In late October, Charles and Elisabeth Smith from Phoenix traveled to Borodino, Russia, to meet their prospective son, Malcom (not his real name), a 5-year-old with cerebral palsy. “This little boy just tugged at our heart strings,” says Elisabeth. “It was not a rational response, but even when I saw his picture, he looked like my child. When I got to hold him and talk to him and be with him, it was a good fit.”
After accepting his referral from the orphanage, just one step in the long adoption process the Smiths started in March, they anticipated taking Malcolm home a couple months after the New Year.
That family reunion is now in flux.
On Friday, Russia President Vladimir Putin signed into law a ban that would cease adoption of Russian children by American families.
The ban, called the Dima Yakovlev Law, throws families like the Smiths and tens of thousands of Russian orphans into the middle of a political tit-for-tat that began with the U.S. passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. That law, named after a hedge-fund lawyer who exposed corruption among Russian officials and died while in prison, sanctions Russian officials whom the U.S. believes are guilty of corruption and human-rights violations in Russia. Putin and other officials have been openly critical of the law, and the ban is part of a broad-based attempt to reduce U.S. influence in the country. The ban is named after Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler who was adopted by American parents and died of heat stroke when his adopted father, Miles Harrison, left him in a car and was later acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.