An agency run by a Texas lawyer who was the subject of a Civil Beat investigation into black market Marshall Islands adoptions has been suspended by the organization that accredits international agencies.

Five days after Civil Beat’s June story focusing on attorney Jody Hall, the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity suspended her agency, Adoptions International, pending “additional review,” according to an announcement on the U.S. State Department website. IAAME is the sole organization authorized by the federal government to screen international agencies, as required by law.

The story showed that Hall was arranging adoptions that involved birth mothers flown in from the Marshall Islands, through Hawaii, in defiance of a treaty between the two nations. She told clients that she had done it repeatedly.

“We placed 3 in the past 3 weeks,” Hall wrote in an email to one client. She wrote prospective adoptive parents that it was legal to pay for Marshallese women to fly to the U.S. for adoptions, an interpretation at odds with those of the Marshallese government and the State Department.

A child plays near an under-construction sea wall in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands.

Jessica Terrell/Civil Beat

Despite IAAME’s action against Hall, however, she remains in good standing with the Texas department that licenses adoption agencies and the state’s bar association.

“It is my understanding there have been no allegations of abuse or neglect, or violations of state standards, at that agency in over 10 years,” a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission wrote in an email.

Hall must cease all international adoption cases and transfer current ones to another agency. The lawyer in the past has declined to speak to Civil Beat and did not return a phone call Tuesday. Her website has been taken down.

Accreditation A Legal Requirement

The United States is a party to The Hague international adoption convention, a 1993 agreement to assure ethical adoptions between countries. A federal law passed in 2000 implemented the convention. It required U.S. citizens adopting from other countries that were also parties to work with an accredited adoption agency. That was followed by the Universal Accreditation Act of 2012, which required U.S. citizens to use accredited agencies even if they are adopting from a nation not a party to The Hague convention, such as the Marshall Islands.

The laws impose criminal and civil penalties on agencies that line up international adoptions without accreditation.

Kim Loughe, the executive director of the IAAME, did not answer questions about how long the organization’s investigation will take, but said the agency gives priority to those involving the safety of children. It can cancel the accreditation or require an adoption agency to take corrective actions.

She declined to answer questions about Hall’s case, citing confidentiality laws.

The day after Civil Beat published its story about Hall, an IAAME worker emailed the reporter saying she wanted to talk to Adoptions International clients quoted in the story. The reporter provided the clients with the investigator’s contact information.

Two of those clients told Civil Beat that they worked with Hall to adopt from Marshallese birth mothers already living in the U.S., which is legal. But when the adoptions fell through, they said, Hall presented a Plan B — flying in a birth mother living in the Marshalls.

Heather Ottinger, for instance, said Hall offered to match her with a birth mother living on the island of Ebeye and said she and her husband would have to cover the airfare.

Another client, who requested anonymity, said Hall offered her a baby born in the Marshall Islands. “It takes about 10 days to 2 weeks to get the govt papers for the baby to travel,” Hall texted the client.

When this client expressed concerns that the birth mother would back out, Hall responded, “It’s easier to control these because we buy the tickets. That way they can’t change the tickets.”

This client’s fees included money paid to “helpers in Honolulu” who would pick up the Marshallese birth mothers at the airport and take her to a hotel for the layover.

Treaty Ignored

Hall wrote that “it’s hard to grasp the reality of the level of poverty these people live in …We placed a child two weeks ago and the adoptive family paid for the bmom (birth mother), bfather, 2 children under 4 years and baby to come here. The birth family showed up with only one backpack full of belongings.”

Hall told some clients she worked with a woman in the Marshall Islands who helped birth mothers get documents and go to government appointments.

She also worked recently with Justin Aine, a well-known fixer who in March was charged in the Marshall Islands with human trafficking for his alleged role in facilitating adoptions.

Hall appears to be a recent entrant into the business of Marshallese adoptions. In a series published in November, Civil Beat documented how a handful of U.S. lawyers ignore a treaty between the two nations to fly women to the U.S. for adoptions. Reforms were enacted two decades ago in response to exploitation of Marshallese birth mothers.

The Marshall Islands has a long tradition of informal “child sharing” in which children move between homes and parental rights are never terminated. Many Marshallese women who place children for adoptions in the U.S. mistakenly believe they will be guaranteed continued contact with their children or that they will return to them as adults.

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