Sunday, November 06, 2005

Marshall Islands Mothers Victimized by Utah Predators!

Click on map to enlarge, giving you an idea the distance between the Marshall Islands and Hawaii.

Utah adoption brokers don't limit their procurement activities to within the U.S. borders. Until their activities were halted by Marshall Islands legislators, adoption predators were flying mothers-to-be from the Marshall Islands to Hawaii to deliver their babies there (signing them up for Medicaid) for export to the lower states - primarily Utah - for adoption. The stop in Hawaii circumvented both immigration requirements (the baby was automatically a U.S. citizen) and the required approval of the adoption by Marshallese courts.

Eventually, the brokers just used Hawaii as a stepping stone to bring the expectant mothers right to Utah to deliver. There, the women were totally at the mercy of their handlers.

Why fly pregnant Marshall Islands women to Utah to give birth? Why Utah, of all states? The answer is pretty obvious, based on the Baby Tamia case and the many cases involving disenfranchised fathers. But when you read the rest of this post, you'll have a much clearer picture.

These Marshallese women, coming from extreme poverty hadn't a clue what was really happening to them and their babies. They understood neither the language nor the concept of closed adoption (in their culture, adoptees are free to return to visit their birth parents as adults.)

Read the whole Marshall Islands article series - start with this website and follow its links:
  • Harvest of Babies from the Marshall Islands Subject of New Series

  • From another source,
    Hawaii Star-Bulletin, Friday, March 5, 2004, 'Adoption practice draws concern':

    Marshallese women have their babies here, then put them up for adoption by Americans.

    Despite increased scrutiny from authorities, adoption agencies are continuing to flout Marshallese law by bringing late-term pregnant women from that country to Hawaii and other states so the newborns can be adopted by U.S. families, officials said yesterday.

    A healthy Marshallese baby can cost the adopting family as much as $40,000.

    Although the number of adoptions each year is believed to be small, the practice has been widely condemned because it circumvents Marshallese law, and the birth mothers generally do not understand that they are giving up their children for good, according to federal authorities and other officials at a video conference called yesterday by U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie to discuss the problem.

    Also, the practice often seems to involve fraud or deception, not only victimizing the birth mothers, but also state and federal agencies, hospitals and other organizations, the officials said.

    As recently as last month, hospitals in Hawaii handled births of Marshallese babies destined to be adopted, and a small group of pregnant women from the tiny, impoverished Western Pacific nation was expected to arrive in Hawaii today, bound for Utah, the officials said.

    Abercrombie (D-Urban Honolulu) invited representatives from law enforcement agencies, health care providers, advocacy groups, the Marshallese government and other organizations to the conference, linked by video between Honolulu and Washington, D.C.

    While the agreement governing relations between the two countries prohibits a Marshallese child from traveling to the United States to be adopted without meeting immigration and other requirements, it is not clear whether that provision applies to pregnant Marshallese women.

    But under Marshallese law, the adoption of any child by a foreign resident must be approved by that island nation's court. Officials said adoption agencies arrange to bring the birthing mothers to Hawaii to circumvent that law.

    Beyond the legal issues, the birth mothers usually do not understand the full ramifications of a U.S. adoption, and once in Hawaii they become completely dependent on the adoption agency, which houses them, arranges for transportation and medical services, provides translators, takes their passports and essentially controls their lives, several conference participants said.

    "They're basically held hostage," said Kristine Nicholson, president of Hawaii International Child, a state-licensed nonprofit adoption agency which has not arranged any Marshallese adoptions.

    But Linda Lach, a Kauai attorney who has arranged such adoptions, cautioned against portraying all people in the industry with the same broad stroke.

    As in any industry (bold added), there are unethical people involved with Marshallese adoptions, but "we can't all be tainted with the same brush," said Lach, who was not at the conference. She said the adoptions she handles are done properly, and the birth mothers clearly understand what they are doing.

    Officials at the conference said that when questions are raised about suspect practices, the adoption agencies simply move the birth mothers to different locations around the state and switch hospitals.

    The state attorney general's office is investigating whether Medicaid fraud has been committed by some agencies. Among other issues, the office is investigating whether the agencies are collecting money from the adopting families for the birth mothers' medical expenses while enrolling the women in Medicaid, putting the state on the hook for those bills.

    The Legislature also is weighing in on the adoption issue. A bill that would prohibit Hawaii courts from approving any Marshallese adoptions that have not received the go-ahead of that country's court system was passed yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It goes to the full Senate for a vote.

    Whatever is done to tackle the problem, authorities said that the organizations that may be benefiting from a criminal enterprise - not the mothers exploited by it - should be the target of law enforcement.

    "What we have to find is who is behind it," said Michael Seabright, assistant U.S. attorney in Honolulu.

    Notice: "As in any industry...."

    In response to the above article, an editorial in the March 7, 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin, entitled 'Stop Illegal baby trafficking from Marshalls' describes the situation:
    EXTRAORDINARY circumstances have turned the Marshall Islands into the world's most uninhibited baby market. Laws aimed at halting the flow of newborn infants to the United States from the Marshalls are being ignored. Stronger enforcement is needed to ensure that such adoptions are in compliance with the new laws and are not coerced.

    Rep. Neil Abercrombie conducted a video conference Thursday with law enforcement agencies, health-care providers, government officials and others to bring attention to the problem. A group of pregnant women from the Marshalls were expected to arrive in Hawaii the next day, bound for Utah to give birth and fulfill adoption agreements.

    The incentives for such adoptions are powerful. As the Baltimore Sun pointed out last November in a series of articles about the problem, the Marshall Islands' fertility rate -- the number of children a woman is expected to bear during her lifetime -- is 6.5, more than triple the U.S. rate. The per capita income is $2,300 and the unemployment rate tops 30 percent. It is not surprising that the Marshall Islands' adoption rate of .27 in 1998 was the highest in the world, more than 20 times that of runner-up Guatemala.

    A study conducted by Brigham Young University professor Jini Roby of 73 Marshallese women who gave up infants for adoption found their average income to be $400 and that some had given birth as many as 15 times. For most, the baby given up was their fourth or fifth.

    American families pay as much as $40,000 for a healthy Marshallese baby. While poverty might seem to induce the mothers to give up their babies to receive the payment of as much as $100 a week while pregnant, Roby found that most did not comprehend the permanence of adoption. Nearly 90 percent said they would not have agreed to the adoptions if they had known their children would not return to the Marshalls upon becoming adults.

    Americans are estimated to have adopted 500 Marshallese babies from 1996 to 1999, prompting the Marshallese government to declare a moratorium on adoptions by foreigners. The ban was lifted in 2002, and a new law forbids the payment of money, gifts or other benefits to the natural mother. It also forbids a birth mother to leave the islands to complete an adoption.

    Some adoption agencies skirted the law by bringing pregnant Marshallese women to Hawaii to give birth. The tactic was simple to employ since Marshallese are allowed to travel to the United States without visas. In December, President Bush signed an amendment to the Compact of Free Association that requires any Marshallese traveling to the U.S. for purposes of adoption to obtain a visa. Senator Akaka has implored the Department of Homeland Security to enforce the new rule.

    As many as 50 babies were born to newly arrived Marshallese women in Hawaii last year. The state Attorney General's Office is investigating whether fraud was committed in using Medicaid to pay for medical expenses. A bill in the state Legislature would require Marshallese court approval of any Marshallese offspring to be eligible for adoption in Hawaii.
    LDS Involved in Marshall Islands Child Procurement

    Although no Utah adoption brokers were mentioned by name in the Star-Bulletin article or subsequent editorial, LDS involvement is exposed in the following article, '
    A birthmother alleges coercion
    .' Published
    in the Baltimore Sun on November 3, 2003, it describes the activities of Sara Maun, a Marshallese adoption procurer:
    TLC officials say they no longer do adoptions from the Marshall Islands and that they severed their relationship with Graser and Maun in the wake of the Shefik case.

    Graser and Maun still arrange adoptions of children from the Marshall Islands.

    Graser, after coming under investigation by the state of Utah for running an unlicensed adoption agency, subsequently started Noah's Ark Adoptions, a licensed, for-profit corporation.

    She said she has four or five facilitators in Majuro, including Maun, who help her new company find mothers and pregnant women who want to put their children up for adoption.

    Maun said she has arranged about 80 adoptions over the past five years and now works with Noah's Ark and LDS Family Services, which is affiliated with the Mormon church. She said she collects a fee of $750 for each adoption.
    Quite the company LDS was keeping in its Marshall Islands infant procurement activities – shoulder to shoulder with a woman who had been investigated for running an unlicensed adoption agency and now was operating for profit!

    Marshallese boot out all but one agency

    As a result of the activities of agencies like the two mentioned above and others, the Marshall Islands put a stop to predatory adoption activity by establishing a Central Adoption Authority which now controls adoption of its infants. In addition, effective March 1, 2004, only one U.S. adoption agency had been licensed to facilitate international adoptions from the Marshall Islands: Journeys of the Heart, of Hillsborough, Oregon. Notice that LDS Family Services, which is reported to have been active in facilitating international adoptions in the Marshall Islands prior to the shake-up, was not selected to continue. Even Hague Convention accreditation has not warranted LDS approval by Marshall Islands Central Adoption Authority.

    What Does All This Say About National Council For Adoption as an "Umbrella" Organization?

    Considering the fact that LDS is the second largest NCFA member agency, it would seem to have great significance. What, exactly, does NCFA stand for in matters like these? Consider its webpage blurb:
    NCFA Continues to Grow in its Leadership Role as "Global Ambassador" for Adoption There is a growing need and opportunity for NCFA to advocate adoption, both domestic and intercountry, around the world. With its excellent reputation and expertise, and its mission of adoption advocacy, rather than membership interests, NCFA is uniquely positioned to lead in this way.
    Lead in this way? Where was its leadership in the victimization of families from the Marshall Islands? Why wasn't LDS reprimanded by - or booted out of - NCFA for its participation in these horrendous international child-trafficking activities? Instead, as you'll read farther on in this blog, LDS was actually honored by NCFA for its "extremely active, influential and positive force in adoption nationally, promoting best practices."

    As for the Marshall Islands, they have
    successfully rooted out the adoption predators through legislation. So has the state of Illinois here in the U.S. But much more work needs to be done in other states - including yours! Will you help?


    Anonymous said...

    There are alot of statistics in your article, they seem a little on the heavy side. What is your underlying motivation. I am very familiar with Majuro. I have lived there doing medical humanitarian work. I met several American adoptees. I witnessed them as being compassionate and nearly part of the family of families they had adopted from. The Marshall Islands is a train wreck of problems. I'm just confused as to why you are so anti adoption from there? What about the domestic abuse, the beating of women and children, alcoholism, poor medical care, diabetes, invasion of the Chinese, prostitution, VD's, over population, pollution, drinking water, suicide rates, incest, rape, government aid fraud, and education just to name a few, you seem to have a secret motivation, am I right? While I stayed in the hotel on Majuro I came to know several People who had adopted multiple Marshallese children, none of them seemed to be predator type. In fact I was able to have some of them help with me with some of my projects. I am sure that I don't understand many of the politics going on with adoption from there, but your article seems to be anti adoption anyone else besides Journeys of the Heart and anti-LDS. You must be from Journeys of the Heart. I saw so many problems in the Marshalls, it is almost comforting to me that some of the children are leaving the island.

    The Adoption Digger said...


    Thank you for visiting my Beyond Baby Tamia blog, and for your comments. I feel, however, that you may have misunderstood my reason for the Marshall Islands section. Let me explain:

    The 'predators' I refer to are not those who adopt Marshall Islands children. I'm sure your firsthand knowledge of the conditions there is testimony to the need for a multitude of services to infants and children. The 'predators' of which I speak are those unscrupulous agencies which prey on expectant and new mothers, duping them out of their infants under false pretenses, such as promoting the belief that their children will return home to MI after becoming adults. I also believe it is grossly improper to bypass the authority and autonomy of the Marshall Islands government when it attempts to protect its own children. This was being done by whisking pregnant women out of the country into Hawaii, where they neither understood the language nor had control of their lives – even their passports were taken from them.

    Pedator agencies – those which bypass laws and common decency – rake in huge amounts of money from these arrangements. And agencies like LDS, although they are considered non-profit organizations here in the U.S., are exempt from public inspection of their income tax filings, so there is no way to monitor, for example, the salaries and benefits of their employees and officers.

    No, Anonymous, I have no affiliation with Journeys of the Heart. I only mention them because of all the adoption facilitators that swarmed the Marshall Islands under the previous free-wheeling adoption system, the only agency which honestly earned the right to negotiate adoptions is Journeys of the Heart. My motivation for this entire blog is that of putting an end to the profit motive in adoptions and bringing to light the atrocities committed by the predator agencies I mentioned. I hope this additional information will help you understand.

    Anonymous said...

    According to a court document obtained by PEAR, on February 9, 2010, Scott and Karen Banks, former owners of adoption agency Focus on Children, were allowed to adopt another child, originally from China. The Banks were indicted on 135 Federal counts in 2007 for a fraudulent adoption scheme in Samoa. In 2009, they pled guilty to Aiding and Abetting the Improper Entry of an Alien in a plea deal made with the US Attorney's office in Utah. They were given a sentence of five years probation during which time they are forbidden to participate in the adoption business and are required to make payment into a trust for the victims.

    The recent adoption occurred after evidence of their illegal activities with their Samoan adoption program were put on record in Utah courts. Also supplied was information regarding the Banks two previously adopted Romanian children.

    According to numerous media sources and their now-adult Romanian daughter's own affidavit, this child and her sibling were flown to Samoa by Scott Banks and left without legal documentation in 2000, leaving these adoptees in a legal limbo. In addition, according to an affidavit given by their caregiver in Samoa, the Banks have had no contact with either child since their arrival, nor have they supported the children in any way since abandoning them in Samoa.

    Furthermore, a third child of the Banks, suffering from cerebral palsy and also adopted from Romania, has been alleged in various documents to have been severely neglected in their home. This child was placed in a group home in Utah.

    PEAR believes that anyone convicted of crimes involving children should be barred from the possibility of adopting any other children. We also believe that any parents convicted of or with a history of legitimate allegations of child abuse and neglect should be barred from adopting children.

    PEAR opposes any practice that does not protect the rights of the child to live a life free from abuse and neglect with qualified and loving adoptive parents. To not hold these rights paramount in an adoption proceeding undermines every moral and ethical standard that each child deserves.

    We are sponsoring a petition to be sent to the Governor of Utah asking his office to open an investigation into how and why this family was allowed to adopt another child given their dubious history. If you agree with the statements made please take a moment to sign the petition.

    More information about this case including official documents can be found here: