Ryan and Francheska Grogan couldn’t have any more children on their own, so they decided to adopt.
Ryan, a Navy lieutenant, was stationed in Japan. The Grogans found an agency there that specialized in international adoption and added two Japanese boys to their family – both with Down syndrome.
Now the Grogans are in Hawaii with their five children, but living under a cloud. Last month, a federal agency rejected the visa application for the two Japanese boys they adopted.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says the Grogans failed to prove that they adopted the boys from an agency rather than directly from the birth parents, which would have violated an international agreement on adoptions and federal law.
The Grogans now face the prospect of the boys being deported after their medical visas run out Dec. 2.
It’s a frightening possibility, because a doctor told the Grogans it would be dangerous for the older boy, Asher, to fly to Japan because of a serious heart condition.
Unless they prevail in an appeal or get a different type of visa, the family could be separated.
“Are we going to have to split up, one half of the family in Japan, the other half in Hawaii?” asked Ryan Grogan, based at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe. That would be particularly painful for his three older children.
“My kids know them as family,” Grogan said.
The Grogans also are racking up legal fees and other costs trying to prove that they properly adopted the boys.
“It’s difficult,” Grogan said.
When the Grogans first decided to adopt, they were not necessarily looking for babies with special needs. But in Japan, they met a 3-year-old girl with Down syndrome. She was the adopted younger sibling of one of the teenagers in the youth group that Ryan Grogan led.
He remembers the girl as the happiest person he’d ever met. After she was introduced to him, she clung to him. The next day, they contacted the agency, telling them they were interested in children with special needs, specifically Down syndrome.
“We knew that was the path we needed to go,” he said.
They adopted Asher from the agency in early 2016, when he was 3 months old. His biological parents were unable to support him and had left him with the agency, Ryan said.
The Grogans retained a team of social workers from California to fly to Japan to do a so-called “home study” – a review of the family to assure that they would provide a good home to the children.
That step may turn out to be particularly important in winning their case. If the Grogans had adopted directly from Japanese birth parents, they would not have needed to go to the expense and trouble of commissioning a home study.
Shortly after they adopted Asher, he started having respiratory problems. It turns out he had serious heart defects that were causing blood to leak into his lungs. He underwent a quadruple bypass on Thanksgiving day of 2016, and the Grogans hoped that would be the end of it.
In the meantime, they decided to adopt a second child. The agency told them it had another baby with Down syndrome and asked if they were interested. “We said, ‘Of course,’” Ryan recalls.
They adopted the second boy in June 2017, naming him Wrigley in honor of the home of Ryan’s beloved baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. A month later, Ryan learned he was being transferred to Hawaii and the family started navigating the difficult process of getting visas for the boys.
At first, they got a visa that allows 90 days of travel in the U.S. Francheska returned to Japan once to reset the 90-day visa.
In February, the Grogans arranged for the two boys to have tubes inserted in their ears in Hawaii to address hearing problems. Wrigley did fine, but Asher had a hard time waking up from sedation. It turned out that the right side of his heart was more than double normal size because of the strain on his lungs. He was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension and had to spend 10 days in the intensive care unit.
Doctors said it would be unsafe for him to fly.
Immigration officials extended the medical visas for both boys to a year after their first arrival — Dec. 2.
In May, the Grogans applied for a visa that allows an orphan to be classified as an immediate relative. A couple of months later, Citizenship and Immigration Services asked for more evidence proving the boys were truly orphans.
The Grogans sent the statements from the Japanese birth parents, in the files of the adoption agency, consenting to the adoption.
In September, the federal agency said the evidence wasn’t good enough to comply with the definition of an orphan in the Immigration and Nationality Act.
It “clearly indicates that both of the child’s birth parents are alive and that they directly relinquished the child to you,” the letter stated. “No evidence was submitted to prove that the birth parents abandoned their child to a third party…”
The problem seems to be that the releases signed by the birth parents don’t mention the agency.
“It was a form that they signed,” said Amanda Ulrich, an attorney who has helped the Grogans with their case. “Had it said, ‘We release the child to the agency and consent to the adoption,’ it wouldn’t be an issue.”
The Grogans can appeal the decision or seek a different type of visa that allows the entry of an alien relative of a U.S. citizen. They are also seeking to extend the medical visas for the boys and are scheduled to meet with immigration officials in Honolulu on Monday.
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