A Christian couple who leads a ministry that supports persecuted Christians announced this week their successful adoption of eight Burmese refugee children.
Jim and Karen Jacobson of Michigan-based Christian Freedom International said they may very well be the first Americans to be allowed to adopt Karen refugee children who lack official birth records, which means there was no real way to determine the children’s true eligibility for adoption.
The children, four of whom are siblings, came directly to the United States from Burma’s refugee camps and had no birth certificate. When the Jacobsons had applied to adopt them, the children were already in the United States, but the adoption process was complicated by the missing documents.
“One of the things that makes it very difficult to adopt refugee children is that there are no certificate of foreign birth, they have no birth record at all,” said Karen Jacobson. “The only birth records they have are the ones that have been discovered or researched by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).
“But if they don’t know it then they assign them a birth date, basically, because no one knows the exact day.”
After nearly 18 months of legal procedures, a Michigan judge overseeing the Jacobson’s case decided to accept the children’s green cards and immigration paperwork as “Other Proof of Birth.”
Moreover, the legal adoption of the children meant they were issued a certificate of foreign birth, which is required to get a passport or a work permit.
“That was a detail that we knew had to be taken care of, but we didn’t know the adoption [process] would take care of it,” said Karen. “That was a real miracle.”
The Jacobsons, who have worked extensively among the Karen people of Burma, said they wanted to tell their story to encourage other Americans who want to adopt refugee children that don’t have the required birth certificate.
"It was clear that all of the children wanted us to adopt them," said Karen. "The goal for them is to train and be educated to someday go back and serve the Karen people.”
The Karen people are an ethnic minority in Burma. They are mostly Christian in the predominantly Buddhist country and have suffered from severe persecution by Burma’s military regime. The military frequently attacks their villages and systematically rapes the ethnic women.
A few years ago, the U.S. State Department finally granted approval to allow Burma’s ethnic refugees asylum in the United States.
The Jacobsons' organization, CFI, has worked with thousands of persecuted Karen and Karenni Christians in Burma and Thailand. The organization helps build schools and medical clinics, as well as delivers humanitarian aid to the refugees.
The four refugee siblings the Jacobsons adopted had previously received care from CFI in Thailand before coming to the United States in the Spring of 2008.
The Jacobsons now have 12 children and reside in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Their ministry provides housing, employment opportunities, transportation and food and medical assistance to dozens of Karen refugees who live in the Sault Ste. Marie area.