FAQs about Responding to a RFE

Our case if you haven’t been following:  We adopted two children in Ethiopia in November.  We are their legal parents in ET.  Before we can bring them back to America, the US Embassy has to clear our case.  They didn’t.  They said our case was “not clearly approvable” and sent our case to their superiors, the US Citizenship and Immigration office in Nairobi Kenya.  On Friday February 7th, USCIS sent us a Request for Evidence (RFE).  Now we have to prove to USCIS that these children are orphans and that their birth mom willingly and knowingly gave them up. Oh yeah, and I’m having a baby in six weeks.

So how do you go about proving that kids are orphans?

We have three options.

1. Our agency has talked to the birth mom and believes that she DOES want to give them up for adoption; that the things she said to the Embassy were a misunderstanding.  Their recommendation is to see if USCIS will do a phone interview with the birth mom to try to clear up the confusion.  I am not sure if USCIS would be willing to do that or not.  If they are, that could possibly work.  There are some pros- It would be no cost to us.  It would be quick.  But if it doesn’t work?  If the birth mom says the same confusing things again?  Then our case won’t pass and then we have an even bigger hurdle to overcome. It is NOT good to not pass the RFE.  Not good at all.  So that’s one option- but we think that’s way too risky.

2. Another option is to travel to Ethiopia ourselves.  We can talk to the birth mom, video and document the interviews, and put our case together that this adoption is legit.  We know many families who have successfully done this.  But at 7.5 months pregnant, I just can’t go.  The husband could do this, but where would he even begin?  The pros to this option is that we would get to see everything first hand, and it would also be somewhat quick.  The cons to this option are that this comes with a cost, the stress that come with planning a trip of this caliber very quickly, the stress from feeling overwhelmed and the pressure of doing everything correctly, and being apart for the last few weeks of this pregnancy.

3. The final option is to hire an investigator to gather the evidence.  This is a thing- there are actually people who specialize in what we need, which is called an “orphan status verification”, or OSV.  More on that in a second.  The pros to this option is that they know what they are doing and do a through job.  The cons are that it does cost money and it can take a little longer than the other options.

After reviewing these three options and talking with a lot of other families who have been in this situation, we decided to hire an investigator.  We did that yesterday.

So how do you find an investigator?

Word of mouth.  Ours was recommended to us via our online group.  She used to be an adoption judge in Ethiopia.  She hasn’t been doing OSVs for very long so we don’t know anyone who has actually used her for that, but she understands the system well from her legal experience.  We’re a little nervous because everything is so different in ET than it is here in the States.  You can’t just Google her name and see her qualifications or check her references.  She didn’t send us a resume with her accomplishments.  We are going off word-of-mouth, our personal impressions from emailing with her, and prayer.  It’s possible we could be getting scammed and will look back at this moment in regret, and we are aware of that.  But that’s just the nature of the environment that we’re working in.  Things that might seem shady here in the US are just the way things work there.  For example- the contract we signed for this- which is a pretty big deal- is 1.5 pages double spaced with big margins.  And we are sending her payment via Western Union.  Such is life in Ethiopia.

How does your agency feel about this?

Sometimes adoption agencies are not fond of private investigators working cases for their families.  They may be operating unethically and nervous for an outsider to find that out, or they may just feel like an investigator is stepping on their toes.  We were nervous about this when we told the agency yesterday.  I can’t say that they jumped with joy, but they are definitely supportive and willing to do whatever needs to be done to help with the investigation.  We like our agency overall and feel like they have done nothing wrong with this adoption. We don’t believe it was due to any fault of our agency that we are in the situation we’re in.  But our agency has not worked with a lot of families who have gotten RFEs (which is a good indicator of their ethics) and the ones that have worked have been very different cases than ours.   Our agency workers are not OSV experts, nor are they experts in responding to RFEs- I think they understand this and that’s why we have their blessing to involve an outsider.  (Though we would have done it without their blessing if necessary).

What exactly does the investigator do?

She helps us put together our case.  She will travel to the birth mom’s village and interview her.  She will make sure to do this in a manner that complies with USCIS rules (ie, no leading questions, no editing a video interview, etc).  Both us and the investigator believe the birth mom was confused during the Embassy interview, so she will try to clear up that confusion.  The investigator will also interview the court witness, who will testify that the birth mom relinquished her rights and understood what adoption meant.  The investigator will talk to neighbors, who will give facts regarding the circumstances leading up to the kids’ relinquishment.  Basically, she will do a bunch of research to make sure that everything was done ethically and that the birth mom understood what was happening.  She will then send that to us.

So how long does that take?

It takes the investigator about three weeks.  She will send us the results of her research via express mail.  Some other families have sent us their responses to RFEs, so we will take the results and format our response in a similar manner.  We will probably have an adoption attorney review our response before mailing it to USCIS.  We expect this whole process to take 6-8 weeks or so.

Isn’t that when the baby is due?

Yep.  Not awesome.  Not awesome at all.  One of our biggest worries.  We’ve put our support network on standby.  We try not to ask for help that often, but if the big kids end up coming home about the same time as baby gets here, we know we will need lots of help.

Isn’t all this investigator business a bit of overkill?

Possibly.  Maybe we don’t need to do all this.  If we had a guarantee that a simpler option would work, of course we would do that.  But there are no guarantees, and we’d rather do everything we can to get this through than take a simpler option and have it not work out.

Is it expensive?

It’s not the cheapest thing we’ve ever done, and we can think of about a zillion things we’d rather spend money on.  If you’re asking this because you’re another adoptive family in the same situation, send me an email and I’ll give you the details. But otherwise it’s really none of your business 🙂  I’ll say that it’s not an insignificant amount of money, but we have it in savings and if we think about it being the difference between bringing these kids home or not bringing them home, it starts to feel pretty insignificant.

So

That’s where we’re at.  There’s a lot of things that are really hard about this whole situation.  We’re happy to be moving forward but nervous about whether or not we’re taking the right steps.  We can’t wait to get these kids home but don’t want to cut corners and risk them being stuck in limbo.  We’re having a baby in six weeks but that seems like forever away.  There’s a lot of big, life-impacting, worldwide things going on right now.  We just keep gazing at these sweet faces and praying that they’ll be here soon.

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