action, not to punish wrongdoers, but to fix whatever “paperwork problem” the Embassy has uncovered. In many cases DIA informs [the Embassy] that it has discussed the cases with local officials to ensure that ‘proper procedures were followed.’ When [the Embassy] contacts these officials, however, they deny any conversation with DIA. In other cases, DIA has told [us] that actions were in accordance with Vietnamese law but when pressed could not cite the section of law. In fact, on several occasions DIA has stated in the same note that an action is both illegal and permitted. These responses occur because DIA sees its role as working hand-in-hand with ASPs to ensure that no child is left behind. They have actively assisted in rebutting Notices of Intent to Deny, going so far as to pressure individuals who previously signed sworn consular affidavits to recant their stories…

“Comment: Viewed collectively, the evidence from [the Embassy’s] field investigations shows that in Vietnam baby buying is the norm and that unscrupulous ASPs are providing financial incentives for Vietnamese officials to fabricate documentation to hide the true origins of ‘abandoned’ children in Vietnam…. while the investigations have been instrumental in shining a spotlight on the corruption, we are already beginning to see officials adjusting their tactics, so as to prevent consular investigators from documenting fraud.  Furthermore [sic], the endemic nature of the fraud in the adoption of infants makes it clear that absent significant legal change in Vietnam, the problem will only continue to get worse.”

January 8, 2008      
Moving Forward -  A Strategy To Address The Morass of Fraud in Vietnamese Adoption
“As the adoption situation in Vietnam continues to deteriorate, I am becoming increasingly concerned at the growing evidence of large-scale organized child buying in Vietnam. Almost as troubling are the actions of the [government of Vietnam]’s Department of International Adoptions to cover up this activity, if not actively facilitate it.”

“While our long term goal remains the establishment by the [government of Vietnam] of an adoption system that meets acceptable international norms, I have become convinced that the current system prevents reform and profits those who exploit children and adoptive parents.”

January 11, 2008
RE: Boxer's office on Vietnam NOIDS (email)
“Paul remained amicable, while pressing hard for the cases to be issued based on concerns for the amount of suffering already endured and likely to be endured …. He is convinced these families have been caught in the middle of a change in policy…. We agreed that everyone is emotionally drained by this process and statements can be quoted out of context and look pretty calloused. We agreed that it was necessary for everyone to speak with extreme caution.”
    “… if the Senator continues to receive complaints about treatment, she likely will want to talk to Amb. Harty. He said that Sen. Feinstein was also aware of the cases and interested in having them resolved.”

January 23, 2008
Vietnam Adoptions - A Growing Pipeline Crisis
“…Mission Vietnam is increasingly concerned about cases in our large and growing pipeline…. Mission Vietnam believes that we need to act quickly to notify the [government of Vietnam] of our intention to: (1) not renew the existing MOA [Memorandum of Agreement], (2) open negotiations on a new MOA; and, (3) obtain a clear decision from the [government of Vietnam] regarding the handling of pipeline cases after September 1 in the absence of an MOA.”

“… the minimum time for a case to move thru the system from the filling of the I-600A to the issuance of an immigrant visa is now approximately 6.5 months. The average time is just under one year. This means that it is virtually impossible for a case filed today to be completed before the September 1 expiration of the MOA. In addition, DIA has told us that the growing number of cases, make it likely that the waiting time for a Vietnamese referral will increase significantly during 2008.”

January 25, 2008
RE: FOR APPROVAL: Vietnam O-I #11-08 (email)
“The Desk participated in CA’s [Consular Affairs’] conference call with Hill staffers and U.S. adoption organizations, a move by CA to reach out to interested parties prior to the issuance of the State Department warning to prospective adoptive parents that adoptions begun now will not be completed before the September 1 expiry of the MOA. The call drew more than 30 participants and prompted a frank exchange of views on a wide variety of Vietnam adoption issues. CA plans for further dialogue with the Hill and adoption organizations next week.”

January 25, 2008
RE: Congressional Briefing on Vietnam Adoptions (email)
“During our conference call today, Sean Moore (Boxer) proposed and other staffers [sic] agreed that State and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) should do a briefing for Congressional offices on Vietnam adoptions, and specifically the NOID cases.”

January 27, 2008
RE: Proposed Conference Call with NOID Families (email)
“We will all continue working with [the Embassy] to provide information, make ourselves available to answer questions and minimize as much as possible the families’ sense of things being bleak and beyond their control.”

January 30, 2008
RE: Congressional Briefing on Vietnam Adoptions (email from Eric Alexander, Hanoi)
Talking points for Congressional briefing, including a discussion of the status of 11 NOID families. "… we only NOID a case when the evidence reaches a high threshold. We suspect fraud in many more cases, but we can not always document it to the standards required by US law because of deliberate attempts by parts of the [government of Vietnam] and others to conceal information."

January 31, 2008
“Vietnam Adoptions: New Evidence Highlights Unreliability of Adoption Documents in Vietnam”
"...the Embassy later obtained sworn affidavits from the officials and witnesses that these claimed investigations did not actually take place."

January 31, 2008
Vietnam Adoptions: Pressuring Birth Mothers to overcome NOIDs”
“These cases offer compelling proof that government run clinics and orphanages are actively engaged in baby buying and are lying to birth mothers to secure children for international adoption. Further, when wrongdoing is exposed, rather than investigating corrupt local officials, the police and the Department of International Adoptions are prepared to use their considerable power to ‘correct the situation’ by forcing witnesses and even birth mothers to recant the statements they gave to consular officers so that the adoptions can be completed. The moral of these cases is that once you accept help in exchange for placing a child in an orphanage, for the birth parents there is no going back. The challenge … is to find a way [sic] to stop future abuses without endangering birth parents.”

February 1, 2008
Meetings with MOJ and DIA (email)
“The Ambassador delivered the dip note regarding our decision on the MOA and a letter seeking clarification of the legal status of pipeline cases. He also discussed our concerns regarding documentation, blocked field investigations, and the pressure put on witnesses in consular cases, especially the [redacted] women (Hanoi 117). He also reiterated our willingness to provide [sic] technical assistance to help Vietnam draft a new adoptions law and join Hague.

“The Vice-Minister … went on to say that the [government of Vietnam] realized that there had been problems with adoptions, and that there are areas that can be improved. However, he said that a major problem was the actions taken by [adoption agencies]. He said that [adoption agencies] were making illegal cash payments to orphanages, and that the Ministry could not control these payments. They are looking for ways to correct this problem, but feel that they can not regulate ‘humanitarian’ donations.

“The Vice Minister was genuinely shocked by the information about the [redacted] women. Dr Long quickly jumped in and said that they had asked the [adoption agency] to pay to bring the women to Hanoi, and that the women should not have had to pay anything. He also said that he had invited the Embassy to attend the meeting and we had declined. (Note: We did decline to attend the meeting. We told Dr. Long at the time, that any interviews of the [redacted] women should be done in a neutral setting, with USCIS present, and in a manner that could be accepted under American law. He rejected this approach and proceeded to bring the women to his office.)”

February 4, 2008
Vietnam Adoptions - Next Steps (email)
“We have been dismayed to hear that some [adoption agencies] are announcing that Dr. Long has guaranteed that any case that is Dossier to Vietnam on September 1 will be processed to completion…. We remain concerned that the pipeline is already too long and is growing. Is there anything we can do to stop people from joining the line at this point?

“The New MOA … the key stumbling blocks will be the schedule of fees and consular investigations. One way to potentially solve these thorny issues is to limit adoptions 1) to special needs and children over 3 and 2) to provinces that have given a schedule of fees and donations to the Embassy for posting on our website and have permitted consular investigations. This could work because the better provinces have not blocked us, and we know that some provinces have given the Europeans a schedule of fees. Solving this at the national level, however, is probably impossible.”

February 5, 2008
FW: Priority issues for Vietnam Adoption (email)
“While orphans first is working (the Embassy has issued over 100 travel letters since the program started), the issue of what to do when we find problems is still unresolved… with over 20 [prospective parents] waiting for news, many of them now over the 60 day mark, I think our priority needs to be getting decisions to these parents as soon as possible…. [W]e need to find a means to refuse bad cases ourselves.”

February 15, 2008
RE: JCICS (email)
Joint Council on International Children’s Services “is publishing their Standards of Practice today…. [Tom DiFilipo, JCICS CEO] told me there was ‘some resistance’ and they were delayed until their Lawyers said they were o.k. (with an added paragraph that indicates the standards are voluntary.) Tom promised to make every effort to make these standards stick….

“Chuck Johnson of NCFA [National Council for Adoption] told me that NCFA strongly supports State Department and USCIS efforts to insist on high ethical standards of international adoptions, but he also wants to see the State Department advocating on behalf of International Adoption…. it does seem clear there is a disagreement between the two organizations.”

February 15, 2008
Child Adoptions in Vietnam (email)
“We are very concerned. There should never, ever, ever be a case where an American citizen adopts a child who is not eligible to be adopted. There is no tolerance in my country for the buying or selling of children. Children are not commodities. Children are human beings….

“Prior to the shut down in 2003, approximately 70% of cases were relinquishments… Today relinquishments account for only 15%; 85% are purported abandonments. This rise in abandonments is deeply troubling for a number of reasons…. Hospitals and orphanages know exactly who the birth mother is but for various reasons choose to hide this information and list the baby as abandoned rather than obtaining a signed, legal document of relinquishment. Our investigations have uncovered numerous cases in which birth parents have been pressured or even tricked into giving up their children….

“We share the Ministry of Justice’s concern that some adoption agencies are making large unregulated cash payments to orphanages. I believe that these cash payments distort the entire adoption process by shifting the motivation for adoptions from looking after the interests of the children to making a profit through the adoption process.

“Despite these problems, we are also acutely aware that there are orphans in Vietnam who need parents. That is why the United States is strongly committed to continuing intercountry adoptions from Vietnam if possible….

[Detailed examples of coerced abandonments are given here.]

“The facts of this case shocked us and we did our best to present the mother’s case to the government of Vietnam. After considerable discussion, the adoption was canceled and the child is now back with the birth parents.”

February 19, 2008
RE: (SBU) Vietnam O-I #25-08 (email)
“…A/S Harty said she wanted to use the opportunity of her retirement to pen two letters to express to the [government of Vietnam] her disappointment that progress to combat adoption fraud had not been made since her November visit…. The first letter addresses Nguyen Van Thuan, Chairman of the Law Committee of the National Assembly, and stresses the urgent need for the National Assembly to draft and pass legislation that would bring Vietnam into compliance with the Hague Convention. The second letter to Vice Minister of Justice Lien is designed to take a harsher tone; A/S Harty wants to play ‘bad cop’…”

February 19, 2008
Next Steps on Vietnamese Adoptions
Four-page action memo with to-do line items for various Department of State departments and other US agencies.

“Based on recent consultations between CA, Embassy Hanoi, and USCIS, we have identified four primary goals, and related strategies, to guide our actions regarding intercountry adoptions from Vietnam:

“Press the Vietnamese to accede to the Hague Adoption Convention….

“Encourage Vietnam to establish regulations and infrastructure that prepare for a Hague compliant process. Consider whether and how we can move toward an interim bilateral agreement with safeguards that can be monitored and enforced….

“Strengthen coordination with DHS on consistent standards and transparent procedures that prevent adoption fraud and guide adoption processing….

“Develop a public diplomacy plan to ensure congressional and public awareness of adoption corruption in Vietnam as well as support for reform….”

February 26, 2008
Baby Buying: Selling Infants to China Sparks Outrage; Some Tactics Similar to Those Uncovered in American Adoption
“… impoverished Vietnamese women are pressured or tricked to give up their infant children so that the children can be sold to adoptive parents…. There is overwhelming evidence that the high prices paid by American adopting parents make the United States the most lucrative of all markets for baby traffickers.”

February 28, 2008
Responding to Letters of Complaint about Vietnamese Adoptions
Recommendation that Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy sign letters responding to complaints from families that received letters of Notice of Intent to Deny. “To rebut the denial, the families hired local investigators, retained counsel, and incurred separations and additional travel/living expenses. Resolving their cases required several months. Thus, even though their petitions and visas were ultimately approved, the families feel aggrieved.”

March 5, 2008
RE: JCICS visit to Vietnam (email)
“I met today for about 90 minutes with Thomas DiFilipo, Keith Wallace (Families Thru International Adoption), Carl Jenkins (World Child) and Robin Mauney of Holt…. The crux of their argument with me was that, despite the bad actors and obvious problems, any decision to cut off adoptions would harm children in the system….

“In my remarks, I underscored that … we try to work with a dysfunctional system that is seriously flawed…. Separately, I noted that the people of Vietnam are outraged at the recent killings of parents by criminals who kidnap and traffic children. I asked whether, with the explosion in abandonments, any [agency] could guarantee that no child passing through their hands entered the system through the killing of a parent. (Holt said they could.)… I described our need to be able to conduct credible investigations in order to ensure that such horrific abuses cease….

“We agreed to collaborate actively in trying to ‘incentivize’ the [government of Vietnam] to transparently move toward adoption of Hague standards…. They were a little shaken by my mention of the murder of four Vietnamese by kidnappers seeing fresh babies for the trade….

“Among areas unresolved or of dispute, the group evidence a belief that the Embassy is so ‘down on DIA’ that the relationship has become counterproductive. In other words, we aren’t willing to help them improve. I explained the limitations of DIA’s authority and the threats that Dr. Long had made to Maura Harty about the safety of our investigators…. [JCICS] members clearly believe we are being too active in trying to track down evidence.”

March 5, 2008
Adoptions para in A/S Hill Testimony
"We want to work with Vietnam to fix the system, so that Americans can adopt without fear of fraud."

March 7, 2008
RE: JCICS visit to Vietnam (email)
“Otherwise we’ll almost certainly end up giving more [visas] to children whose parents either want them back or never understood that they’d be leaving Vietnam permanently.”

March 19, 2008
RE: Adoption OI (email)
“While we are working with USCIS HCMC to eliminate the backlog of I-604 [adoption visa] investigation requests, it is worth noting that the majority of [prospective adoptive parents] are receiving decisions within 60 days. Of the 212 cases filed before January 20 (60 days ago), 89% have received an answer from USCIS. This includes 160 travel letters and 28 RFE [request for evidence] or Blocked Investigation letter. Of the remaining 24 cases 12 are pending investigation, 5 are investigations that were conducted today, and 7 are cases that are under review by USCIS.” More statistics in rest of email.

March 20, 2008
Vietnam Adoptions: A Child For A Pig
“Evidence uncovered during this investigation provides further evidence to support the conclusion that fraud and corruption have become pervasive in the Vietnamese adoptions process and reinforces the need to better regulate and monitor U.S. adoption agencies. The current system of international adoptions from Vietnam fails to protect all groups: children, biological parents, and adoption parents….

“A town that sells its children” [redacted paragraph]

“I never gave up my son” [redacted paragraph]

“Fraud is pervasive in Vietnamese adoption documents and … facts they purport to claim are never verified by any competent authority. In the first case presented above, the rationale for relinquishment as presented in the documents submitted to the Embassy – that the biological mother’s single status, lack of employment and income, and her dependence on her parents prevented her from being able to raise her daughter –  is clearly untrue. Yet it was signed by village officials who know the family, and ‘verified’ by both the provincial Department of Justice and the DIA. Given that the true facts were readily discernable, the facts in this case indicate either incompetence or corruption on part of the competent authorities. Moreover … neither the biological mother nor the officials who certified her statement have been punished in any way…. There is reason to believe government officials play an active role in creating fraudulent documents.

“Overall, the evidence collected during this visit to [redacted] province adds to the mounting body of evidence that in Vietnam there is a market on which children are being bought and sold, often against the express wishes of their biological parents. The practice has become so widespread in some parts of [redacted] that a market and a standard price per child has emerged….

“The recent investigation also indicates that fraudulent documents are the rule rather than the exception in adoption cases – including in relinquishment cases. … The fraud in these cases was not sophisticated and the true facts were readily known [sic] by the local villagers and easily discovered by the investigating team. Yet, local, provincial and central authorities all participated in the production and certification of documents that they knew were false. As a result we must conclude that these documents are unreliable and that no competent Vietnamese authority exists either to verify the facts in an adoption case or to protect children from being reduced to a commodity, and sadly, one worth less than a pig.”

March 21, 2008
Adoptions: Warehousing of "Abandoned" Children Leads to Overcrowding and Even Deaths; Exposes Abuse in the System
“The surge in caseloads for these centers directly coincides with the increase in demand for infants created by American ASP’s operating in those centers. It is not generally being experienced in centers not associated with foreign adoptions. Field investigations have revealed that many of these children enter the orphanages as a direct result of inducements to birth families and the desire by orphanage administrators to maximize incomes. Indeed, orphanage directors have told us that the direct cash payments given to them by some American adoption service providers in exchange for infant referrals for their clients create a clear financial incentive to bring in as many infants as possible, while keeping their costs per child as low as possible…

“…were it not for cash payments and false promises made to birth families, many of these children would be raised by the birth families or close relatives in a home environment.

“ …in just eight short months, the number of children in the orphanage had more than tripled, with the overwhelming majority of residents being ‘abandoned’ infants. Separately, the Vietnamese government agency responsible for orphanages in [redacted] confirmed … in writing that 76 of 77 child abandonments in the province took place at this same orphanage.

“During a period where Vietnam has been experiencing peace, stability, and economic growth unparalleled in its modern history, and where public awareness campaigns regarding family planning and access to birth control are relatively widespread, it is noteworthy that the rapid growth in infants in orphanages has only occurred in institutions connected with U.S. adoptions…. This, coupled with the statements of orphanage directors that they are under pressure from [American adoption agencies] to supply their required ‘quotient of children’; creates a situation in which orphanage officials are employing tactics, from questionable to illegal, to initiate campaigns to induce families to give up their children. To streamline processing, and frustrate attempts to uncover abuse, many cases are classified as abandonments, despite the fact that facilitators have direct contact with the birth parents.”

March 24, 2008
Ref: Register for Inter-Country Adoptions
From Vietnam Department of Justice Vice Director Nguyen Hung Trang
“In reply to Mr. Margret Jensen Howard’s letter – Chief Representative of World Child Agency in Vietnam asking about inter-country adoptions cases that referred by DIA in Thai Nguyen province….
    “1. As many times we talked directly to the representatives of [adoption agencies] and U.S. Embassy, once again, we affirm that all inter-country adoption cases were completed correctly under the Vietnamese law…
    “2. … some foreigners who introduced themselves as American Embassy’s staff came there to collect information without introduction letter … talked to the villagers without permission from local authorities. Viewing foreigners with suspicions, the villagers were not cooperative. Therefore, the information they get is not objective and incorrect. This causes regretfully misunderstanding.
    “3. We would propose that DIA should inform the Embassies to collaborate with provincial authorities in conducting investigation. They should not do it independently; otherwise, they will neither get cooperation from the interviewees nor keep their own security.”

March 25, 2008
Adoption OI #003-08CA (email)
"We are nearing our goal of providing all PAPs a decision on their I-600 application within 60 days….

“[The Embassy] is preparing to send a follow on investigation team to interview the birth mother and try and determine both her intent and how the child actually came to be in the orphanage."

March 26, 2008
RE: Adoption OI #004-08CA
“Your planned visit to 'closed' provinces is a terrific idea. I hope (ever the optimist) this may give you the opportunity to discover a few provincial officials who are honest and  could become useful, serious contacts who would follow through on investigating questionable cases we report to them."

March 28, 2008
Adoption OI #005-08CA
“… there has been a long history of problems in this province [Binh Thuan]. As background, the local Vietnamese officials are traveling to the U.S. on the invitation of the Adoption Center of Washington … ACW is paying all costs for this group…. Fraud concerns in Binh Thuan are high.

“Irish adoption agency director Shannon O’Driscoll “was quite blunt in her criticism that the US needed to do more to regulate [agencies], and that we could not expect Vietnam to provide sufficient oversight. She stated that the only way to endure transparency was for the receiving government to impose a schedule of fees, and require that all [agencies] give a standard donation, regardless of the number of referrals. … since the American [agencies] pulled out of Thai Nguyen, there has been a sharp increase in the number of domestic adoptions in that province.”

April 2, 2008
RE: Adoption OI #006-08CA
Detailed listing of provinces in which investigations have been blocked. For instance: “Quang Nam - The last investigation team in this province was on March 21, 2008. The investigating team originally went to the Tam Ky Center for Orphan Children, where the director physically blocked the team from entering, prohibited the team from speaking to Orphanage Employees...."  Includes information on how investigations were blocked in these additional provinces: Binh Thuan, Thua Thien Hue, Phu Tho, Thai Nguyen, Thanh Hoa.

April 3, 2008
Adoption OI #009-08CA
“We regret to report that we have had further difficulties during consular investigations. The first issue occurred during an investigation … in Can Tho. The investigating team arrived at the Children’s Hospital to verify two desertion cases. The director of the hospital refused to assist the team and prevented them from speaking to hospital officials…

“Today an Embassy team was blocked in Ninh Binh province. When the team arrived at the orphanage … the director then told the team that they were not welcome…. The team then met with the district police to try and [sic] verify the child finder statements, and again were told they lacked the required permission and that they could not investigate cases.”

April 11,2008
Adoption Fraud Summary – Vietnam
 “Adoption related fraud in Vietnam is a large and growing problem. The combination of a decentralized administrative system, a legal framework that lacks procedures for oversight and accountability, and an unregulated donation system have combined to produce an adoption system rife with fraud and child selling….

“… cash and in-kind donations have been diverted by orphanage officials and used to finance personal property, private cars, jewelry and, in one case, a commercial real estate development.”
An earlier draft of the Hanoi Embassy’s April 25, 2008 post.

April 16, 2008
Adoption OI #013-08CA
Discussion of blocked investigations in Quang Nam, Tu Du Hospital, and Thai Nguyen, including a detailed outline of efforts in Thai Nguyen to date.

April 18, 2008
Adoption OI #014-08CA
“Post Investigation Restores Child to Birth Family – An April 9 investigation of a relinquishment case in Kien Giang province revealed that the biological parents had sent their child to a hospital for medical treatment a few days after her birth only to discover three days later that their child had disappeared. Two months later, the couple heard an advertisement that orphanage officials were searching for the child’s family. When the couple contacted the orphanage, the orphanage sent a representative to the family’s home to give them the following message: your child is alive, and if you want it back you must give the orphanage 1,250 USD. Unable to pay this fee, the couple was told that they would have to sign a relinquishment form as they were too poor to care for their own child. The family, very emotional, told HCMC FPU [Ho Chi Minh City Fraud Prevention Unit] that they want their baby back.

HCMC FPU then visited the orphanage, where director initially told investigators that if adoption paperwork had been started, a child cannot be returned to its biological parents. The director then changed his statement, saying that as long as a visa has not yet been issued to the child, the child can be returned to its birth parents. He told the team that no payment was required in order for a family to take its child back. When HCMC FPU confronted the director with the family’s statement … he stated that the parents would need to come to the orphanage with some form of identification and he would assist with the paperwork. He signed a sworn affidavit saying that the biological parents could take their child back at any time upon providing proof of identity and that no payment was required. A follow up interview with the birth parents confirmed that they had returned to the orphanage and had been able to bring their child home.”

April 23, 2008
Adoption OI #015-08CA
Director Nguyen Quoc of the police investigation unit of the National Steering Committee on Trafficking discussed smuggling of children to China for adoption. “[T]he birth parents in these cases were generally paid an average of 5.5 million Vietnamese Dong … The traffickers then resold the children in China for an average price of 20 million Vietnamese Dong. He added that the birth families were usually told that a Vietnamese family would raise their children until they were old enough to help support the birth parents.”

May 20, 2008
Adoption OI #021-08CA
"Over the past few weeks, [the Embassy] has noticed a major shift in the approach of provincial officials regarding blocked investigations…. Now that they have seen that [we are] serious about the need to verify the orphan status of the child, they are looking for a face saving way to resume the investigations and reduce the pressure they are feeling from [prospective adoptive parents, adoption agencies, the Embassy], and the central government."

May 30, 2008
Adoption OI #022-08CA
"Since the MOA was signed in 2005 there have been 35 cases where a NOID or RFE was issued. These cases can be divided into three periods. 7 NOIDs were issued before September 2007, of which four withdrew and two denials were upheld by the Administrative Appeals Office, and one [sic] case was approved based on the evidence supplied in the rebuttal. An additional 13 NOIDs were issued prior to the introduction on Orphans First. Of these 12 were later issued visas. In the remaining case, USCIS agreed to reopen the case to allow the petitioner to submit additional evidence beyond that contained in the rebuttal.... Since Orphans First was implemented 15 NOIDs and RFEs have been issued. Of these one resulted in a denial, 5 withdrew, and 9 are pending." Also mentions investigations in Tuyen Quang, Thua Thien Hue, and Thanh Hoa.

June 4, 2008
Adoption OI #023-08CA
Discusses concerns about how “special needs” cases will be processed after September 1 expiration of the MOA, expressing fears that the Vietnamese government will classify any child born after Agent Orange as “special needs,” thus allowing adoptions to continue unchecked. Discusses other details as well.

June 5, 2008
EAP/MLS Morning Report
"An investigation of six adoption cases in [redacted] province revealed evidence of an organized ring that conducts fake infant abandonments…. A young local woman was paid the equivalent of 500 USD by the orphanage to give her newborn to the orphanage. The paperwork was later falsified to show that the child was abandoned at the orphanage... the orphanage only houses infants less than 5 months old and does only international adoptions."

NOTE: This page from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism website offers documentation of and background about serious irregularities in international adoption. For the systemic analysis of corruption in international adoption, please read “The Lie We Love,” Foreign Policy magazine, Nov./Dec. 2008, and visit our webpages dedicated to international adoption. For ideas about fairer policy solutions, please read “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.

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Last page update: February 24, 2011