“If we don’t have a process in place, then kids get caught in a web of problems between governments,” Stottman said.
In Russia, about 25 cases have been moved forward since the adoption ban was passed, but that is a very small percentage of the nearly 1,000 open files at various stages of the adoption process. While some of those 1,000 families have simply indicated that they want to adopt from Russia, other adoptive parents have actually begun the process. Strottman says that nobody knows exactly what that number is right now, but that the U.S. government is trying to assess these cases.
After Russia’s supreme court ruling last Tuesday, Strottman says that it could be up to 100 adoption cases that will be brought to completion, but that would still leave hundreds of kids and families separated and uncertain about their future.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, now the top GOP member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, understands their anguish.
“My daughter went through the same thing,” he told National Journal, detailing the drawn-out adoption process his daughter faced when trying to adopt his granddaughter, Zigita Marie, from Ethiopia. “There were a few points at which we thought that the adoption wasn’t going through when it was already agreed to,” he said. “Here I am—a United States senator and she’s a university professor. It took us eight months to get through this process and each time, it could have fallen apart.”
Inhofe is working with Landrieu and other lawmakers to try to help families affected by the Russian adoption ban.
Also part of the effort is Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who knows perhaps more than anyone in Congress about Russian adoptions.
Several years ago, Blunt and his wife adopted their son, Charlie, from Russia, dealing with the court approval process and visiting Russia several times before finalizing the adoption. Charlie is now 8 years old.
“Using these defenseless children as political pawns is outrageous,” Blunt said in a statement. “Our first priority must be to bring the children who are already matched with their new families to America as soon as possible.”
Several other senators also have firsthand experience with adoptions, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose daughter, Bridget, is adopted from Bangladesh. Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat nominated by President Obama as secretary of State, has an adopted niece named Iris, who was born in China.
The Senate on Jan. 2 unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution, led by Landrieu and Blunt, which condemns Russia’s adoption ban. Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Karen Bass, D-Calif., have introduced a House measure.
Bachmann, who accused Putin of “placing politics before the needs of children,” also has personal ties to the issue. In addition to their five children, Bachmann and her husband have fostered 23 other children, three at a time, between 1992 and 2000. Bachmann and Bass are the House cochairs of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption.
In addition to Bachmann, Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., has two adopted children, Chloe and Victor. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., meanwhile, is personally invested in the issue of adoption. In addition to their four biological children, his parents adopted three other children. On top of that, according to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., are passionate about the issue of adoption for their own reasons; Camp dealt with adoption cases as a lawyer and Franks is “interested in adoption issues because he became a parent later in life.”
U.S. lawmakers in both chambers of Congress penned letters to Obama and Putin urging them to put aside their differences to either reverse the adoption ban or at least deal with unresolved cases.
The response was less than encouraging.
The three-page response from the Russian government defended the ban as a “difficult but necessary measure provoked by a consistently non-constructive position of the U.S. federal and local authorities.” The letter cited cases of abuse by American families who have adopted Russian children.
Russian officials accuse the United States of not doing enough to prosecute abuse and neglect cases and of not allowing Russian officials to keep tabs on children adopted from their country.
In its coverage of Russian protests of the adoption ban, state-owned Rossiya 1 showed dramatic scenes of ambulances taking children to the hospital in America and child-abuse footage pulled from Dr. Phil, as the host of the channel noted that the United States is not party to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
About 60,000 have been adopted from Russia in the last 20 years. Of those, 19 have died from abuse and neglect. But government statistics cited by The Moscow Times show that a child adopted by Russian parents is 39 times more likely to die than one adopted by parents in Western countries.
“It is an urban myth that is destroying opportunities for kids,” Landrieu said of Russia’s argument in favor of the ban.
“The evidence does not substantiate that. The most cruelty occurs with children who are biological,” said Landrieu, who has been the leading lawmaker on adoption issues for a long time. “It’s just critics of international adoption that are just using complete emotional falsehoods that are trying to take down adoptions.”
Strottman said the Russian letter underscored that there is a “big hill to climb” for lawmakers pushing for flexibility. “We need leverage—we clearly don’t have it right now,” she said.
Landrieu’s office said the lawmakers are still exploring what options they have left.
Landrieu, who has met with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, is now trying to arrange a meeting with him and other lawmakers.
Adoption advocates would like lawmakers to consider reopening the Magnitsky human-rights bill to target for sanctions the Russian lawmakers who voted for the adoption ban, a controversial move that would exacerbate already strained ties with Russia. The idea has not gained much traction in Congress and experts say it would be counterproductive.
“The most effective way for the U.S. government to approach this is quietly though backchannels,” said Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Kuchins recalled being in Russia during another tense time in U.S.-Russian relations, when Putin’s government similarly pushed out foreign influence following the color revolutions that swept the former Soviet states of Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. Nongovernmental organizations had played major roles in moving the revolutions along, alerting the Kremlin to the foreign funding of Russian NGOs and leading to the passage of a restrictive bill tightening state control over such groups.
“Things are worse now,” said Kuchins, noting that further public back-and-forth would only lead to a further deterioration in the relationship.
“This is not something where our Congress is going to have any chance of being effective,” he said. “It will just further inflame the situation because of the public nature of it.”