Sunday, July 22, 2001

Waiting for Alfredo

Immigration rules have prevented
the adopted 7-year-old son of Efren
and Emelita Villaros from coming
to Hawaii for most of his life

By Rosemarie Bernardo

From the beginning, Alfredo Villaros in the Philippines was intended to be the son of Efren and Emelita Villaros in Hawaii, the family says.

Because Efren is sterile, Emelita's sister, Rosemarie Rabanal-Dakis, and her husband offered to conceive a child for the couple. Alfredo was born on Jan. 14, 1994, in Manila, and the Hawaii couple finalized the adoption in the Philippines on Nov. 10, 1995.

However, Alfredo, now 7, still cannot come to Hawaii.

The U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service denied Efren and Emelita Villaros' petition twice to bring Alfredo from the Philippines to Hawaii. Reasons for the denial included the couple didn't live with their adopted child for at least two years and didn't own or maintain the property where their son resides.

The case is on appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals. Immigration officials said they could not comment on the case.

Alfredo has asked his adoptive parents why can't he live with them in Hawaii.

Efren said, "His hope is (for us) to be all together. He needs us and we need him."

A clutter of phone cards used to call Alfredo in the Philippines are piled up on Efren's dining table.


"It's been upsetting for us," said Efren, 40. "We bonded with this child.

"I just wanted to have a life here with my son ... my wife, my son and myself, three of us," he said.

According to Immigration Service regulations, some of the evidence needed to bring a child to the United States includes documents of the child and the adoptive parents residing together in a familial relationship for at least two years, a copy of the adoption decree, evidence the adoptive parent owns or maintains the property where the child resides, and documents stating the adoptive parents provide financial support and day-to-day supervision for the child. The policies are for children whose natural parents are still living.

The couple paid for Rosemarie's hospital bills during her pregnancy. Soon after Alfredo was born, Emelita's other sister, Junabeth, cared for Alfredo while the couple began adoption proceedings. Efren and Emelita paid Junabeth $100 a month to take care of Alfredo.

After the adoption was legalized, the couple filed a petition with the INS. But their petition was denied because the couple did not fulfill the two-year residency requirement.

At the time, Efren said he was unaware of the policy.

Since then, Efren and his wife took trips together to the Philippines to spend time with Alfredo. But after the cost of the trips started taking its toll, the couple took alternate trips to visit their son while the other worked. Efren is an aircraft refueler at Hickam Air Force Base and Emelita works at Burger King at Schofield Barracks. All told, the two have spent more than 30 months of time spent with their son.

The couple repetitioned, but was denied in November. The INS considers the time spent with Alfredo as visits.

Emelita has been in the Philippines since May and will return at the end of July.

Through a long-distance phone call, Emelita said, "He's suppose to be with us ... we can't do anything about it.

"We've been petitioning (for) him. They keep denying it," she said as she began to cry. "I don't know why."


"He always asked why can't I be with you," Emelita added. "I feel bad. He's my son."

The INS letter also stated that they need to provide documents showing the couple owned or maintained the property their son lives in.

A letter was sent to immigration officials from Efren's mother-in-law, Emelia, stating the couple has been renting her duplex in Quezon City to house the child. Efren said he sends $200 a month for Alfredo's needs. He also spends $50 a month for rent and $30 a month for Alfredo's baby sitter. Alfredo's 18-year-old cousin lives at the duplex to help care for the boy.

With the case on appeal, Efren said he's frustrated and plans to move to the Philippines to be with his son if a decision is not made soon.

"My son is lost. He's longing for a family," he said.

In a telephone interview with the help of a Tagalog interpreter, Alfredo said, "I want everybody to be together in Hawaii."

When his parents return to Hawaii after their frequent trips to the Philippines, "I miss them a lot," Alfredo said. "I'd like to be in Hawaii with my parents."

Vilma Braga, adoption social worker and supervisor for the Refugee and Immigrant Program at Child & Family Service, said it could take years before a decision is made. Braga said most people are misinformed about the adoption process.

They think it is cheaper and faster to go to the Philippines to adopt a child, Braga said. "In the end it costs more," she said.

Besides the financial cost, there is the emotional cost too, Braga said.

Peers may tease the child that he is legally adopted but cannot be with his parents, she said.

Also, immigration officials need to understand that the two-year residency is impossible for parents to fulfill, she said, because most parents cannot afford to leave their jobs.

She suggested the couple have the principal, teachers and neighbors send letters to the INS attesting to the child's relationship with his adoptive parents.

Overall, Braga advised parents who are interested in adopting a child from another country to do research on adoption policies.

"They should do their homework first before they start doing anything," she said.

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