To more than 20 Northern Virginia families, the news from Romania last July came as a crushing disappointment. They had planned to hold a summer camp in Fredericksburg for 18 orphans, ages 4 to 13, but the U.S. consulate in Bucharest refused to issue visas.
The families' grief was compounded when they tried to organize another camp over Christmas, only to have the visas denied again. The consulate cited a Romanian moratorium on adoptions and a provision of U.S. immigration law that bars tourist visas to "intending immigrants," even though none of the children could have been adopted during a camp.
A few of the families remained undaunted. Although they could not meet any of the children first -- a prudent step for prospective parents and hard-to-place older orphans -- they decided to pursue adoptions in Romania anyway. Now their dreams may be coming true.
This month, Romania formally lifted its moratorium, which it imposed in 2001 to reform its adoption system and root out corruption. Because of publicity about the U.S. visa issue, the Romanian government had already created an exception for the children invited to last year's summer camp, allowing the Northern Virginia families to start adoption proceedings for those children still available.
So far, three families -- one from Fairfax County and two from Stafford County -- have applied to adopt.
"We just kind of took a leap of faith and said it's not going to happen if we don't do something," said Michelle Nash, 35. She and her husband, Randy, 40, a computer security analyst in Arlington, are trying to adopt a 5-year-old girl named Madalena and bring her to live with them and their four children in Stafford County. They hope to complete the process by Christmas -- earlier if the U.S. and Romanian bureaucracies work smoothly.
They and the other families were deeply dismayed when last year's camps didn't materialize. In addition, the visa denial cost the organizers about $2,800 in nonrefundable processing fees.
"I was frustrated with our government that it wouldn't let them come," Michelle Nash said. "And I was disappointed for the children. I felt they were left hanging."
Madalena was in the first group of children the Romanian government had approved to attend the summer camp, organized by International Family Services, a nonprofit organization that helps arrange foreign adoptions. Although U.S. visas for Romanian children remain blocked by the U.S. consulate in Bucharest, the organization's Family Hope International program plans to bring 25 to 30 orphans from Russia and Kazakhstan to a month-long camp this summer. The camp, to be held at the Fredericksburg YMCA, is aimed at introducing the children to American culture and to families who may eventually adopt them.
For Joyce Schaller, a Stafford High School teacher and coordinator of the program, the camp is an opportunity to make good on a pledge to her 13-year-old son, who was adopted in Russia a year ago. Among the 15 children coming to visit this summer from his former orphanage are two of his friends, brothers 11 and 16 years old.
"It was very hard for him to leave all his friends behind," Schaller said. "I promised to try to find families for them."
Schaller said she still cannot understand why the Romanian orphans were denied visas while those from Russia and Kazakhstan were granted them -- for the same camp program run by the same agency. State Department officials would say only that visa decisions are made "on a case-by-case basis" and that different groups of orphans could not be compared.
"I just thought the whole argument was ridiculous," Schaller said. But there may have been a silver lining. Reports of the U.S. visa rejection focused attention in Romania on the children's plight, she said, and five of the initial group of 18 orphans were adopted by local families.