Missouri family’s international adoption nightmare moves forward in court

Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 6:24 PM CDT
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PIKE COUNTY, Mo. (KMOV) -- A Missouri family trying to adopt a little boy in what’s become an international adoption nightmare is suing the federal government and seeing their case get traction in court.

Adam and Jill Trower’s struggle to adopt now 4-year-old Luke from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been going on for years.

The Pike County family started working with an international adoption agency, and in 2018 they were connected with Luke. At the time, Luke was a couple of months old, the Trowers SAID he was found abandoned in a trash pile on a busy road.

“We have tried to do everything correct and it doesn’t matter,” Jill Trower cried.

The Trowers claim the U.S. government wrongly blocked Luke’s adoption. A recent News 4 Investigation looked at how the Trowers are suing the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security along with an agency under them, and the U.S. embassy in the DRC. The Trowers told News 4 what happened during their adoption process doesn’t add up.

In November 2018 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security approved the Trowers to adopt, specifically from the DRC. Then in May 2019, the DRC approved Luke’s adoption. The last step was getting Luke a visa from the U.S. That process requires the U.S. Department of State to conduct an investigation, which, according to its own policy, is supposed to take six months.

Instead, the Trowers waited two-and-a-half years only to learn Luke’s adoption was “denied.” In a denial letter, the U.S. Department of State provided two reasons: they didn’t believe the adoption met DRC law and they believed Luke may not be an orphan.

“We just want to know why, what did this child do to deserve this kind of treatment?” questioned Adam Trower.

The family’s case has gotten the attention of U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) who is also demanding answers.

“It is from my point of view unconscionable what the federal government has done and is still doing to this family,” he said.

Hawley has been looking into the Trower’s case for more than a year, he claims what he’s learning doesn’t make sense.

“I have asked department officials under oath about why suddenly they’re holding this up, about what the problem is, and we cannot get answers they have stonewalled us at every turn,” Hawley explained.

Hawley sent multiple letters to officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State and even used his congressional powers to question department heads under oath.

“We have people telling me under oath that they don’t really know what the status is. How is it possible? How can you not know when you previously approved it? Frankly, I don’t believe any of it,” Hawley added.

The U.S. Department of State told News 4 Investigates it can’t comment on any pending legal cases. It sent the following statement:

“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.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security hasn’t responded to multiple requests for an interview.

The Trowers hope to get answers in court where their lawsuit is moving forward. Recently the judge ordered the federal government to turn over more records, writing in an order that he had “substantial concerns” that several key documents weren’t released.

“It’s almost like they’re hiding the ball and we don’t know why,” said David Gearhart, an attorney at Lewis and Rice who is representing the Trowers.

Gearhart said currently the judge is weighing whether Luke’s adoption meets DRC law. In 2016 the DRC banned international adoptions but continued to okay them and so did the U.S. News 4 Investigates searched through U.S. Department of State visa records and found the U.S. cleared at least 46 kids to go to their new homes, all after the 2016 DRC law change.

“They’re [the Trowers] seeing other families get visas and bring kids homes and their Facebook postings and social media postings and our government was either horribly negligent, which again is scary because they’re supposed to be our eyes and ears on the ground, or they really didn’t think that DRC prohibits adoptions,” Gearhart added.

Gearhart explained they’re still waiting on the federal government to produce the records as ordered by the court.

The judge gave both sides until mid-September to refile their arguments.

The Trowers hope that means they’ll have a decision before the end of the year, knowing Luke is only getting older and continuing to grow up without a family.

“At some point, everyone has to realize there’s got to be a better way to do this,” Adam Trower said.