- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana’s congressional delegation is urging President Barack Obama to prod the president of Congo to allow hundreds of legally adopted orphaned children to join their new families in the United States.

The 11-member delegation asked Obama in a letter sent Tuesday to call Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, to press him to “swiftly and thoroughly” resolve that nation’s stalled exit permit process.

The African nation halted international adoptions in 2013, saying its adoption system was plagued by corruption and falsified documents. Those adoptions had been approved by Congolese courts but the government suspended the issuing of exit permits.

More than 400 children were adopted by Americans who cannot leave Congo and “continue to suffer hardship, neglect and illness” in their native land. It also noted Indiana has more orphans than any other state - 27 - “stranded” in Congo.

“These suffering Hoosier parents and their children stuck in the (Democratic Republic of Congo) deserve our very best efforts to unite them at last in loving homes,” the delegation said in its letter.

The White House did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment on what steps Obama might take to address the stalled exit permit process.

Fourteen of the 27 youngsters adopted by Hoosier families were handled by Indianapolis-based adoption agency MLJ Adoptions International. Executive Director Nicole Skellenger said those stranded youngsters “are spending some of their most important years of development without the permanent and loving care of their family.”

Brad and Heather Long, a Fishers couple who adopted a Congolese boy, Ethan, two years ago through MLJ Adoptions, yearn for him to join their family. The Longs have a 7-year-old biological daughter, Madeline, and they adopted their 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Harper, from Congo in 2013.

Heather Long, 32, said Harper “is very aware” that her younger adoptive brother is still in Congo and she prays every night that he will join her in central Indiana. The couple has used Skype a few times to talk with 2-year-old Ethan, whom they visited in Congo last year.

Although it’s a relief that he’s with a foster family and not in an orphanage, they’re eager for him to leave Congo and its ever-present threat of serious illnesses.

“In Congo, it’s very easy to get sick with malaria or something we wouldn’t even think about here - all in the blink in an eye,” she said. “I hope President Obama understands this situation is really impacting families all over the country.”

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