Defenders Update: Legislation filed to fix adoption process

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by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist Derek Rasor

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on September 19, 2013 at 6:19 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 3 at 1:28 PM

AUSTIN -- U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana filed legislation on Thursday to reorganize the federal office overseeing foreign adoptions.

Thursday's filing comes less than a week after a KVUE Defenders investigation exposed a broken foreign adoption system keeping children in orphanages for years despite having parents in central Texas.

The legislation is welcome news to adoptive parents fighting to bring their children home.

“I think it will really help adoptive families in the future,” Christy Guenther told the Defenders at her San Marcos home.

Last week she expected to bring her nine-year-old son Wilson home from Haiti, but she says the U.S. State Department delayed finalizing the adoption for another month. She and her husband Brian filed to adopt Wilson about three years ago. He’s still not home.

“I think this was the hardest time yet for me to leave, because I knew I should have brought him home with me. He should have been on that plane,” said Mrs. Wilson.  

The proposed legislation is called CHIFF, or Children in Families First. The bill essentially consolidates responsibilities of several federal agencies into one office inside the Department of Immigration. The U.S. State Department currently processes foreign adoptions. Landrieu and other lawmakers believe the agency isn’t equipped with qualified staff and the resources to move adoptions in a timely manner.

“There are children stuck in orphanages all over the world. Families in Texas that are trying to adopt children that are stuck, CHIFF is going to 'unstuck' those kids by creating a new streamlined system. We really need everybody’s support to get it done,” said Landrieu.

Senators Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican and Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, joined Landrieu in support of the bill at a press conference announcing the legislation in Washington, D.C.

Landrieu says at least 10 other senators from both parties plan to support the bill. 

According to some adoption agencies, the average adoption takes nearly three years and cost about $28,000. “Bringing that into one department is really going to minimize the cost,” Mr. Guenther contends. He says the current adoption process requires numerous background checks from the different agencies.

KVUE asked Central Texas’ congressional delegation and Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz if they plan to support the legislation. At the time of this report, only two responded.

In an email, Representative Lloyd Doggett’s office wrote “[The Congressman] does support this bill and will be a co-sponsor of the bill in the House.”

Jessica Sandlin, Senator John Cornyn’s press secretary, wrote that her boss “supports the goals of Senator Landrieu’s legislation and is working with her to identify an offset to fund the bill without adding to the nation’s deficit.”

During Thursday's press conference, Senator Landrieu told reporters the bill could save taxpayers money by consolidating offices.

While Mrs. Guenther hopes Wilson will come home to Texas within weeks, they know changes are needed to help other families.

“I think it is very important for congress to work together and quickly, because we’re talking about children’s lives, we’re talking about saving children’s lives,” Mrs. Guenther said.

Senator Landrieu wants to hold a hearing on the legislation before Christmas. She hopes to have a bill on the president’s desk ready for him to sign by spring 2014.

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