After Anxious Wait Because of New TB Rules, Va. Family Welcomes Chinese Girl

By Yamiche Alcindor
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 28, 2009

Candace Litchford paced near the international arrivals gate at Dulles International Airport on Wednesday night. She was frustrated that she hadn't been able to reach her adopted daughter's travel escort.

"Do you have the right number?" her husband, Jay Scruggs, asked while trying to contain the couple's 6-year-old son, Ivan.

Ivan, like his parents, was growing impatient after waiting more than an hour for his new sister to arrive. "Did it take this long for me to get here?" asked Ivan, who was adopted from Kazakhstan five years ago.

"Maybe we should try to go back there," Scruggs said, suggesting that the family sneak through the Customs exit doors.

A family friend quickly convinced them that that probably wasn't a good idea.

But the temptation to trespass was still strong when 4-year-old Harper Yue Ye Scruggs finally walked out of Customs and into Litchford's arms. Litchford hugged the little girl and examined the gifts -- drawings and stickers -- that Harper pulled from her bright pink Minnie Mouse backpack.

The new siblings greeted each other in kid-speak: Ivan stuck his tongue out, and Harper, unable to speak English, returned the greeting.

The homecoming, months in the making, was complete.

A month after new immigration regulations barred Harper, who had been receiving treatment for tuberculosis, from entering the United States, Litchford, 43, and Scruggs, 39, welcomed their tired and confused little girl home. The couple had been forced to leave Harper in China with an American missionary for more than two weeks until a deal could be brokered to bring her here.

Harper's arrival had been delayed by federal regulations aimed at limiting the number of immigrants entering the country with tuberculosis. In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new tuberculosis testing and treatment rules for immigrants older than 2. The policy applies to all immigrants, including foreign children adopted by U.S. citizens, and it has outraged many adoption organizations. The guidelines went into effect July 1 in China, turning what was supposed to be a simple trip to pick up Harper into a month-long nightmare.

Litchford and Scruggs then embarked on a worldwide campaign to call attention to their plight and that of hundreds of other parents attempting to bring children adopted outside of the United States into the country.

What exactly changed in Harper's case is somewhat of a mystery.

The CDC would not comment on Harper's case, but CDC spokeswoman Christine Pearson said the Department of Homeland Security can issue waivers such as the one Harper's parents think she received. According to the CDC Web site, the agency reviews medical records and provides a recommendation to Homeland Security during the waiver process. Most likely, the CDC recommended that Harper be allowed into the United States. She will still be receiving treatment for tuberculosis, Litchford said.

Harper's parents were notified last Friday that she had been granted a visa to enter the country.

On Wednesday, Harper's parents put aside the international debate to focus on their little girl's first taste of America: Burger King chicken nuggets.

The family had spent much of Wednesday preparing for her arrival. Ivan sat on the family's sofa asking questions, his grass-green eyes fixed on photos of a small, shy Chinese girl in bright tangerine Crocs.

"Are we bringing baby sister home today? What is baby sister going to do?"

A few feet away, his mother, just home from work as an architect, responded, "Yes, Ivan." She had her own worries -- "Is she going to recognize us?"

The little girl whom Ivan had heard so much about, the one he and his parents had waved to on computer video chats for weeks, was coming to live with them.

Harper's room, prepared two years earlier for the girl her parents knew they would one day adopt, would finally have someone sleeping amid its pale-blue walls. The large, bright-pink princess castle would finally have someone to sit inside it. The Mulan Barbie doll, which lay beside her little girl's bed, would finally be wrapped inside small fingers.

"It's always been Harper's room," Litchford said. The couple moved to the three-bedroom Alexandria home four years ago to begin preparing for a daughter. In June, they found out they would be adopting Harper.

Late Wednesday, Harper got her first look at her new home. She didn't say much, but she smiled as she held her new daddy's hand.

Ivan welcomed his sister with a kiss. "I love you, Harper."

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