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Michigan Couple Sets Precedent with Adoption of Karen Refugees

ICC Note:

One Christian family has found their way to help Burmese orphans and started an organization along the way.

By Michael Ireland

12/11/09 Burma (ANS) — After nearly 18 months of wading through the murky waters of bureaucratic red tape, a Michigan couple have become the legally adoptive parents of eight refugee children, all of whom hail from Burma, one of the most devastated and war-torn countries in the world.

Jim and Karen Jacobson might describe themselves as ordinary citizens, but the Michigan residents have done something so extraordinary that they just may have set a new precedent in the U.S. adoption arena.

The Jacobsons are hardly strangers to the plight of Burma’s ethnic refugees, who in recent years have finally been granted approval by the U.S. State Department to seek asylum in the United States.

Jim Jacobson’s nonprofit organization, Christian Freedom International (CFI) , works extensively among thousands of persecuted Karen and Karenni Christians in Burma and Thailand.

Jacobson has personally made countless trips to the region throughout the past decade to help build schools and medical clinics, and deliver humanitarian aid and hope to a people who have been struggling in the midst of a genocidal nightmare for decades.

Hundreds of Burma’s refugees who relocate to the United States each year have been orphaned by the violent war in their homeland.

When the question arose for Jacobson and his wife, Karen, about whether to adopt four refugee siblings — who had previously received care through CFI in Thailand before arriving in the U.S. in the spring of 2008 — the challenges stretched down a seemingly endless road, one where no American had ever ventured before.

The lack of official birth records — and no real way to determine a refugee minor’s true eligibility for adoption — remains the primary obstacle in the adoption of Karen and Karenni children directly from Burma’s refugee camps, and it was the initial hindrance to the Jacobsons’ adoption once the children were in the United States, according to a CFI media release.

“One of the things that makes it very difficult to adopt refugee children is that there is no certificate of foreign birth, they have no birth record at all,” says Karen Jacobson.

“The only birth records they have are the ones that have been discovered or researched by the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees]. But if they don’t know it then they assign them a birth date, basically, because no one knows the exact day.”

It was only when a Michigan judge finally ruled, after six months of deliberations, that the children’s green cards and immigration paperwork could serve as ‘Other Proof of Birth’ that the adoption process was allowed to move forward.

In the months that followed, the Jacobsons also applied to adopt four other refugee children.

“It was clear that all of the children wanted us to adopt them,” says Karen Jacobson.

“The goal for them is to train and be educated to someday go back and serve the Karen people,” she said.

“What we didn’t know would happen is when those adoptions were finalized, each of the children were issued a certificate of foreign birth, which is critical to getting a passport or a work permit,” says Karen.

“That was a detail that we knew had to be taken care of, but we didn’t know the adoption [process] would take care of it. That was a real miracle.”

A birth certificate is also the key to applying for U.S. citizenship, which the Jacobsons’ adopted children will now be able to do instead of waiting the required five-year period without one.

As possibly the first American family to adopt Karen children without foreign birth certificates, the Jacobsons are determined to let other Americans who live in or near refugee resettlement areas know that adoption can be an effective way of not only providing a stable and loving home for Burma’s refugee children, but to give them easier, swifter access to educational opportunities and even American citizenship.

Jim and Karen Jacobson now have 12 children and reside in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

With the help of dozens of volunteers, Christian Freedom International’s ministry continues to provide housing, employment opportunities, transportation, and food and medical assistance for dozens of Karen refugees who have relocated to the Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan area.