Stranded in Nigeria for months, a Colorado couple had a rare chance to catch an evacuation flight to the U.S. recently during the coronavirus outbreak. But they refused because they would have had to leave behind their adopted daughter, who has yet to get a U.S. visa.
“After we found our daughter and our daughter found us, it was out of the question to leave her,” Robin Gallite said.
Gallite and her husband, Adebambo Alli, who live in Denver, are among several American families facing similar predicaments as the pandemic disrupts travel and slows the final steps needed to bring home children who were adopted abroad.
The Virginia-based National Council for Adoption says it is following dozens of cases where the foreign adoption is complete and American parents are waiting for their child to receive a visa from the State Department.
“We need to do the right thing and prioritize the health and safety of these families,” council vice president Ryan Hanlon said.
The State Department says foreign adoptions remain a priority but has told families that with routine visa services suspended during the pandemic, their requests for emergency visas may not be granted swiftly, if at all.
The adoption council says nearly all of the cases it's tracking are from Africa — where many countries, including Nigeria, are not part of the main international convention on adoption and investigations can take longer even under normal circumstances.
Gallite, 41, and Alli, 42, have been in Nigeria since last August, when they arrived to complete the adoption of a baby girl. A Nigerian judge signed off in November, but obtaining a U.S. visa has moved slowly and is now in deeper limbo because of virus-related shutdowns.
While the couple delight in their daughter's love for dancing and jumping, they ache to return to Denver with 17-month-old Adenike-Rae — nicknamed Nike — and are frustrated by the uncertainty of when that might be possible.
“We’re resilient people — we have to be strong and tough for Nike,” Gallite said. “The stress comes from trying to figure out how to get home.”
In the meantime, they're staying with Adebambo Alli’s sister. Alli, who was born in the U.S. to a Nigerian family, has worked in Colorado's energy industry but now has no job and is trying to line one up from Lagos. Gallite is supporting the family by working remotely as deputy director of an arts center in Denver.
Also stranded in Lagos — with her nearly 9-month-old adopted daughter Zoe — is Ufuoma Sada of Columbus, Ohio.
Sada has been in Nigeria since September while her husband, Ebenezer, works as an engineer in Ohio to keep the family afloat. Nigerian authorities approved the adoption in December, but Sada says she has faced delays and communication gaps as she tries to get the U.S. Consulate to make progress on a visa for Zoe.
“We’re now into the fourth month, and nothing has been done,” said Sada, who worries increasingly about the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria and wants U.S. authorities to expedite their return.
About 800 miles (more than 1,200 kilometers) east of Lagos, another American family is stranded in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, waiting for the U.S. Embassy to issue visas for 2-year-old twin girls they adopted in Chad in 2018.
David Parker, 29, a former youth pastor at a church in Denver, North Carolina, and his wife, Michaela, 24, moved to Chad two years ago to serve as Christian missionaries.
In January, the couple were told to come to Cameroon to complete the U.S. portion of the adoption process and get U.S. immigration visas for the girls, which the embassy in Chad does not handle.
Because of the pandemic, Parker says it has been difficult to gather all the evidence that U.S. officials requested as part of their investigation. He’s increasingly worried the delays will endanger the health and safety of his family, which includes a 6-month-old son, Philip, as well as twins Ariella and Claira.
“Everything’s basically shut down,” Parker said by phone. “We don’t know when or if we’re going to be able to complete this.”
Like Gallite and Alli, the Parkers were told they could board a U.S.-bound evacuation flight with their biological son but would have to leave their daughters behind.
“For us, that’s not an option,” said Parker, whose family is now restricted to a missionary compound in Yaounde.
The parents are hoping the U.S. government will issue them emergency visas. There’s also a rarely used process called “humanitarian parole,” which allowed some Haitian orphans to come to the U.S. in 2010 after Haiti’s devastating earthquake.
Gallite has asked the State Department to work with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain humanitarian parole for Nike.
“We are stuck abroad and our health and safety is extremely vulnerable here in Nigeria during a pandemic,” she wrote to the State Department last week. “Please bring your U.S. citizens home and our legally adopted daughter.”
In a memo sent to The Associated Press on Monday, the State Department said humanitarian parole is granted “only in rare circumstances where no other immigration avenue exists.” It said families should contact USCIS directly with questions and that requests “generally take several weeks or longer to process.”
The State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues said it had received many inquiries about emergency visas, which can be sought from embassies or consulates where the adoptions took place.
“Because routine visa services have been suspended, parents should be prepared to explain how their circumstances constitute an emergency,” the office said.
Crary reported from New York.