By Rob Portman
We’ll come back for you. That’s the promise made by five Ohio families to their children, orphans in Russia, as they said goodbye for one last time before they were supposed to bring the children home with them. But for the last six months, that sacred commitment has been put in jeopardy by forces beyond the control of these loving parents.
Since the Russian government imposed a ban on the adoption of children by Americans, these families have faced the heartbreaking knowledge that the promise of a better life and a caring home for these children might be broken.
About 200 American families in the process of adopting are caught in this diplomatic nightmare, leaving them and these innocent orphans victimized by frayed relations between Washington and Moscow.
In December 2012, as millions of Americans were celebrating Christmas with their children, these families received news that Russia had enacted an immediate ban on the adoption of Russian children by Americans. The ban has kept adoptions that were weeks, and even days, from being finalized from moving forward, leaving the orphans—many of whom have developmental issues—little or no hope of ever being placed with a family in their home country.
The adoption ban came into effect as the result of efforts at the highest levels of the Russian government. If these families are going to have an opportunity to finalize the adoptions of these children who they have come to love as their own, it will take a response and commitment from the highest levels of our government.
On May 14, I sent a letter to President Obama asking that he prioritize resolving this issue and raise it with President Putin when the two met at the G8 Summit. I also followed up with a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, requesting that in his dealings with the Russians he also highlight the plight of these American families and the Russian children who are waiting to be adopted. Similar letters urging President Obama to intervene have been signed by 154 Senators and Representatives from both parties.
The answer these families and their representatives have received from the Administration? Silence. And now the opportunity to bring this issue forward during the G8 summit has come and gone with no resolution and no indication that that Administration even broached the subject.
I grant that the issues that strain the relationship between the United States and Russia are difficult ones. And I know that in the grand scheme of things, some might believe the fate of a handful of children pales in comparison to the Syrian crisis or some of the other diplomatic matters that exist between our two nations. But that is not an excuse to ignore the plight of these innocents or to turn a blind eye to their suffering. Perhaps this humanitarian issue could even serve as a basis for common understanding between Moscow and Washington, a way to begin to melt what has become an icy relationship.
Every day that passes is one more that the orphaned children suffer, their health and well-being in peril. For some, it is already too late. A little girl with Down syndrome named Daria, who the Burrows family of Texas was prepared to adopt and care for, died unexpectedly in an orphanage in Russia. She would have been three years old in May. Nearly all of the children subject to the ban live with disabilities and special needs. If the adoptions are not complete, these children will have little chance of ever receiving the proper treatment and care they deserve.
Understandably, the families of these children are growing frustrated with the silence coming from the Administration. I have met with them and listened to their concerns. They understand the difficulty of the position they are in. They know that completing these adoptions is unlikely, and they pray for a miracle. But they also will leave no stone unturned in finding a way to move the adoption process forward. All they want is for the leaders of our government to do the same.
These families deserve that. They deserve a response from the President and the Secretary of State. They deserve to have their government stand up on their behalf—and on the behalf of these children who cannot speak for themselves.
All these families are asking for is a chance. It’s past time the Obama Administration gives them that.
Rob Portman is a United States Senator from Ohio.