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Ban derails US families’ adoptions

Plans in limbo after sudden change by Russian government

– From their faraway homes in the American West, the two couples made repeated missions of love to Moscow, each seeking to adopt children with Down syndrome.

Now, even though they have court approval at last in hand, a political squabble with a trace of Cold War friction has derailed those plans, leaving the families in anxious limbo.

“I was planning on going swimming with my son,” said Brian Preece. But instead of splashing around in a pool in Nampa, Idaho, Preece and his wife, Rebecca, sat in a Moscow hotel lobby this week, at loose ends after officials refused to turn over the 4 1/2 -year-old boy even though a court approved the adoption last year.

With them was Jeana Bonner of South Jordan, Utah, on her fourth trip to Russia as part of intensive efforts by her and her husband, Wayne, to adopt a 5-year-old girl.

“There is no process set up, there is no information specific to our case,” said Bonner, who left her husband behind in Utah to care for their two biological daughters, including one with Down syndrome.

The Bonners and Preeces have run into a legal cul-de-sac. After their adoptions received court approval, they expected to wait nervously through a 30-day period in which the ruling can be challenged, then get the decree allowing them to take custody of the children, obtain needed documents and take them home.

But during those 30 days, Russia enacted a law banning adoptions by Americans. The ban was rushed through parliament and sped to President Vladimir Putin’s desk in less than 10 days in a surge of retaliatory anger over a new U.S. law calling for sanctions on Russians identified as human-rights violators.

The hasty enactment left many questions unresolved. Although Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that adoptions already approved by courts could go ahead, the Preeces said Tuesday they were told that the ban has left a legal vacuum – with no mechanism for issuing the decree that finalizes the case.

“The process used to be all streamlined and fairly straightforward. Now there’s no instructions,” said Rebecca Preece, on an emotional knife-edge as months of visits and paperwork hit a roadblock.

“He understands that we’re coming for him,” she said of the boy they hope to adopt. “We were able to visit him, ... and he talked about going in a car with us, in an airplane.

“He knows. He calls us ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa,’ ” she said, on the verge of tears. “We’ve come for him three times, and three times we’ve had to leave.”

A spokesman for Russia’s Supreme Court, Pavel Odintsov, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the high court is working on the conundrum.

It is unclear when that clarity might come, but “we are not talking about months; possibly a couple of weeks,” he said.

Now, Preece said, the question is whether to stick around in Moscow to see the process through and hope things don’t go further awry, or go home and wait it out in Idaho.

The Preeces have three other children, including one with Down syndrome. The plan now is for Brian to go home this weekend to attend to the couple’s fireplace business.

Jeana Bonner, in a telephone interview before leaving Utah, said she and her husband have felt so enriched by the experience of raising their own daughter with Down syndrome that they wanted to adopt a child who also had the condition.

“It was something we felt we could do – we had experience, we had the resources and support,” she said.

During three previous trips to Russia, dating back to last June, the Bonners have met seven times with the girl they hope will be their daughter.

“She’s an amazing little girl, very active, very bright,” Jeana Bonner said. “It’s very apparent that the staff at her orphanage take very good care of the children. ... But nothing can replace a family. We plan to take care of her for the long haul.”

The Bonners and Preeces are among 52 U.S. families who’d won court approval for their adoptions before the ban was signed. Hundreds more families – perhaps 1,500 in all – were in some earlier phase of pursuing an adoption from Russia, and they too are in limbo.

The immediate cause of Russia’s ban was to retaliate for the new U.S. law targeting Russians accused of human-rights abuses. But the ban also reflects long-brewing resentment in Russia over the 60,000 Russian children who have been adopted by Americans in the past two decades, 19 of whom have died.

UNICEF estimates there are about 740,000 children not in parental custody in Russia – and 105,000 live in orphanages.

For the Bonners, however, there’s no option but to persevere – especially in light of bureaucratic setbacks last year that twice made them think their adoption quest was doomed.

“Two times it looked like there was no way it was going to work out, and we grieved through that,” Jeana Bonner said. “It just hurts and is so painful.

“This time we’re going to be as hopeful as possible. We’re not going to give up until we’ve exhausted every possible avenue.”

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