Adopting Jesús, Chapter I: Finding Joy In a Hopeless Place

Adopting a child in Venezuela is a rare accomplishment. Adopting a child in Venezuela as a gringo, is a boss-level win

Illustration by Platanohay

An airport immigration line is an unusual place to find joy. On August 9, 2023, the queue at Newark International Airport was not offering much cause for jubilation. The airport looked dreary. The line moved slowly. My son Jesús and I were ready for the trip to be over. 

The journey to the U.S. had started before dawn that morning when we left our hotel to get to the airport. The journey to become his legal father had started a decade earlier when I first saw him on an orphanage playground in Caracas. Both journeys were about to end. I was so nervous and excited that I couldn’t have cared less about the inauspicious setting.

We reached the immigration booth and handed over our passports and a heavy folder of documents. The immigration officer leafed through them as he casually sipped a protein shake and munched on gummies, which we assumed to be non-hallucinogenic. “You two are related?” he asked unironically. I nodded and politely answered questions while I waited to hear the sound that would tell me we’d made it – the sound of Jesús’ passport being stamped. We never in fact heard it. There was some shuffling of papers, a walk to the secondary screening room, a few minutes of waiting on metal chairs. They called us up to the counter, and that’s when I saw it – a bright red entry stamp over top of his IR2 immigrant visa. We’d crossed the finish line.

An airport immigration line is an unusual place to find joy.

After eight years battling to be recognized as his father under Venezuelan law, I was now his father in America. He was a US citizen. The agonizing years of uncertainty around the adoption had come to an end. For days, I would repeat the same phrase: 

It’s. Over. 

It was the indisputable end of a process that I was unsure would ever finish. It was the end of simultaneously struggling with the Venezuelan and American immigration bureaucracies. The end of a year-and-a-half separation that had left a literal ocean between us. The close of one of my life’s longest chapters. 

I’d had different expectations of that moment. I thought I’d burst into tears. Instead, Jesús and I were chuckling about the immigration officer getting gummy-cube sugar crystals all over people’s passports.

A few days later, I realized this was also the start of a chapter of my life. Because during those years, working as a correspondent for Reuters, I didn’t speak publicly about the adoption to avoid jeopardizing it. 

Now that I’ve gotten my kid out of Caracas and have parted ways with Reuters, I’m suddenly free to tell this story. This is a change of pace for an old-school reporter from the generation when journalists wrote our stories and shut our mouths. From before there were fights on Twitter (yeah, I still call it that). It wasn’t until I crossed the finish line of the adoption marathon – coughing and wheezing – that I realized how much the silence has weighed on me. And for the first time in decades, I have a chance to write a story that I’m at the center of. 

Chapter II: He Called Me “Papá”
Chapter III: Suing My Son’s Mother
Chapter IV: They Made the Adoption Possible
Chapter V: “He’s my kid. Nobody believes me”
Chapter VI: Immigrating to Lady Liberty
Epilogue: Becoming Gringozuelan

Brian Ellsworth

Brian Ellsworth with a Washington based journalist and communications advisor. He spent 18 years in Venezuela, principally as a correspondent for Reuters.