Russia's ban on adoptions by Americans holds firm

Monday - 1/20/2014, 4:50am EST

DAVID CRARY
AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- A year after Russia imposed a ban on adoptions by Americans, some affected U.S. families are reluctantly looking elsewhere to adopt. Others refuse to abandon flickering hopes of uniting with the Russian children who won their hearts.

Thirty-three of the families have filed appeals with the European Court of Human Rights, contending that the ban violates the rights of the orphans whose adoptions were thwarted. But there's no tight time frame for the case, and even a favorable ruling might be unenforceable if Russia objects.

Meanwhile, Russian authorities have spurned requests from U.S. officials to reconsider the ban, and the two governments have other volatile issues on their mutual agenda -- including terrorism and various foreign policy differences -- as the international community prepares for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next month

"I don't see movement on the Russian side, and on the U.S. side we've heard nothing," said Diana Gerson, a New York City rabbi who had her heart set on adopting a Russian toddler. "I feel in many ways we were abandoned."

By the Russians' count, the ban halted the pending adoptions of 259 children. Roughly 230 U.S. families, some seeking to adopt more than one child, were affected -- including scores of Americans who had bonded face-to-face with the children during visits to their orphanages.

The Americans have been dropped from Russia's official roster of prospective adoptive parents, and many of the orphans -- possibly more than half -- already have been placed with Russian families.

At Christmas, several dozen of the Americans signed an open letter to the children they had hoped to adopt. The letter, published by some Russian media outlets, expressed gratitude to the Russian families who had taken in some of the children, while also hinting at a whirl of other emotions.

"It has now been one year since we've held you in our arms and promised you we would be back and together as a family," the letter said. "We only want you to know that we love you today, tomorrow, and forever even though we are miles across the ocean."

Throughout the 12 months, the issue has occasionally resurfaced, then faded from the news spotlight.

There was a flurry of activity in May, when more than 150 members of Congress signed a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A congressional delegation visiting Moscow urged Russian officials to allow completion of the pending adoptions. And many of the affected families visited Washington, seeking support for their cause.

Hoping to ease Russia's concerns about the treatment of Russian children in the U.S., the families proposed that any such adoptions in the future be subject to more stringent post-adoption scrutiny.

Among those who spoke in Washington was 8-year-old Jack Thomas, adopted from Russia in 2008 by Renee and John Thomas of Minnetrista, Minn. At the time the ban was imposed, the family was trying to adopt Jack's biological brother, Nikolai.

Over the past year, the family has lobbied energetically to get that adoption approved because of its exceptional nature; Renee Thomas says it is apparently the only one of the disrupted adoptions involving one sibling in the U.S. and another in Russia. Thomas says she's traveling to Russia on Wednesday to make the case that Jack and Nikolai, who is now 5, should be reunited under Russian policy of trying to keep siblings together as they grow up.

"We want to respect the Russian system of justice," she said.

Some of the other U.S. families could decide to adopt from other countries, Thomas said. "But there is no other option for us. It would be a travesty for the politics between the two nations to prevent these boys from growing up together."

Garrett Boehm, a Chicago attorney who has been a leader of the families' lobbying efforts, remains passionate in his criticism of the ban, but he and his wife have initiated efforts to adopt a child from Poland in hopes of providing a sibling for Aleksander, a 7-year-old son they adopted from Russia in 2007.

They had hoped to adopt a Russian orphan named Anna who has just turned 2, but the ban thwarted their plans, and they are unsure whether the girl remains in her Siberian orphanage.

"My son asks, 'When is Anna coming home?'" Boehm said. "We're faced with how to answer that, and it's not a very satisfactory answer. He asks, 'Why did I get to leave and she can't?'"