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Marshall Islands takes action on illegal adoptions

Posted On: Friday, 2 February 2018

MAJURO, 02 FEBRUARY 2018 (MARIANAS VARIETY) --- A Marshall Islands man suspected of being an agent for multiple illegal adoptions in the United States, together with two Marshallese women reportedly planning to provide babies for adoption in the United States, were pulled aside for questioning at Amata Kabua International Airport late last month, preventing them from boarding a United Airlines flight. This is said to be the first time an adoption agent and women with him have been pulled aside for questioning, preventing their travel.

“The suspected ‘agent’ was identified and attempted to depart Majuro with two Marshallese women — one pregnant, one with a one-month old child,” said Marshall Islands Immigration Director Damien Jacklick Thursday. “Immigration officials conducted routine questioning with the two women who later admitted that their true intention for leaving the Marshall Islands was adoption related.”

In the past several years, an increase in the number of adoptions in Hawaii and U.S. mainland locations involving Marshall Islanders has been noted. Using the visa-free entrance privilege to travel to the U.S. for the purpose of adoption is illegal under the Compact of Free Association. The adoption agent was observed assisting the check-in of two female Marshallese, one pregnant and one carrying a baby. Marshall Islands Ports Authority staff members at the airport said the agent had been assisting pregnant girls to check in for United flights to Honolulu throughout the week. The night that Immigration officials intervened, all three passengers were escorted away from the boarding area so they could be interviewed by Immigration authorities minutes before passengers began boarding the flight to Honolulu. They did not depart on that United flight. The intervention by Immigration officials followed a tip from people at the airport. On the next available flight to Honolulu, the agent was reported to have checked in by himself and later departed on the United flight to Honolulu.

International Organisation for Migration or IOM Director Angela Saunders said from what she understood of this development at the airport, it was the first time for this to happen in Majuro. “It shows a higher level of interest and awareness in the Marshall Islands,” she said. IOM is engaged in a variety of trafficking in persons prevention activity in the Marshall Islands. Saunders said IOM’s role for addressing trafficking in persons concerns is to provide training for law enforcement officials on “victim identification” to assist interventions, such as occurred last month. She added that IOM isn’t involved in actual interventions or interviewing. The role of her organization is to liaise with law enforcement officials on matters that could rise to the level of trafficking in persons. “If we get tips, we report them,” she said, and added that IOM offers support for victims of trafficking.

The Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and Marshall Islands specifically forbids travel on Marshall Islands passports for the purpose of adopting a child in the U.S. For an American family to legally adopt Marshallese babies or children involves application to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by the prospective American adopting family, background checks, court hearings in the Marshall Islands that involve review of home studies of the birth family, and finally issuance of clearance to enter the U.S. through the US Embassy in Manila that confers American citizenship on the child being adopted upon arrival in the U.S.

Despite Compact provisions, the flow of illegal adoptions has reportedly increased in recent years because of the ease with which Marshallese can travel to the U.S. coupled with the difficulty of proving “intent” to adopt unborn babies or young children. A high teenage pregnancy rate together with widespread unemployment and poverty in the urban centers in the Marshall Islands helps to feed the off-shore adoption industry.

“My office has opened up an investigation on the matter,” said Jacklick. “We will soon be submitting a report to the Attorney General’s office for further action. I can't go into too much detail at this time as it’s an ongoing investigation.”

A leading concern for adoptions that are happening outside of established legal practices in the Marshall Islands is whether adoption agents “are exploiting the mother’s lack of knowledge or deceiving her if she doesn’t understand the process,” said Saunders.....PACNEWS

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