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Advice on adopting a child from outside the USA
Received January 2009:
Advice from a couple who immigrated their adoped son. Note that much of the advice is based on being out of the USA at a consulate.
  1. I suggest using a religious exemption in every case. Even if you consider yourself non-religious because you do not belong to a particular religious institution, you must remember that health and religion are inseparable. They both are concerned with life and death. The 1^st Amendment says that the government shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. So, even if you have “established” your own religion and are the only one who practices it, your religious rights are protected. This is the safest and easiest way to do this.

  2. Remember that you are dealing with the Federal government. This is actually to your benefit as the Constitution is on your side. Consistently remind people of this when they try and tell you “no”. It is your best defense and the end all, be all of every legal argument thrown at you. They HAVE NO CHOICE but to provide you either an alternative or an exemption.

  3. Prepare for delays in your travel. Our delay was only two days, but yours could be longer. It would be best to have an international cell phone with you with a discount plan on international calls. Calling cards are great for outbound calls, but not inbound.

  4. Go here
    (Index) and print out Chapter 3 [or appropriate section] of the Adjudicator’s Field Manual from the USCIS website. Highlight the parts that refer specifically to your case. This will be particularly useful when speaking to the Consul. More than likely he/she will not be familiar with vaccination exemptions so having it as a reference for them will be helpful and show that you are prepared. (Pay specific attention to Note 1 as it states, “It is not necessary for the applicant to be a member of a recognized or mainstream religion. It is not necessary for the applicant to be a member of a specific religion or attend a specific house of worship.”) Any corroborating evidence that you have on your behalf is beneficial. For me it was an official copy of my son’s state vaccination exemption form, a letter from my son’s pediatrician stating how long he had been my son’s doctor and stating that my son has always been healthy, and letters from my mother and a friend verifying that our religious beliefs are sincere.

  5. It is important to remember that the Consul assigned to your case is not personally responsible for granting exemptions, so please be kind. Ultimately the exemption lies in the hand of the CDC. Know your rights and be firm and persistent, but please remain polite to the Consul. More than likely they will be on your side. (Probably all the Consuls will eventually know who you are and will be on your side. It is good to have allies, so keep this in mind. J) You want to find out what times this Consul works his/her window so you can see them again. It will be easier to work with the same Consul each time you return to the Consulate.

  6. They are currently working on a new exemption form specifically for vaccinations, but for now they still use the I-601. However, they will not allow the I-601 to be filed with them until AFTER the child’s petition for immigration has been denied, based on the fact that they have not received their vaccinations. (That’s the government bureaucracy for you.) Have the I-601 form filled out and ready so you can give it to the Consul upon denial. Obviously this will cause delay, but be persistent.

  7. Get the name of the Consul General so you will be able to refer to him/her by name. You will need to contact the CDC at 800-232-4636 and ask for the Global Migration Department. After being transferred, be polite, but explain that your case is regarding vaccination exemptions in an immigration case and you need to speak with whoever is in charge of these decisions. (If you are in the foreign country at the time or your call, then let them know that you are “stuck” in the foreign country and the case is an emergency.) If they transfer you and you reach a voice mail, leave a quick message as detailed as possible along with your call-back number. Call and leave a message every half hour or so until someone returns your calls. Make sure in each message that you let them know you don’t mean to be a bother, but you are “stuck” in a foreign country and need their assistance immediately. Once they contact you, take names. The person(s) in charge of exemptions at the CDC will more than likely be familiar with the Consul General at your Consulate, so that is why it is important you know his/her name and use it.

  8. Now, here is the tricky part. I was told by the CDC that I was the first to buck the system on the TB skin test. If you are like me and do not want the TB skin test since it entails injecting the tuberculosis protein transdermally, then you have to gently but consistently remind the representative at the CDC that they must provide you an alternative. They will deny there is an alternative at first, but just continue to tell them that the Constitution protects your religious rights and they MUST provide you with an alternative. (I didn’t mention the BioMeridian test. I was just trying to get them to allow my son to receive the x-rays in lieu of the injection since that is what they would require anyway if the skin test was positive. I don’t like the radiation part of it, either, but it is easier to get radiation out of their body then it is to get disease out.) They may ask questions like, “Are you opposed to all injections, including IV’s?” or “What religion are you?” You can answer however you like, but I suggest you be vague and general as the Constitution doesn’t guarantee our rights only if we answer their questions to their satisfaction. The less they know, the better off you are. They might try scare tactics, like they did with me, telling me that the x-rays are more harmful than the TB test. Don’t try to argue with them about what you know is true concerning allopathic procedures. Not only will it be like arguing with a brick wall, but it could make them angry and also lead them to question your motive—whether it is actually related to religious conviction or not. Just stick with the Constitution and your religious rights.

  9. Though delays are inevitable, don’t let it drag on too long. Many civil rights organizations will take on cases for free and most lawyers provide free consulations, so I would consider talking to someone before you leave the country and finding a lawyer who would be willing to take your case, if it becomes necessary. This way, if things drag on you can let the Consul General and CDC know that you have legal representation. You can remind them that excessive delays will force you to take action against them because you are being discriminated against due of your religious beliefs. Legally speaking, excessive delays cause “undue hardship” on you by loss of job/income, financial strain (more hotel and food expenses plus money spent back home, like reimbursing those who are caring for any other children), emotional strain (being in a foreign place and not speaking the language—especially if the place is dangerous), etc. Hopefully you won’t need it. I had one lined up and didn’t need it, but it helped to know someone was there to help me if I did. I don’t know if it helped move our case along, but I’m sure just being able to inform the Consul General and CDC that I had legal representation didn’t hurt.

  10. After you give the Consul your I-601, the file will move to the Department of Homeland Security. They will approve your exemption and then you will take it back to the Consul who was helping you. As long as there is nothing else hindering your approval, this should be your last step. Just wait until they call your name and you should walk out of there with approval!

Now, what I would suggest to preclude all of the mess I went through is to contact the CDC before you leave the US, give them your case number and have them get in touch with the Consul General at the Consulate you will be visiting and request that the Consul General personally handle your case.
If the CDC can give their approval ahead of time, this might save you a big mess.

It is virtually impossible to talk to a Consul before you arrive at the Consulate. The 800 numbers for the Consulates’ offices are useless.
The people who answer the phone there can’t help you.

You can fax a letter to the Consulate office in care of the Consul in charge of your case, but they are so swamped with cases, they don’t really have time to deal with yours until you get there and getting a response from them is slow. It’s really a waste of time.

Your state Senators have liaisons, though, who can contact the Consulate directly. You might try contacting your Senator’s office ahead of time, but you will need to tell them specifically what they need to do, otherwise your representative will just call you back and tell you that the Consulate told them that you will just have to wait until you get there.
Tell the representative at your Senator’s office that your case requires special exemptions which could cause big delays and needs to be handled by the Consul General personally.

Also have the representative tell the Consul General to contact the CDC before you get there. It would be interesting to see if these approaches work. It wouldn’t hurt to try them.