Sometimes you will hear the term “Freedom of Information Act” used in news stories about major events or when hearing a report on some government affair, but international adoptive families are often not aware that the “Freedom of Information Act” is very relevant to them.
“The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.” —www.foia.gov
But what does that have to do with an internationally adopted child? As an international adoption professional, I can tell you that the answer is this: a lot.
Filing a Freedom of Information Act Request (USCIS Form G-639) allows parents or the international adoptee himself to obtain a full copy of their immigration record.
This copy will come as a pdf scan of everything in your child’s immigration record. While contents will vary depending on the country adopted from, items in the file may include (but are not limited to): The completed I-600/I- 800 with all areas filled out by the Embassy and others involved; documents completed during the orphan investigation (I-604 investigation) in non-Hague countries; all documents submitted to the Embassy as part of the orphan investigation and visa application; a copy of the Embassy medical and possibly a vaccination record; a copy of the adoption documents; a copy of the visa documentation completed by immigration at the point of entry into the U.S.; a copy of the child’s Certificate of Citizenship or Green Card; and any forms submitted to the US government since the time the child came home; a copy of the adoptive parents home study and any updates; a copy of the adoptive parents I-171h/I- 797C and any updates; and other relevant data received regarding the adoptive parents. As one can see, having a pdf copy of this information can save a lot of heartache and frustration should something happen to your child’s paperwork or should you need it readily when not at home. For this reason, International
E-mail yourself a copy of the received pdf to a permanent e-mail system as well as storing the information on a hard-drive that is being backed up off-site. If your adoption agency is in operation, you may also ask them if they will store a copy in your electronic file.
Changes and/or evolution in a country program can impact the amount of information needed by the Embassy and also result in a change in the amount of information made available to the adoption agency (and thus, the adoptive parents). For example, the Pre-Adoption Immigration Review (PAIR) process implemented in Ethiopia and Taiwan a few years ago has resulted in the agency and adoptive parents receiving all available documentation on their child that will be used in the orphan investigation. Previously, this documentation was often only submitted to the Embassy in-country and not submitted to the adoption agency’s staff in the U.S. as it was seen as “just” process documentation. Sometimes this documentation includes information we want to know, but may not viewed as important legally or culturally. For example, my internationally adopted daughter’s paperwork included the place where her birthparent is buried. From a legal standpoint, this information had virtually no bearing on the adoption process, but it is important to me as her parent and will one day be important to her. Therefore, parents should be careful to not construe any received information as being withheld to them by their adoption agency—as the agency itself did not often have the information to transmit.
Those who have adopted children from a dissolved international adoption will especially want to file a Freedom of Information Act Request. Parents are required to establish parenthood of the child when filing so additional documentation may be necessary in these instances to show the chain of parenthood.
Case managers who have internationally adopted children in State care or otherwise on their caseload for adoption or placement cannot file the request, but if the child is of age, the child can file it on himself. One important reason, aside from gaining background information on the child, for the new family or case manager to do this is to ensure that the child is a U.S. Citizen and not just apermanent resident, as well as making sure they have proof of their citizenship.
The Freedom of Information Act Request is free to file, but the government reserves the right to charge an administration fee if responding to the request is overly burdensome on their staff. However, I can say that I have not known of an adoptive family being charged a fee. (Families should also file a related form, the G-884, to receive back any original documents that were in the sealed Visa packet presented to immigration at the point of entry. This form is also free to file.)
International Adoption Net (IAN) is a full-service, non-profit child placement agency licensed in Colorado, New York and Florida. We offer full-service adoption placement services for: China, Ethiopia, Bulgaria, India, and Mexico, as well as Domestic. IAN also provides home study and post placement services in Colorado and Florida. IAN fully complies with the Hague Convention and is Hague accredited.
IAN focuses on programs with hundreds of waiting children available, such as Bulgaria, Mexico,India and China. These children are all living in orphanages, and have been pre-approved by the local authorities for international adoption. This means that all efforts to find a local option have been exhausted. Many of these children are just on there because they have some minor medical needs (sometimes there are even already treated) or because they are a little older. While the orphanages do the best they can, there is no comparison to a loving, committed family, and the proper medical care. Children adopted through these programs thrive in the loving care of their families. We hear time and again how amazed families are by the changes in their child, and what a blessing these children are each day! We hope you will consider if these programs could be the right option for your family! Your life, and most importantly the child's life, will never be the same!!