US clamps down on illegal Marshallese adoptions

MAJURO — Nine days after the online news outlet Honolulu Civil Beat exposed the involvement of a Texas-based attorney and adoption company in illegal Marshallese adoptions, a U.S. agency suspended the accreditation of the adoption agency.

It is the first known intervention by a U.S. government-related agency attempting to halt the flow of adoptions of Marshall Islanders that involve flying Marshallese mothers and babies directly to the U.S. for adoption.

The suspension of the accreditation of Adoptions International, Inc. of Texas was announced in late June by the U.S. Department of State, which appointed the U.S.-based Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity to oversee accreditation of U.S. adoption firms involved in international adoptions.

“During this suspension, Adoptions International, Inc. must cease to provide all adoption services in connection with inter country adoption cases,” said the notice on the Department of State website. “Adoptions International, Inc. is required to transfer their cases to another adoption service provider.”

An article in Honolulu Civil Beat in mid-June was titled: “This Texas lawyer flies Marshallese women through Hawaii for black market adoptions.” The detailed article said that attorney Jody Hall, who runs the Dallas-based Adoptions International, Inc. company, “is arranging adoptions that involve birth mothers flown from the Marshall Islands to the U.S. in defiance of a treaty between the two nations, and has told U.S. clients she has done it repeatedly.”

Honolulu Civil Beat published a series late last year on black market adoptions involving attorneys and local fixers arranging to fly Marshallese women to the U.S. to adopt their babies.

The Compact of Free Association treaty between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands provides Marshall Islanders with visa-free access to live, work and study in the U.S. But it specifically forbids use of the immigration status for the purpose of adoption.
The High Court in Majuro, pictured, has seen a dramatic decline in international adoptions. While the High Court averaged 26 per year from 2011 through 2015, the number dropped to 10 in 2018 as illegal adoptions of Marshallese in the United States skyrocketed. Photo by Hilary Hosia

The immigration status that Marshallese have when entering the U.S. through the Compact arrangement does not provide a path to citizenship, no matter how many years islanders remain in the U.S. The U.S. government-approved process for international adoptions — results in conferring U.S. citizenship on the adopted child on arrival in the U.S. following the required legal procedures. These include initial vetting of the prospective adopting American family by U.S. Homeland Security and then a review process through the Marshall Islands High Court, where sessions are conducted in both English and Marshallese languages to ensure the biological mother understands all aspects of the adoption.

From 2011 to 2015, the Marshall Islands High Court averaged 26 international adoptions annually, according to a report in the Marshall Islands Journal. But the number of these legal international adoptions processed through the Marshall Islands High Court has declined significantly the past several years, dropping to a 10-year low of 10 in 2018 as adoptions of Marshallese babies in the U.S. have increased.


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