Families trying to adopt a child from another country are facing more hurdles and uncertainty, which is one reason inter-country adoption numbers have plummeted in recent years.
Nels and Nicole Pierson legally adopted their son Mardoche from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) over a year ago, but he's still not home with them in Minnesota.
"You feel helpless. It feels out of your hands and out of control, and it's frustrating," Nels Pierson told KSTP.
This is the case for hundreds of families in the U.S. who have legally adopted children from the DRC since the country announced in 2013 stricter scrutiny of U.S. adoptive families' applications for visas because not all adoptions were conforming to Congolese laws.
One piece of paper is keeping families apart. KSTP says about 800 Congolese children are being affected by the DRC's ban, and the Piersons say at least 13 children have died while waiting to be allowed to leave for the U.S.
The Piersons spoke with the Rochester Post Bulletin about their struggle to bring their 9-year-old son home, saying the hardest part of the ordeal is the uncertainty of the situation.
"That's probably the worst part — just not knowing," Nels Pierson told the newspaper. "Even if it was two years from now, and I knew he was coming home in two years, I could feel some assurance. I'd go nuts, but at least then I'd know. But at this point, we don't know anything."
Washington pushing to end uncertainty
The Piersons and many other families have taken to social media using the hashtag #drcstuck to bring awareness to the struggle they're facing.
And their efforts have paid off.
President Barack Obama called DRC's President Joseph Kabila Tuesday to urge him to resolve the adoption issue in a timely manner, according to the White House.
Other lawmakers are also working to end the uncertainty for families.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who has been a strong advocate for adoptive families for years, and Sen. Mitch McConnel, R-Ky., introduced an amendment which has now passed the Senate, urging the DRC to allow children who have been legally adopted by American citizens to come to the U.S.
“Hundreds of children in the Congo are stuck waiting to be united with their adoptive parents in the United States, including in Minnesota,” Klobuchar said in a news release this week. “It is time for these families to start their lives together, and I am glad the Senate is urging the DRC to make that happen.”
Intercountry adoptions plummet
Foreign adoptions by Minnesota families have tumbled, according to a State Department report released Wednesday. During the last fiscal year, there were 184 intercountry adoptions in Minnesota, compared to 890 foreign adoptions in 2004, State Department data shows.
“We've seen a decrease in the number of families coming forward to adopt, and also the children who are able to be adopted from those countries,” Jane Lee of Children's Home Society of Minnesota told FOX 9.
Minnesota's numbers mirror a trend nationally. Last year, foreign adoptions by Americans dropped to their lowest level in over 30 years. In 2014, there were 6,441 international adoptions, down from 7,092 in 2013 and about 74 percent below the high of 22,991 in 2004, data shows.
The number of children available for international adoption is diminishing and the restrictions on adoptions are increasing, both in the U.S. and around the world, The Wall Street Journal says.
Some countries are banning American adoptions, while more nations are encouraging domestic adoptions. And there's increasing U.S. scrutiny over some countries and individual adoption cases due to reports of fraud.