After a wrenching delay of more than two years, a few American families celebrated on U.S. territory Wednesday with children adopted from Congo who were finally granted long-stalled exit permits.
There was a bittersweet welcoming ceremony at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., organized by some of the more than 400 U.S. families who will continue to wait. Congolese authorities recently approved exit permits for 14 children adopted by Americans, and for about 58 adopted by Canadian and European families. But more than 1,000 other adopted children will remain in Congolese orphanages and foster homes pending completion of a new adoption law.
At Dulles, some of those still-waiting parents were in tears, and held up photos of the children they've adopted.
Joyfully disembarking from the plane at Dulles were Jason and Jennefer Boyer of Sammamish, Washington, and their adopted sons Andre and Luke, who were offered tiny U.S. and Congolese flags by some of the welcoming crowd.
Jennefer Boyer had spent the past nine months with the boys in Congo's capital, Kinshasa; her husband flew there to meet them and return to the U.S. together for a reunion with their two biological daughters.
"I am still in disbelief," Jennefer Boyer said in a Facebook post before the flight home. "A family miracle is taking place."
The Boyers also brought with them a Congolese boy named Isaac, who reunited with the couple -- Eric and Jennifer Sands of Normal, Illinois -- who completed his adoption in October 2013.
The Sandses have two biological daughters, and they also adopted twin sisters from Congo before the cutoff of exit permits. They just missed a chance to bring Isaac with them two years ago; both parents have made several subsequent visits to see him in Kinshasa.
Jennifer Sands said her family's elation was tempered by empathy for the many other families whose adoptions remain stalled.
"This is such a bittersweet time," she said. "We are so happy and blessed, but my heart is broken that the others don't have the same reunion right now."
Among those waiting parents was Julie Massie of Richmond, Virginia, who helped organize the welcome ceremony at Dulles.
Massie and her husband, Chris, who have a 7-year-old biological son, are waiting for the chance to bring home from Congo a 6-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy whose adoptions were approved more than two years ago.
"When we were told that the 14 children were getting exit permits, we were just elated for those families -- we've all been in this together," Julie Massie said.
"But on the same day we were told that the remaining children will have to wait for new laws to be passed, and there's no telling how long that will take," she added. "That was the devastating part of the news."
Authorities in Congo put a halt to international adoptions in 2013, saying their adoption system was beset by corruption and falsified documents. The children's adoptions had been legally approved by the Congolese courts before the government suspended exit permits.
Last month, the Congolese government said it would authorize the departure of 72 children, including 14 to the U.S.
"All the other adoption dossiers will wait until the new law on adoptions currently under debate is finalized," Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba said. "Until the new law is approved, we will no longer discuss these international adoption cases."
AP photographer Andrew Harnik contributed to this report from Dulles, Virginia.