An Iowa couple struggles to bring adopted daughter home from Turkey

Sofia Funk is a bright-eyed, cuddly 4-year-old who loves puzzles and gummy bears.

She lives in Izmir, Turkey, with her parents, Catie and Jason Funk.

Sofia’s grandmother, Davenport resident Wanda Dusenberry, described the girl as a “normal 4-year-old.”

“She’s rambunctious and sassy,” Dusenberry said. “And as cute as a button.”

In many ways, however, 4-year-old Sofia is not normal. She was born on November 2, 2018, in Turkey to a young couple who were visiting the country. Her birth was not registered in the home country of her birth parents, and she does not have a right-of-birth citizenship in Turkey.

So Sofia is a “stateless person”.

Through incredible coincidence and timing, Catie and Jason, an American couple living and working in Turkey, adopted Sofia. The story of the Funk family is one of love and determination. But it is a story darkened by the growing frustration and anxiety of the parents who cannot return home with their daughter.

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As Christmas approaches, Sofia, Catie and Jason live in a sort of limbo, waiting for the Turkish government to decide their future.

‘Miraculous circumstances’

Catie and Jason met briefly in 2009, in Istanbul, Turkey, but didn’t start dating until they were back in the States in 2012. Two years later, they were married.

“It’s a very long story and it’s too complicated to tell,” Jason said. “Catie and I had a lot of connections before we ever met and got married.”

Jason has a small software company, which allows him to travel, and the couple returned to Turkey in 2016. They settled in Izmir. Catie kept a blog of the couple’s travels through Turkey and Europe and blogged about their intention to adopt a child when they returned to the United States.

“We wanted to have a baby, and that wasn’t happening,” Jason said. “But we always intended to adopt, whether we had our own children or not. It was something we always felt was important because of the benefits that Catie and I have had throughout our lives.

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“We think it’s important because there are so many children who are born in circumstances where they won’t have opportunities.”

Jason called what unfolded “miraculous circumstances”.

“Like everyone, Catie has a spam folder for email, and one day she decided to check and clean it out and she got an email from a young couple traveling through Europe,” Jason said.

“If Catie hadn’t opened that junk folder that day, Sofia would never have come into our lives.”

The couple who contacted Catie were pregnant with a child that they did not want their family to know about because they were unmarried and could not afford to support a child. The couple did not speak Turkish, but Googled “adoption in Izmir” in English and found Catie’s blog. They wrote and asked the Funks if they wanted to adopt the soon-to-be-born child.

Jason didn’t know if the sign was a scam or serendipity.

“We knew that children are sometimes sold, and we were very cautious about what might be going on,” he said. “We were already making plans to adopt it in the United States. But we decided to meet this couple and after a while, we decided to go ahead with a legal adoption.”

Catie and Jason became Sofia’s legal guardians in 2019. The adoption process took 3 1/2 years, which was delayed by the temporary closure of all Turkish courts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sofia officially became a member of the Funk family in February. Its adoption was recognized and approved by the Turkish government.

“We’ve been Sofia’s parents since she was born,” Jason said. “She is a wonderful little girl. She attends kindergarten and speaks both languages ​​— Turkish and English. She is very sweet and kind.”

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A trip was delayed

Catie and Jason planned to bring Sofia back to the United States and relocate to Iowa in September. As she is not a citizen of any country – and therefore cannot be issued a passport – Sofia was granted a US Permanent Resident Visa by the US State Department. She will automatically become a US citizen when she enters the United States.

To enable him to travel with Catie and Jason, the US State Department issued Sofia a visa through a special form, called a DS-232, which waives the requirement that a visa be attached to a valid passport from her home country.

The Funks sold their house, got rid of everything except what they wanted most and prepared to leave.

Steve Schulman, an attorney with the international law firm Akin Gump, explained what happened next.

“Right before they were ready to go, the Turkish government said Sofia couldn’t leave the country,” Schulman said. “And no explanation was given as to why that decision was made.”

The Turkish government has no questions about Sofia’s acceptance, Schulman said. And it is not uncommon to travel on DS-232 documents.

“Sofia is not a citizen of any country right now, so she has no passport to get on a plane,” Schulman said. “She was never allowed to leave the country. But the DS-232 should allow her to come to the US

“Once the Turkish government recognizes the DS-232, everything is set for Sofia in the US”

The Turkish government has not given any explanation as to why it refuses to accept Sofia’s DS-232.

Shulman said he hoped the US government “insists that the Turkish government acknowledges the DS-232” and hoped the delay was “just a matter of government bureaucracy”.

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“The Turkish government has no interest in keeping a 4-year-old child in Turkey, especially a child who is not a Turkish citizen and has been granted a visa by the US State Department,” Shulman said.

From meeting his wife to the chance email his daughter gave him, Jason said, the world can feel like a small place. But not recently.

“Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. America seems a long way off right now,” he said. “But it’s not even about the size of the earth. Right now, we are feeling frustrated and confused. What is the question?

“We don’t know if our travel application is just at the bottom of a stack of papers that no one has looked at, or if there is a serious issue. We have no idea.”

Sofia’s visa expires on Christmas Eve. When he does, the Funks will have to refile all applications with the US State Department and reapply to the Turkish government for permission to remove Sofia from Turkey.

Catie and Jason and Sofia wait for an ID for DS-232. They live in friends’ houses, moving around from one temporary home to another. They sleep on beds and in spare bedrooms.

They are 5,661 miles from Davenport. It’s a huge distance and as close as video chat can get.

“We visited Sofia twice and FaceTimed her a lot,” Dusenberry said. “She always wants to see the Christmas tree and asks about the stocking. It would be so good to have her here. Here for Christmas. Here to stay.

“The Turkish government does not want to keep her. I wish they could let Sofia figure out this paperwork later, so they could all come home.”

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