Copyright 2002 www.usatoday.com

[ April 1st 2002 ]

Forty American families are making preparations this week to travel to Cambodia to finalize adoptions there, the first invited by the U.S. government to do so since an orphanage-by-orphanage probe of baby trafficking began in late February.

The families, which received notice late last week, represent one-fifth of the roughly 200 families left in a lurch when the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service stopped issuing visas to orphans in the Southeast Asian nation in December. The Cambodian system is rife with allegations that many babies have been stolen from or sold by their parents, claims that INS officials say have merit.

Public and congressional pressure prompted the INS last month to create a task force to examine and resolve so-called "pipeline cases," those in which prospective parents were already matched with children and had passed several official steps on the Cambodian side of the adoption process. Those families have been receiving monthly photos of the children, in some cases since July, and have been awaiting the official invitation to come take custody.

That final step in the process is known as a "visa appointment," in which the parents are invited to meet with U.S. Embassy officials who complete the adoption by issuing the baby a visa. The 40 families notified last week will go to Cambodia for that meeting, while the remaining families continue to wait for similar word.

The most famous "pipeline" parents, Academy Award winners Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, were not among this 40, an INS spokesman says. The couple adopted a 7-month-old boy, Maddox, in early March and had the boy brought to Africa to be with Jolie, who is filming a movie there. Maddox is traveling on a Cambodian passport and cannot enter the USA until granted a visa appointment.

INS spokesman Bill Strassberger says the task force visited about five of the 20 orphanages in which babies are involved in pending adoptions and will move on to about five a week for the next three weeks.

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