Evangelicals, adoption, and adoption corruption

The Nation is out with a story on the growing zeal for international adoption among American evangelical churches. It reports on national conferences, growing organizations, and commitments by church leaders to expand adoption among America’s evangelicals. It is long on offensive religious rhetoric and cultural imperialism — but short on evidence for the purported link between the new movements and supposed increases in adoption corruption.

One result has been the creation of “rainbow congregations” across the country, like the congregation [Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of the 2009 book Adopted for Life] helps pastor in Louisville, Highview Baptist. An active adoption ministry has brought 140 adopted children into the congregation in the past five years. These children don’t recognize the flags of their home countries, Moore proudly noted at a 2010 conference, but they can all sing “Jesus Loves Me.”

In short, these activists seek to rescue poor children from impoverished (financially as well as spiritually) environments and convert them into soldiers in the army of God.

I’m against all that. I’m also against corruption and child trafficking, and I’m aware that the money flowing from rich countries toward poor countries creates immense incentives for awful abuse, some of it realized.

Where writer Kathryn Joyce loses me is in attempting to draw the connection between evangelicals and this corruption. She strongly suggests, but does not offer evidence for, increases in corrupt practices. This is mostly based on some extreme anecdotes, such as the attempts at child trafficking in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, as well as scandals in Guatemala, Ethiopia and Nepal, which led to restrictions on their adoption programs.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing this is that – jumping off the Haiti case – Joyce quotes me to make the connection to American corruption. After referring to quotes from people who say they are willing to bend the rules to rescue children, she writes:

There are indications that such rule-bending occurs at the top levels of government. Blogging about the 2010 Adoption Policy Conference in New York for The Huffington Post, sociologist Philip Cohen reported a troubling statement made by Whitney Reitz, an official at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—the Homeland Security agency that oversees the entry of international adoptees. Reitz, who is credited with crafting last year’s “humanitarian parole” program for Haitian children, told the crowd, “The idea was to help the kids. And if we overlooked Hague, I don’t think I’m going to apologize.”

I don’t know what passes for investigative journalism these days, but this second-hand quote from a mid-level adoption official is hardly take-it-to-the-bank evidence of “rule-bending at the top levels of government.” In fact, I think scrutiny by U.S. officials has done much to shed light on – and even prevent – corruption in international adoption programs. I also don’t see evidence that corruption is getting worse rather than better – with all the international attention it has received, and the falling numbers of adoptions, it seems likely there is less bad behavior going on than there once was (but that’s just speculation). Joyce falsely implies that regulation is getting weaker under pressure from evangelicals and their allies in Congress (in the podcast that accompanies the story, she refers to “even more deregulation”). Those who want to increase the numbers of international adoptions do want to cut “red tape,” but that’s not the direction the bureaucracy is going, either here or abroad.

(Haiti is an exceptional case in that about 1,000 children were brought to the U.S. under a “humanitarian parole” provision, rather than through normal adoption procedures. These children were supposed to have been already approved for adoption before the earthquake. I don’t think that was a wedge used to pry open the door to less regulation overall.)

Anyway, to clarify: I didn’t write “for” the Huffington Post, but rather re-posted a blog entry there. I wasn’t there as media, but as an invited guest presenting research. And I blogged about it with permission from the organizers. And, for context, here is the relevant part of that post:

On the other hand, I wasn’t sure I was happy to hear Reitz say, “The idea was to help the kids. And if we overlooked Hague, I don’t think I’m going to apologize.” That’s a reference to the Hague Adoption Convention, which the U.S. ratified, and the principles of which the U.S. “strongly supports.” (To clarify this, since Haiti is not a signatory to the Convention, its rules don’t apply to adoptions to the U.S.) Of course, everyone was against corruption and abuse anywhere in the adoption process, under the oft-repeated triple mandate: “ethical, legal, and transparent.”

I am happy to see attention going toward exposing the unscrupulous and offensive tendencies among some international adoption advocates. And I’d like to see more study and deliberation over the cultural and political questions involved. Here’s a plug for some relevant recent research: Rose Kreider at the Census Bureau, and Elizabeth Raleigh, a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania, just presented “Contexts of Racial Socialization: Are Transracial Adoptive Families More Like Multiracial or White Monoracial Families?” at the Population Association of American meetings this year. In addition to their data analysis, they have a good up-to-date review of research on racial identity and the cultural context of multiracial families.

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