News 4 Investigates: MO family sues federal government over international adoption issues

Published: Jul. 7, 2022 at 12:13 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PIKE COUNTY (KMOV) -- A Missouri family claims the federal government mishandled and wrongly blocked their son’s adoption, and now they’re suing in what’s become an international adoption nightmare.

Jill and Adam Trower live in Pike County with their 9-year-old daughter. For more than four years ,they’ve been forced to watch through pictures and videos as Luke, the child they’re adopting, grows up in an orphanage thousands of miles away.

“It definitely feels like a betrayal for us, we have tried to do everything correct and it doesn’t matter,” Jill said.

The Trowers wanted to grow their family through adoption and started working with an international adoption agency. The family says in 2018 the agency connected them with Luke, an infant who was abandoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“Luke was found when he was a few months old, he was just abandoned in a trash heap,” Jill explained.

“After seeing his picture, seeing him for the first time, both of us felt such a connection,” Adam added.

The Trowers said they started going through the steps required in international adoptions. One of the first major hurdles is getting clearance to adopt from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Records show in November 2018 the Department of Homeland Security approved the Trowers to adopt up to two children, specifically from the DRC.

The next step for the Trowers was getting Luke’s adoption cleared in the DRC. The Trowers claim in May 2019, the DRC approved Luke’s adoption.

From there, the family thought it would be a matter of weeks before they could bring Luke home since the last step left was getting him a U.S. Visa. They didn’t anticipate what was ahead, years of waiting without any answers.

“I don’t think either one of us even dreamed that we’d still be sitting here today and him not being home yet,” Adam said.

The U.S. Department of State investigates all international adoptions to ensure the child is truly an orphan and the adoption was done by the books. An objective of the investigations is to prevent children from being abused or trafficked.

According to the U.S. Department of State’s policy posted online, the goal is “no investigation should last longer than six months.” For the Trowers, that time was much longer, it would take them nearly two and a half years. The Trowers eventually went to court to fight for answers. In December 2021, three days before Christmas, the Trowers received formal notice from the U.S. Department of State that Luke’s adoption was denied.

The denial letter cites two reasons why Luke’s adoption wasn’t approved. The first reason the Department of State gave was that Luke may not really be an orphan.

“They said they didn’t even know where the orphanage was or if it existed,” Adam commented.

News 4 Investigates checked maps that show the orphanage where Luke lives is six miles from the U.S. embassy that was part of the investigation into his adoption.

The second reason the Department of State provided in the denial letter was that Luke’s adoption did not meet DRC laws, specifically a law passed in 2016 that banned international adoptions. However, after the ban DRC continued to approve international adoptions including the Trower’s adoption of Luke.

News 4 Investigates found the U.S. also approved adoptions after the 2016 ruling. Department of State records show since the ban the U.S. gave adoption Visas to at least 46 kids from the DRC.

The Department of State wouldn’t talk to News 4 about adoptions from the DRC or the Trower’s case. In a statement to News 4 a Department of State spokesperson said:

“Overseeing intercountry adoptions is one of the Department’s highest priorities. We are committed to ensuring that intercountry adoption remains a viable option for children in need of permanency throughout the world, in accordance with U.S. law and our international legal obligations. As a general practice, we do not comment on pending litigation. Likewise, visa records are confidential under U.S. law and we do not discuss the details of individual visa cases.”

Department of State spokesperson

“The legal process is clearly broken,” Adam said.

Refusing to give up on Luke, the Trowers decided to sue the federal government. Their lawsuit names heads at the U.S. Department of State and one of its agencies, along with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Trowers are working with St. Louis Attorney David Gearhart who works at the Lewis Rice firm.

“They’re not suing for money, they’re just suing to hopefully get our court to say our government made a bad decision,” Gearhart explained.

Gearhart says their goal is to get information from the federal agencies involved to understand why Luke’s adoption was blocked while dozens of others from the DRC were approved.

“It’s another case of a double standard where they have a rule, not going to follow it here, approved all these things in years past, not going to do it here and it’s bewildering to us,” Gearhart added.

The lawsuit claims the U.S. Department of State prolonged and mishandled the investigation into Luke’s adoption.

“They have an obligation to give us everything they considered in their decision and what they gave us initially had a lot of holes in it,” Gearhart said. “Documents were referred to but weren’t given to us, conversations happened but we don’t have records of them.”

As the Trower’s case moves forward in court, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley sent letters to the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the Trower’s behalf. Hawley’s office tells News 4 Investigates that they haven’t been able to get clear answers about what happened with this adoption and the agencies they questioned shifted the blame.

“Senator Hawley’s office is working closely with Adam and Jill Trower and the Senator has personally requested answers from Secretary Mayorkas on their behalf. We remain committed to serving their family and all Missourians seeking assistance from the federal government,” said Kelli Ford, spokesperson for U.S. Senator Josh Hawley

For now the Trowers are stuck waiting and watching Luke grow up from their phone screens.

“It’s hard to explain to our daughter why Luke isn’t home,” Jill Trower said.

While Luke has been in the orphanage, the Trowers say he’s been sick multiple times with malaria and typhoid. The family says they’re grateful they’ve been able to pay for his medical bills, but it’s all the more reason why they want him home.

“What did this child do to deserve this kind of treatment? He’s done nothing wrong,” Adam said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security would not respond to KMOV’s multiple requests for comment.