Pitfalls for Parents
International adoption has become big business, but regulation still lags
All Carrie West wanted was a chance to care for an orphaned child. But when she traveled to Vietnam five years ago, she says, she got something else: a quick lesson on the murky world of international adoptions. Here's how she tells the story: Informed by her adoption facilitator that Thuy, the little girl she had planned to adopt, had fallen deathly ill with tuberculosis, she ended up taking a different child. But Thuy's plight stayed with her, and she sought out updates on her condition. Eventually, she learned that the child, far from being ill or convalescing, had been adopted by someone else--long before.
With no official government agency to handle the incident, West took her story to the Internet, writing on adoption blogs and other websites about the facilitator she says did her wrong. The facilitator, Mai-Ly Latrace, responded with a libel lawsuit, which so far names three couples, including West and her husband.
The suit, filed last year, highlighted some of what can go wrong in the fast-growing world of international adoptions. Last year, there were nearly 23,000 adoptions from overseas by American parents, a number that has been increasing as domestic adoptions become more rare. "Your neighborhood health club is more heavily regulated," says Trish Maskew, executive director of Ethica, a nonprofit outfit that advocates for better international adoption laws. "The industry allows unlicensed facilitators to work without oversight. The U.S. government refuses to act, and consumers walk into this blind."
The libel lawsuit filed by Latrace is based on some contentious issues. Latrace asserts that she has been unjustly maligned by West and the other defendants in the case who criticized her role in facilitating adoptions for them. The critics, on the other hand, point to, among other things, a letter from the Embassy of Vietnam in Washington from March 2005 stating that Latrace is "a child trafficker for money." She was deported from Vietnam, the letter says, on Oct. 18, 2002. The embassy's press attache, Chien Bach, confirmed the authenticity of the letter and added that Latrace "is banned from entering" Vietnam. Latrace says she knows nothing about any of this, saying that she encountered problems with Vietnamese immigration authorities who revoked her visa when she used the wrong type on a trip to the country. But, she says, she traveled to Vietnam just last year and encountered no legal troubles there. Latrace's attorney says that the embassy's letter about Latrace's alleged child-trafficking activities is based on inaccurate and unsubstantiated information.
Latrace proudly defends her work, saying she has helped hundreds of people adopt children overseas and that she filed her lawsuit only after critics forced her hand by falsely accusing her of improper and unethical conduct. Any bad experiences would-be adoptive parents may have had, she says, were the result of miscommunication. She adds that some difficulties were the fault of her mother, Marie Latrace, with whom she has worked in the past, including West's adoption. (Marie Latrace, who lives with her daughter, denies that she did anything wrong while facilitating adoptions.) Latrace says that the defendants in her lawsuit, along with U.S. immigration agents in Vietnam, have long been out to get her. She also says that she has an affidavit from a Vietnamese couple that shows that they gave up their child willingly. "I never sold a child. I have never bought a child," Latrace told U.S. News . "And I don't know why anyone in Vietnam is saying that I was involved in anything that was criminal. Especially when it comes to kids." Latrace is seeking monetary damages, as well as expenses, interest, and attorney's fees.