Children Separated from Their Families Should Go Back to Their Families, Not a Fake Clinic Network’s Foster System

| Reproaction

By: Shireen Shakouri

The Department of Homeland Security’s handling of refugees, asylees, and immigrants on the US-Mexico border has been atrocious for some time. [1] But in recent weeks, this administration decided to double down on its cruel legacy of tearing families of color apart, [2] using children as a pawn in a defective immigration reform plan that revolves around a costly, useless wall and the further criminalization of brown and Latinx bodies.

The silence from mainstream pro-life organizations on this issue has been deafening, and the conservative hand-wringing over “rule of law” and the legal implications of crossing the border [3] is a shameful distraction from the issue that should be as plain as day: separating parents and children seeking refuge is indefensibly inhumane, full stop.

There is one pro-life organization, however, that is involved and in fact speaking out against Trump’s policy, with numerous appearances in press on this issue. It also happens to be a group heavily involved in placing children torn from their families into foster homes. Chris Palusky, president of the pro-life adoption and foster agency Bethany Christian Services, was quoted in mid-June criticizing the Trump administration’s policy: “It’s horrible that children are being used as a tool to keep people from coming to the U.S.” [4] Bethany is an international adoption agency with one of the largest networks in the world and likely the largest in the U.S. to facilitate adoption, foster care, and maternity housing. Their international arm has a presence in 12 countries, and they run at least 118 crisis pregnancy centers – anti-abortion fake clinics – in 36 states and D.C., facilitating adoptions through their fake clinics, maternity homes, and contracted work with state and local foster care systems.

While Bethany criticizes Trump, however, they’ve actively lobbied for laws that separate birth parents from children, stripping rights from birth parents in the adoption process. Bethany’s lobbying arm has worked at the state level to reduce the rights of birth mothers. In Michigan, they have found ways to close windows for women to change their minds about relinquishing, reduce paternity rights of biological fathers, and give adoptive parents more recourse in adoption agreements against biological parents to change terms, such as mandating fewer or no visits and updates on the child’s development over time. [5 -7] This all serves Bethany’s model to make adoption more attractive to birth parents and increase their revenues – reported at a mind-blowing $97,020,489 in 2015. [8] Bethany has also written and backed legislation that would facilitate the expansion of their businesses overseas – a business that, at times, has adopted out children who weren’t orphaned or relinquished at all, but in fact kidnapped or trafficked for profit. [9]

What else does Bethany do? Reportedly, they discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. And they get millions in taxpayer dollars yearly for their work. [10]

In March of this year, Philadelphia halted foster and adoption placements through Bethany to investigate whether they violated the Fair Practices Ordinance, a city policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Bethany and one other agency receive $3 million from the city yearly for foster care reimbursement. [11] There have been complaints in other states as well that Bethany declined same sex couples’ adoption applications because of their Christian principles. [10-12] The Nation published an investigative report in 2009 on how some Christian adoption agencies cooperate with fake clinics to push “shotgun adoptions,” detailing abuses, coercion, and emotional manipulation of birthmothers at the hands of Bethany and others. The piece tells the story of one woman who was coerced into giving up her baby then shamed for having gotten pregnant in the first place, and another who Bethany lied to about the window in which she could change her mind about the adoption she regretted, but she learned too late that she could have contested it. They then denied her counseling and she stopped receiving updates on the child after age 5, though she expected to until age 18. [7]

During 2015 and possibly up until early 2016, a company called Copley Advertising contracted with Bethany Christian Services to provide geofencing technology to their fake clinics: the sophisticated mobile surveillance techniques used to capture consumers interested in buying certain clothes, gadgets, or any of the other products typically advertised online. [13, 14] Instead of hip accessories, though, they sent advertisements for their fake clinics to ‘abortion-minded women’ who were either close to or had already entered the waiting rooms of women’s reproductive health clinics. The Massachusetts Attorney General barred Copely from using geofencing near medical facilities as of April 2017, but the reach of the program advertised at least 114 crisis pregnancy centers and reached over 10,000 users. [15]

This organization is now in charge of some of the most vulnerable people in the country: undocumented immigrant children forcibly removed from their parents. In response to the crisis, Bethany, which has a contract with the federal government to coordinate foster placements for about 100 migrant children in Michigan and Maryland, is planning to expand to several other states. “We don’t want to have to ramp up,” said Palusky, “We would prefer these kids stay with their families; they should not be separated. But being in a loving foster home is better than being on a military base.” [16]

And this is probably true. However, it’s hard to believe that an organization with Bethany’s history and financial interest in expanding fostering and adoption is solely concerned with the welfare of children separated from their families by the Trump administration. They claim to be facilitating contact through letters between children and their detained parents, but they’ve had trouble locating some. [4] Our priority as a nation should be reuniting these families: Will an organization like Bethany help towards that goal or add more roadblocks? Is their press tour airing concerns for these children and condemnation of the administration’s policies an effort to change public perceptions of their work in light of movements like #ExposeFakeClinics and the End The Lies campaign?

Let me be clear: This is not an admonishment of foster parents or anyone who opens their home to people in need, nor of faith groups standing in the gap when the government and fellow humans refuse to or are unable to act. But the brutality at the border needs a better solution than foster services from a provider that has pushed its own cruelties on families. Some may see Bethany’s role in this heartbreaking situation as harm reduction, but what we need is harm elimination – and we have the power to demand it. We must demand it.


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