Vice: How Parents are Pressured to Give up their Children for Adoption

I did not talk to this reporter, but it feels like a word for word account of my classroom lecture on this issue:


The explicit coercion of that era gave way to domestic adoption industry we have today—which is regulated by an inconsistent patchwork of state laws, unlike the federal regulations applied to international and foster care adoptions. And gradually, demand grew: By the mid-70s, increased access to birth control and legalized abortion and lessening stigma of single parenthood plummeted the supply of healthy white babies. In 2014, approximately 18,000 infants were placed for domestic adoption. In 2017, the CEO of the National Council for Adoption estimated that around one million families are trying to adopt at any given time in the U.S.

I have yet to find a replacement for the type of research the Donaldson Institute did–sadly it wound down operations a couple of years ago.

Adoption Attorney Charged in Illegal Adoption Scheme Involving Marshall Island Babies

Here and here.

A public official in Arizona has been arrested in connection with charges that he ran a multimillion-dollar scheme in which he smuggled pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to profit from their newborn babies. Authorities say Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen’s fraudulent adoption enterprise left a trail of forged documents and violated U.S. and international laws.

Petersen operates an adoption law firm. For years, he has connected American families seeking to adopt with women from the Marshall Islands — but state and federal prosecutors say Petersen falsified documents and lied about the mothers’ residency so he could enrich himself.

Federal indictment here.

Utah Charging Documents

We posted previous coverage of the Marshallese adoption schemes from the Hololulu Civil Beat. Here is coverage of Peterson in 2017

Wisconsin Speakers Taskforce on Adoption Looking at Speeding up Adoptions

Press releases: Speakers Taskforce on Adoption Membership 052919
Speakers Taskforce on Adoption 051419

Any tribal member and/or tribe can give testimony on this issue here:

Thursday, July 25, 2019
Unity School District Performing Arts Center
1908 150th St.
Balsam Lake, WI 54810
Start time: 12:00 noon
Please feel free to attend either session. If you would like time to speak please contact: Meagan Matthews at: 608-266-8551 or

We would note that one outcome of the opioid epidemic is that some groups are pushing to terminate parental rights faster, particularly for children under the age of 3. A recent law passed in Arizona attempts to do just that, and was pushed by Generation Justice, a group founded by the recent past CEO of the Goldwater Institute.

Doe v. Jesson Case (MN Federal ICWA Case) Dismissed as Moot

Here is the opinion.

After two years, the Minnesota federal district court dismissed the voluntary adoption case challenging the provisions of the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act (MIFPA) allowing for notice and intervention of a child’s tribe in the proceedings. While the court states that the case presented Constitutional questions, the proceedings were moot and did not meet the standard for capable of repetition but evading review to keep the case live. There’s a nice discussion of that standard for practitioners who have been wondering how that might work in a child welfare case.

Plaintiffs have 30 days to file a notice of appeal if they so choose.

This is the last of the summer 2015 batch of federal ICWA challenges filed. All of them were ultimately dismissed. Carter v. Washburn is currently on appeal to the 9th Circuit.

Two ICWA Cases from the Michigan Court of Appeals

Unreported Notice case (parent challenge, no indication child was eligible for tribal citizenship): In re Applewhiate

Reported case: In re JJW_Opinion

The MSU Indian Law Clinic/ICWA Appellate Project co-authored the Tribe’s brief in In re JJW.

AALS Indian Nations & Indigenous Peoples Call for Papers

The Indian Nations and Indigenous Peoples Section of the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) invites paper proposals on the following topic. How do Indian Tribes, First Nations, and other Indigenous Peoples regulate same-sex marriage, same-sex relationships, and adoption and foster parenting by same-sex couples and LGBT individuals? What role does evidence of Tribal culture and tradition, if any, play in these decisions? Additionally, what are the processes by which Tribes change their laws with respect to same-sex relationships? More broadly, we are interested in the ways in which Tribes, First Nations and other Indigenous Peoples regulate sexuality and family structure.

Please send proposals of 500 to 1000 words summarizing a paper or work-in-progress you would present on an AALS panel on these issues. The selected panelists will be invited to present their work in a joint program of the Indian Nations and Indigenous Peoples and the Law and Anthropology Section, which will be co-sponsored by the Family Law Section. The Program will be held at the AALS Annual Meeting, January 6-10, 2016. Selected papers will be published in the William Mitchell Law Review. Please submit your proposal on or before September 1, 2015 to Michalyn Steele, Chair-Elect, at Questions can also be directed to Ann Tweedy, Chair.

NICWA Press Release Responding to Dr. Phil Episode On ICWA


Portland, Ore.–On October 18, 2012, the Dr. Phil show aired an episode that focused on a disputed custody case involving an American Indian child, Veronica. The case pits a loving father’s attempts to parent his daughter against a non-Indian couple from South Carolina–the Capobiancos–and their attorneys who orchestrated an illegal attempt to adopt Veronica. The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) is gravely disappointed in the heavy slant toward the Capobiancos’ recounting of the situation and interpretation of the legal issues in the case.

Veronica’s father, who has been relentlessly vilified in the media as a “deadbeat dad” is, in fact, a loving parent and a decorated Iraq war veteran. Rather than acknowledge his right to protect his daughter from a media firestorm that has proven deeply biased, the Dr. Phil show instead allowed personal attacks on his character and speculation on his parenting–from those who admittedly have had no contact with him–to continue unchallenged. We find these attacks unsupported by court records and unacceptable.

Veronica’s pre-adoptive placement was kept secret by her mother and attorneys representing the Capobiancos. Her placement with them was not revealed to Veronica’s father for four months–just days before he was sent to Iraq. Upon learning of his daughter’s proposed adoption, the father quickly moved to affirm his rights to parent Veronica. After three decisions supporting his rights in the South Carolina courts, he has been parenting her since January 2012.

Dr. Phil and several of his guests ignored the fraudulent process attorneys representing the Capobiancos used to help them gain custody of Veronica during their unsuccessful attempt to adopt her. That Veronica is American Indian was known by the Capobiancos and their attorneys, as was the fact that any adoptive process involving her would be covered by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Instead of delving into why the Capobiancos were advised to circumvent the law, putting Veronica at high risk, Dr. Phil instead chose to rebuff the two guests with the most knowledge of this case and experience in such matters, Assistant District Attorney of the Cherokee Nation Chrissi Nimmo and Les Marston, attorney and tribal judge.

NICWA understands this case is emotionally-charged and has attracted worldwide attention. Nonetheless, we must reject the subjective definitions of what is in Veronica’s best interest that Dr. Phil disappointingly reinforced. Not only did the discussion of Veronica’s “best interest” completely discount the importance of her cultural identity and rights as a tribal citizen, it more shockingly ignored the significance of her being raised within a loving home with her father, sister, stepmother, and loving grandparents–and among a community that includes extended family and tribal members who love her. As Nimmo correctly stated, if Veronica was a non-Indian child, existing state and federal laws would have afforded the father an opportunity to seek custody of her and not reward those who violated the law.

Furthermore, NICWA firmly believes that Veronica’s best interest is not served by the continued negative media campaign currently pursued by the Capobiancos and their public relations firm. We have no doubt they love Veronica, but in this case, the ends they hope to accomplish certainly do not justify the means. Dr. Phil’s portrayal only serves to put Veronica at further risk.

The show’s characterization of ICWA was also filled with misinformation and inaccuracies. ICWA is a law that has helped protect thousands of American Indian children and keep them with their families. Veronica’s story illustrates the clear ongoing need for federal protections like ICWA for American Indian children who continue to be the victims of questionable, and sometimes illegal, attempts to adopt them out.

To learn more about how you can support the National Indian Child Welfare Association’s efforts to strengthen protections for American Indian children and families and to access more information on this case, please visit our website at