For as long as she can remember, Devine has spent her life waiting. Waiting for the day when she'll have parents to tuck her in at night. Waiting for a family. Waiting to come home.
While Devine, age 6, has waited, Joshua and Shayla Hood have spent more than two years and traveled four times from the middle of Iowa to western Africa to ensure that Devine wouldn't have to wait any longer.
After learning of Devine through Cornerstone of Hope Orphanage, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with board officers in Des Moines, Iowa, the couple applied and met the rigorous United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) intercountry adoption requirements to specifically adopt from Nigeria, the country Devine was waiting in.
After obtaining approval, the Hood family worked diligently and patiently with the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development to investigate Devine's orphan status, and then proceeded to pursue Devine's adoption in the court system after she was deemed a legal orphan. From December 2012 to February 2013, Joshua spent seven weeks in Nigeria with Devine, where years of meeting requirements and filing papers culminated when a Nigerian Magistrate Judge deemed the Hoods Devine's legal adoptive parents.
The only hoop left to jump through was obtaining a visa from the U.S. government. After weeks in-country waiting for a IR-3 or IR-4 visa, the U.S. Consulate (part of the U.S. State Department) in Lagos, Nigeria denied Devine a visa, citing that it was illegal for a non-Nigerian to adopt a Nigerian.
The news was heartbreaking, frustrating, and perplexing -- the USCIS had approved them to specifically adopt from Nigeria, and there are multiple cases of the same Consulate approving IR-3 and IR-4 visas to internationally adopted children to non-Nigerians in the United States.
Nigeria has a Federal system of government -- each state has the power decide adoption approvals on a case-by-case basis, determined by judge’s discretion of the best interest of the child. The Hoods were well-versed in this and met with a magistrate judge in June 2012 to ensure the legality of the situation. With no local families interested in adopting Devine, the magistrate signed the adoption decree in December 2012 and, in an attempt to make it even easier for the U.S. Consulate to approve Devine’s visa, also had a chief judge sign it as well, though his approval was not necessary for court’s approval of the adoption.
Devine was legally Joshua and Shayla's daughter by Nigerian law, they were cleared to adopt from the US, they obtained a new Nigerian passport for Devine, and were simply waiting on the U.S. Consulate to issue her visa. After the Hoods contacted Sen. Chuck Grassley and Congressman Bruce Braley, who both contacted the Consulate on behalf of the Hoods, the U.S. Consulate decided to do an investigation on our case and sent an investigator to travel hours away to the smaller community of Benin City, to speak with the judges that signed off on the adoption decree.
No one has been told what happened during those conversations, though there have been allegations from some Nigerian contacts that pressure was applied for the judges to rescind the adoption. The magistrate refused. The chief judge ended up removing his approval. The Hoods weren't told why this occurred, only that it simply "had nothing to do with them" and it was "time for Joshua to go home."
A week after Joshua arrived home, the The U.S. State Department posted a notice on its website: “Adoption and guardianship decrees from Nigerian states that lack adoption laws, and adoptions by persons of non-Nigerian heritage, may not be allowable under Nigerian law or acceptable for purposes of U.S. immigration.”
The case has now been kicked to USCIS in Ghana, a neighboring country, for them to do an investigation. The Hoods are anxiously awaiting their decision. The USCIS can either issue Devine a visa or reject the case. If they reject the case, their very last option will be to file an appeal -- a lengthly option with unlikely positive outcome.
Meanwhile, Devine still waits. She thought her wait was over, only to hear her wait was only beginning. She sobbed as she held the legs of the only father she has ever known as he walked toward his boarding gate. She wonders what she did to be abandoned, again. She wonders if she'll ever have a family. She wonders if she is worth loving. But all she can do is wait.
The Hoods are waiting, too. They've created a petition to the Obama administration via the White House to plead for Devine to be issued a visa so she can be reunited with her forever family.
We need to receive 100,000 signatures by March 28, 2013 for the petition to be accepted. Sign the petition to show Devine that she is worth waiting for.
Funds will go toward adoption expenses -- a plane ticket if Devine is issued a visa -- or attorney fees for the family to fight her case if she is denied.