Struggle to adopt girl suddenly eases

Sunday, June 3, 2012

“It’s a miracle. It’s nothing short of a miracle,” said Baney.

“It just doesn’t happen this way most of the time.”

After more than two years of struggles with the U.S. government that left the Baney family stretched across the globe, Grace was granted a humanitarian parole by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service in April.

The parole allows the girl to travel to the United States for medical treatments for up to two years — long enough for Baney to adopt Grace and set her on a path toward citizenship.

For the first time in a long time, Grace’s story seems likely to have a happy ending.

The story that led Grace to Tulsa is complex.

She was born June 7, 2009, in Gorja, Pakistan.

When she was 3 months old, an international adoption agency put her in Baney’s arms for the first time. The child’s Christian birth mother was dead and the birth father was unable to care for a newborn.

The child faced a dreadful fate in Pakistani institutions, Baney was told.

Baney’s efforts to adopt the girl went smoothly until Oct. 14, 2009, when U.S. officials discovered that the child’s birth story was falsified.

The birth certificate and identity documents had been forged by the adoption agency, which hired a Pakistani couple to pose as the child’s birth parents. Four Pakistanis were arrested, but Baney was cleared — she was the victim of the fraud, not its perpetrator.

Officials in Pakistan were willing to move ahead with Baney’s adoption, but U.S. officials balked. The situation was further complicated when physicians in Pakistan found that the child had a hydrocephalic condition, a swelling of her brain that could portend dreadful consequences if not treated properly.

U.S. officials rejected Baney’s application for Grace to immigrate to the U.S. for adoption and seemed determined not to listen to her appeals.

Baney ended up living in two worlds. She lived for more than 16 months in Islamabad, bonding with Grace and worrying about the child’s need for treatments that weren’t available in that nation.

Meanwhile, Baney’s son, Nicky, 9, — also an international adoption — was growing up in Tulsa under the care of Baney’s cousin and “co-parent” Dalend Baney.

Skype and prayer held the family together, but Baney said it was an ordeal filled with moments of despair.

The nadir for Baney came in March, when the Southeast Asia regional office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service rejected Baney’s appeal of Grace’s immigration visa denial.

“It’s almost as if they hadn’t ever reviewed it,” she said.

“That was a very, very, very low point.”

For about three weeks, she said, she felt practically hopeless but didn’t give up.

“There was no point that I didn’t think there would be a way — some way, some how — we just hadn’t found it yet,” she said.

Then Baney got a call from the United States in the middle of the night on April 26 — the federal government had granted Baney’s request for a parole to bring Grace home for medical treatment.

“It was thirty seconds that changed our entire lives,” she said.

“We finally found someone in the U.S. government … who saw a little girl who needed help.

“I’m just so thankful for that.”

She ran to the room where Grace was sleeping, picked her up and tossed her in the air in joy.

“It was a surreal moment, but it was one of rejoicing,” Baney said.

Within days, they were on their way home.

After 30 hours of travel, including 3½ hours in the Houston airport immigration office, Baney and Grace arrived in Tulsa.

Her son met his sister for the first time.

Her mother held her granddaughter for the first time.

“I felt 2½ years of waiting was lifted off my shoulders,” she said.

Testing for the girl’s medical treatment will begin immediately.

After six months, Baney can apply in Oklahoma court for adoption. A few months later, Grace will be eligible to apply for an immigrant visa, which would begin the process of naturalizing Grace as an American.

While nothing is guaranteed, Baney said she sees a clear path for completing the adoption and making Grace a permanent part of the Baney family and the American one.

While that process plays out, mother and child are adjusting to life in the United States.

Baney has had to readjust to driving on the right side of the road and the mammoth size of American retail centers.

Grace has had to get acquainted with the things in her new home, including a big, initially scary dog and a child restraint seat.

“She is actually doing better than Mama,” Baney said with a smile.

Grace cries out for more milk in her sippy cup and Nicky goes to the refrigerator to get it for her.

Baney smiles at the sight and says that she recognizes that the finally united family is an answer to a lot of peoples’ prayers.

“I can honestly tell you, the thought of a three-, four-, five-year process was overwhelming to me. That went through my mind, night after night after night,” she said. “When I hit the airport here in Tulsa, Grace was in one arm. Nicky was in the other arm. It finally felt real.”