US parents struggle to bring adopted kids home due to visa delays

Stranded in Nigeria for months, a couple had a rare chance to catch an evacuation flight to the U.S. but refused because they would have had to leave behind their adopted daughter, who has yet to get a U.S. visa.

“After we found our daughter and our daughter found us, it was out of the question to leave her,” Robin Gallite said.

Gallite and her husband, Adebambo Alli, who live in Denver, are among several American families facing similar predicaments as the pandemic disrupts travel and slows the final steps needed to bring home children who were adopted abroad.

The Virginia-based National Council for Adoption says it is following dozens of cases where the foreign adoption is complete and American parents are waiting for their child to receive a visa from the State Department.

The State Department says foreign adoptions remain a priority but has told families that with routine visa services suspended during the pandemic, their requests for emergency visas may not be granted swiftly, if at all.

The adoption council says nearly all of the cases it’s tracking are from Africa — where many countries, including Nigeria, are not part of the main international convention on adoption and investigations can take longer even under normal circumstances.

Gallite, 41, and Alli, 42, have been in Nigeria since last August, when they arrived to complete the adoption of a baby girl. A Nigerian judge signed off in November, but obtaining a U.S. visa has moved slowly and is now in deeper limbo because of virus-related shutdowns.

While the couple delight in their daughter’s love for dancing and jumping, they ache to return to Denver with 17-month-old Adenike-Rae — nicknamed Nike — and are frustrated by the uncertainty of when that might be possible.

“We’re resilient people — we have to be strong and tough for Nike,” Gallite said. “The stress comes from trying to figure out how to get home.”

In the meantime, David Parker, 29, a former youth pastor at a church in Denver, North Carolina, and his wife, Michaela, 24, moved to Chad two years ago to serve as Christian missionaries.

In January, the couple were told to come to Cameroon to complete the U.S. portion of the adoption process and get U.S. immigration visas for the girls, which the embassy in Chad does not handle.

Because of the pandemic, Parker says it has been difficult to gather all the evidence that U.S. officials requested as part of their investigation. He’s increasingly worried the delays will endanger the health and safety of his family, which includes a 6-month-old son, Philip, as well as twins Ariella and Claira.

Everything’s basically shut down,” Parker said by phone. “We don’t know when or if we’re going to be able to complete this.”

Like Gallite and Alli, the Parkers were told they could board a U.S.-bound evacuation flight with their biological son but would have to leave their daughters behind.

“For us, that’s not an option,” said Parker, whose family is now restricted to a missionary compound in Yaounde.

The parents are hoping the U.S. government will issue them emergency visas

There’s also a rarely used process called “humanitarian parole,” which allowed some Haitian orphans to come to the U.S. in 2010 after Haiti’s devastating earthquake.

Gallite has asked the State Department to work with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain humanitarian parole for Nike.

“We are stuck abroad and our health and safety is extremely vulnerable here in Nigeria during a pandemic,” she wrote to the State Department last week. “Please bring your U.S. citizens home and our legally adopted daughter.”

In a memo sent to The Associated Press on Monday, the State Department said humanitarian parole is granted “only in rare circumstances where no other immigration avenue exists.” It said families should contact USCIS directly with questions and that requests “generally take several weeks or longer to process.”

The State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues said it had received many inquiries about emergency visas, which can be sought from embassies or consulates where the adoptions took place.

“Because routine visa services have been suspended, parents should be prepared to explain how their circumstances constitute an emergency,” the office said.

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