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Visas for Adopted Cambodian Children

December 29, 2001

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ The holidays had turned glum for Kenneth and Rebecca Skinner when the U.S. government stepped in to thwart their extended and costly efforts to adopt a baby from Cambodia.

Depression was the dominant mood, too, at the homes of 11 other would-be parents whose plans to bring home Cambodian babies were dashed because the government _ concerned over questions of human trafficking _ announced last month that it wouldn’t issue visas for the children.

Then, on the night of Dec. 21, Rebecca Skinner received a phone call. She screamed _ with glee. It was the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Office. ``They said they were granting humanitarian visas for the children,″ she said Friday.

Her husband was a bit behind the curve: ``I was upstairs watching television,″ said Kenneth Skinner. ``When she started screaming I thought something happened to my mother-in-law.″

After announcing it was suspending issuing visas to adopted Cambodian children to stem illegal adoptions, the INS made an exception to issue a parole to allow visas for the 12 children whose cases had already been processed. Adoptions for other Americans are still suspended.

That move came after angry would-be parents complained widely, both through the media and to their elected representatives. Their case was featured on the U.S. television news program ``20/20.″

For the Skinners, from Fort Belvoir, Va., and the other families, it was a happy ending after many had returned home empty-handed without their adoptive children because the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia was concerned that the babies may have been bought or stolen from their biological parents.

The parents have faced not only an emotional roller-coaster but substantial financial costs. Some of the families estimated they had spent $30,000 in expenses in addition to $15,000 in adoption fees.

The Skinners arrived in Phnom Penh on Dec. 26 to bring home their adopted daughter, 8-month-old Mickaela Amber. Sitting in their hotel room, they recalled their odyssey.

``We had our hopes up so many times,″ Rebecca Skinner said, adding she had been uncertain whether she would ever be able bring her child home. When her friends talked about presents as Christmas was approaching, she would tell them ``just give me Mickaela.″

``This is the best Christmas we’ve ever had,″ she said, adding that she would share a New Year’s champagne toast with her husband on the plane when they depart for home Monday.

Under the parole, the families will have to legally adopt their children within two years, during which time investigations into how the babies were obtained would continue, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Kent Wiedemann said Thursday.

If any of the children are found to be stolen or bought, he said, the parents will be asked to return them to Cambodia.

Baby trafficking is widespread in Cambodia as well as neighboring Vietnam.

``That’s something still in the back of our minds,″ another adopting parent, Kevin Zoerb, said Friday.

But Zoerb, 39, from Lopez Island in Washington state, insisted that his daughter, 7-month-old Grace Elizabeth, is a genuine orphan and he would not be worried about her being sent back to Cambodia.

``We’re just happy to be able to bring her home now,″ he said. He was to leave Cambodia with his child on Saturday night.

For Kathy Niemasik, from Lindenhurst, Ill., the search for a child hit pay dirt when she encountered a photograph of a Cambodian girl posted on an adoption agency’s Web site.

``I fell in love with her from day one,″ Niemasik said Friday, holding her arms tight around sleeping Angela, whom she said will be 8 months old on Jan. 1.

Niemasik arrived in Cambodia to pick up her daughter on Thursday. She was to join three other families leaving for the United States on Saturday night.

``This is a long time waiting. She should have been home months ago,″ Niemasik said. ``I’m tired but happy to be going home.″

She is due to arrive home on Dec. 30 _ giving her enough time to celebrate New Year with her ``real thing.″

``No more pictures, no more pictures,″ she said. The ``real angel″ will be going home to a welcome of waiting friends, relatives and media, said the 44-year-old schoolteacher.

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