WASHINGTON – When a Montevideo, Minn., mother got only a month with her adopted Congolese daughter last year before leaving the girl behind to return to Minnesota, she decided to call in a favor from a politician.
Gregg and Kristin Zeidler had a lot of heartbreaking setbacks in their quest to adopt a child from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In December 2012, the Congolese courts granted them legal guardianship of the little girl called Amida, now about 4 years old. When they were preparing to travel, the U.S. State Department launched a field investigation on adoptions in that country that slowed the process for several months. They finally received Amida's visa from the U.S. Embassy in October 2013, but by then the Congolese government stopped issuing exit letters for adopted children. Everything was halted yet again.
In desperation, the Zeidlers wrote to Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, who called their story "wrenching" enough to draw up a House resolution. Five Minnesota families are in some stage of limbo with the Congolese government over adoption. Nationally, the number is about 800.
"I offered to help," Peterson said. "I guess nobody else stepped forward."
And amid the least productive Congresses in history, Republicans and Democrats agreed that the Zeidler's problem — along with the hundreds of American families like them — should be addressed.
Peterson's resolution requests the Congolese government begin issuing exit permits again and encourages dialogue between the U.S. and Congo over the matter. It passed the House earlier this month. A companion Senate measure is expected to be approved this week — the last working days ahead of the four-week August recess.
The timing of the legislative measures is important. Next week is the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit here, which adoption advocates say Congolese President Joseph Kabila plans to attend. The adoptive parents hope Kabila will get a nudge by U.S. officials on the adoption backlog — perhaps even from President Obama himself.
"We think that can happen and we want that to happen," said Gregg Zeidler. "We want this to be resolved and we want these kids to be able to be home. We want our daughter home with us."
The National Security Council did not confirm guests to the summit and could not predict conversations between leaders at next week's gathering.
"We are seeking a resolution to these cases as quickly as possible so that adopted children, some with serious health conditions, can join their families in the United States without unnecessary delay," said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price in a statement. "We are in touch with Congress on these matters."
Adoption advocates have been outspoken this summer on Capitol Hill — criticizing both foreign governments and the U.S. State Department. Advocates say the adoption process has been slowed down by the State Department's "field investigations," which seek to ensure the would-be adopted child is, in fact, an orphan.
An adoption advocacy agency called Both Ends Burning estimates at least 10 children have died in the Congo awaiting formal adoption.
The Zeidlers have two other daughters who, they say, hope every day they get to meet Amida.
"I spent a month with her and when it became obvious that (the country) was not going to issue an exit letter, I had to leave her," Kristin Zeidler said. "We had that connection for a month and I was thankful we found foster care for her, but having to leave our daughter there was not good."
Earlier this month, both the U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Second Lady Jill Biden pushed the country's immigration officials to start issuing exit visas again.
"The Department of State deeply regrets that families are once again forced to wait indefinitely for exit permits," U.S. officials said on the "adoption alert" issued for the Democratic Republic of the Congo on July 11.
Chad Turner, who works for Both Ends Burning as a legal intern, said he is hopeful the diplomatic meetings next week will shift the attitudes of the Congolese politicians who may believe all intracountry adoptions are potentially corrupt.
"The goal," Turner said, "is President Obama picks up the phone."