Yoder adds, "I probably shouldn't blame DIF. It's the way the laws are set up, the way they're applied, how confusing the laws are and how one region interprets them one way and another region interprets them another way. It's just a mess."
"It wasn't like this many years ago," says Adan Maldonado, a Tijuana lawyer who coordinates adoptions as part of his 30-year law practice. "There weren't so many requirements. The first one that I did, it was about 20 years ago, and you just had to show a medical examination, show that you don't have any psychological problems, that you are at least 17 years older than the child, show what your income was, and have witnesses saying that it would benefit the child. That was it. But people took advantage of how easy it was, sometimes in bad ways. There was child prostitution, organ traffic, and everything like that. So, like everything else in life, adoption became very complicated.
"Now," Maldonado continues, "you would have to go to the immigration officer and then the Mexican State Department. You would have to obtain, first of all, your legal residence in the country, then you would have to go to the State Department for your visa and especially the visa for the child should be obtained in Mexico City. And the gateway to cross legally with the child is through Ciudad Juárez, which is opposite of El Paso, Texas."
"That's because," Brent Yoder explains, "the [U.S. State Department] only allows certain places to process the adoption petitions. Another example: I do adoptions out of Russia and Kazakhstan. And if you're adopting in Kazakhstan, you can't just fly back home with the child. You have to exit through the U.S. Embassy in Moscow."
"It would be one thing," Yoder complains, "if it were predictable and you could guarantee that you would get the child when it was all over."
As it is, prospective parents have no certainty that they'll be rewarded with a child when they've jumped through the last hoop held up by DIF. That's why, when his clients are set on Mexico, Yoder recommends private-arrangement adoptions. "I steer them toward private-arrangement infant adoptions. I tell them that they need to adopt a newborn before [the baby] gets into the DIF system."
That process involves working with a Mexican lawyer to help find the child and secure all the necessary court clearances and documents for the adoption. Though easier than an official DIF adoption, Yoder warns that there are dangers in private adoptions in Mexico. "You have to be very aware of the attorneys that you work with, because there are lots of disreputable attorneys and other attorneys who simply lack knowledge of the international system. They may end up accomplishing adoption, but then the child can't be immigrated. I've had a number of people who have lost children they were trying to adopt down there. They either could not get the adoption completed, or they completed the adoption in Mexico but could not bring the child back. That happens frequently, and most of the time it happens through ignorance [on the part of the attorney] of international adoptions."
Yoder explains, "You need to have approval from the INS to bring the child back, and you need to have it beforehand. And the child has to meet what's called the 'orphan standard,' which means he has to be legally considered an orphan in Mexico. You have to have that document [which DIF issues]. Without it, you can't bring the child back."
Aside from an attorney's knowledge of international adoption proceedings, another worry, Yoder says, is ethics. "I know that in the Mexican system, a lot of things that would look like corruption to us are for them the way they've done business for a long time. For instance, a lot of times they won't tell you no or yes, or they won't give you all the information you need until you give them more money. Americans would see it as corrupt, and they see it as just the way that they operate. Still, overall you do need to worry about corruption. People have gone down there and gotten halfway through an adoption and then have gotten extorted for more money. That happens -- not just in Mexico but in a lot of countries -- to people who go on their own and try to do independent adoptions. They'll get partway through the adoption and then the attorney will say, 'Oops, I need $10,000 more.' My first adoption in Mexico was with a family who had gone down on their own. They went down regularly to Tijuana, and they had contacts there. He was an attorney here, and he felt like he could negotiate an independent adoption on his own. They came to me after the fact, when they realized that he couldn't get past immigration. He came to me for help in dealing with the INS. He told me his adoption ended up costing him about $40,000 because he got extorted. At some point, to avoid the extortion, all you can do is give up the child and back out."
Yoder works with an attorney in Tijuana whom he trusts, and the three Mexico adoptions he averages per year have been going smoothly. He says hopeful parents wishing to adopt in Mexico should expect to spend $18,000 to $19,000 for everything. To those who think that sounds high, he says, "Actually, that's a pretty reasonable price compared to world standards. It's a really time-intensive, very difficult process doing international adoptions. If you adopt an infant from Russia, you're looking at $26,000 to $36,000. Guatemala is going to be $30,000. So, actually, on world standards, especially considering how complicated they are and how expensive they are, Mexico tends to fall towards the lower end of cost. The lowest would be probably an adoption in India, which would be maybe $14,000 or $15,000."
But though Mexico is a relative bargain for international adoptions, Yoder says the hassle and unsurety makes it a less-desirable option than other nations. "There are much more stable adoption programs in other countries. In Latin America, Guatemala has a much better program because you can predict it. You know what's going to happen."