Dunedin family to be united with adopted Congolese son

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A Dunedin couple is finally bringing their 10-month old adopted son home from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Chris and Andrea Stewart have been fighting for months to obtain an exit permit for their son, but because of a change in policy the government initially refused to grant one.

“We are beyond blessed with the honor of being Cruz’s family. For now, we will focus on his health and where the next steps take us into caring for orphans around the world,” said Chris and Andrea Stewart.

Andrea Stewart boarded a plane this afternoon with her son and is expected to arrive in Tampa tomorrow afternoon.

Last September, the Congolese government announced they were ceasing adoptions to American parents amid concerns the children were being improperly treated or sold to same-sex couples. The move left many U.S. families in an emotional limbo where their adoptions are complete and paid for, but their new children are stuck in orphanages in the African nation.

The government finally issued a rare exit permit for Cruz Stewart after U.S. Representative David Jolly intervened on the family’s behalf. Jolly personally sent a letter to Congo Director General Francois Beya who oversees the nation’s migration. He joined another request by a bi-partisan group of 183 U.S. lawmakers asking the government to allow adopted children to be united with their families.

“The Stewarts have committed their lives to caring and providing for Cruz, a young boy who faces medical challenges. I’m happy that Cruz is finally coming home, to the loving embrace of his parents, his siblings, and his church family, and to medical care here in Florida that will give him the healthy and abundant life that every child deserves,” Jolly said.

Health care is a particularly important issue for Cruz. The infant suffers from malformations in his heart, lung and spleen that will likely require surgery or even a transplant.

Andrea Stewart traveled to Congo indefinitely to be with her son while Jolly and the family continued to pressure the Congolese government for an exit permit. She is expected home sometime late Saturday afternoon with Cruz.

The Stewart family is lucky. Many other families are still battling the Congolese government over exit permits to bring their adopted children home. Others across the U.S. have split their families so one parent can be in Congo while the other stays home with other children.

Alana and Justin Caroll finalized the adoption of two boys – 2-year old Neema and 3-year old Canaan – in March of 2013. According to the New York Daily News, Justin flew to Congo in November to be with the boys while the family awaits his release. It was just days before his wife gave birth to their biological daughter.

The American government has tried to intervene on behalf of families like the Caroll’s and Stewart’s. In April, nearly 170 members of Congress sent a letter urging the government to lift the ban on exit permits for Congolese children adopted by American families and in May, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke directly with DRC president Joseph Kabila. Despite pressure from the U.S., the Congolese government insists the adoption program needs to be reformed.

 

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.