SALT LAKE CITY — A documentary making a whirlwind tour of U.S. cities, including Salt Lake City, tells the stories of kids living in orphanages abroad, waiting years for their adoptive American families to bring them home.
In essence, the movie "Stuck" hopes to bring awareness to the challenges of the international adoption process and perhaps influence change at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
"Five years ago I just came upon something that was wrong, and I'm just trying to do something about it," said Craig Juntunen, executive producer of the documentary.
Juntunen and his crew are on a cross-country bus tour — reaching 62 cities in 80 days. They hope to share information and create a conversation about adoptive families left in international adoption limbo.
"It's more than a movie, it's a movement," said Juntunen. "We're trying to create a good old-fashioned social movement."
As part of that movement, the one-night movie screenings have a question-and-answer session, along with a petition. Juntunen hopes to collect at least one million signatures to present to President Barack Obama and Congress.
"We're asking them to make children who are living outside of parental care a priority," said Juntunen, "and begin to put some resources and mindshare to the issue of how we create greater adoption processes, so we open up pathways for children to have a family."
Years ago, Juntunen and his wife adopted three children from Haiti: two boys, ages 4 and 5, and a girl, who was 9 months old at the time.
"It's been a magical ride creating our children through adoption," said Juntunen. "What I see every day is how our children are thriving."
Juntunen wants the same happiness for families looking to adopt children, particularly those experiencing the challenges of inter-country adoption red tape.
In the past eight years, there has been a steady decline in international adoptions. According to 2012 adoption totals released by the U.S. Department of State, there were 8,668 adoptions to the U.S., a drop of 7 percent from 2011 and 62 percent from 2004. Analysts expect adoptions to the U.S. to be even lower in 2013, due to the Russian adoption ban.
Juntunen said the reason inter-country adoptions are declining is because children and their adoptive parents are being held hostage by international adoption bureaucracy.
"There are plenty of children, 10 million living in orphanages," said Juntunen. "And there are countless families that want to adopt those children, but they can't because of a dysfunctional and broken system."
Juntunen said people frequently ask him why he's focused on international children when there are thousands of children in America waiting to be placed with families.
"What I say is that our sense of responsibility to children should not be contained or confined by borders," said Juntunen.
In short, he hopes all adoption programs start to get energized so more children will have families, no matter where they are born.
Sandy residents Jeff and Jenna DenBleyker agree with that notion. They adopted their daughter Yasmin Lauren from Guatemala in 2007. They're still waiting to bring her home.
"To wait two to five years for a child as a norm for an international adoption is just unacceptable," said Jenna DenBleyker.
The DenBleykers were on the cusp of Guatemala's 2008 policy change on international adoptions. The Guatemalan government changed its adoption laws in 2008 to overhaul corruption. The couple has spent more than $25,000 on travel, court hearings in Guatemala, and hiring private investigators to fulfill adoption paperwork requirements, all without luck.
"Each of those hearings, the government did not bring the documents the judge had ordered or they brought incorrect documents," said Jeff DenBleyker. "Or the judge ordered something new."
After five years of trying to prove they adopted their daughter legally, the DenBleykers are being forced to start the adoption process fresh under Guatemala's new inter-country adoption policy.
Their daughter currently lives in an orphanage in Guatemala. She's like millions of kids living in orphanages according to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), some caught in inter-country adoption bureaucracy while their American families work to bring them home.
"These are the best year of their lives," said Jenna DenBleyker. "These are their formative years and they're spending them in institutions."
The DenBleykers plan to sign the petition at the movie screen in hopes the movement will get the attention of U.S. leaders.
"What we can do to influence those countries and their politics and their legal system is limited," said Jeff DenBleyker. "But we hope that our government will see this as a priority, and in their interactions with these other governments, influence them to take an honest look at what the problems are."
The DenBleykers have hope that their 5-year-old daughter Yasmin Lauren will join them one day. In the meantime, they said ultimately standing up for these children and their adoptive families who are stuck in international adoption red tape will get the ball rolling on creating ways to bring adoptive children home to their American families.
"The love that we have for this little girl," said Jeff DenBleyker. "I don't think we have a choice but to fight for her."