WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on Thursday announced a bill she has co-sponsored to waive visa renewal fees for adoptions from the Democratic Republic of Congo has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Democratic Republic of Congo suspended the issuance of exit letters for intercountry adoptions in 2013, leaving hundreds of Congolese children who have been legally adopted by U.S. citizens stuck in the country and forcing their adoptive families to continually renew the children's immigrant visas as they wait to be united. Current law requires immigrant visas to be renewed after six months, which costs families $325 each time. The Adoptive Family Relief Act would waive the fee for families whose adoptive children are unable to immigrate in a timely manner due to exceptional circumstances and would refund any visa renewal fees that they have already paid.

"Many families across the country are anxiously waiting to be united with their adoptive children from the Congo, and it is simply unfair that they face a hefty visa fee every six months while this harmful stalemate continues," Klobuchar said in a news release. "The bill's passage out of the Judiciary Committee today brings us one step closer to alleviating this financial burden for all families whose international adoptions are being held up by exceptional circumstances."

In March, Klobuchar's amendment urging the DRC to allow children who have been legally adopted by American citizens to leave the DRC for the United States passed the Senate. Last fall, Klobuchar led a letter with a bipartisan group of 181 lawmakers to urge the DRC to act on adoption reform and resume intercountry adoptions. She joined lawmakers last year in sending a letter offering to help support the DRC's efforts to follow up on the well-being of Congolese children adopted by U.S. citizens. She also signed a letter urging President Obama to personally intercede with Congolese President Joseph Kabila on behalf of U.S. families whose children have been trapped in the DRC due to the exit letter suspension.

As co-chair of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, Klobuchar advocates for adoptive families and children. She has worked closely with adoptive Minnesota families to help them bring their children home from countries such as Guatemala, Vietnam, Ethiopia, and Russia. Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, her office helped Minnesota families who had pending Haitian adoptions bring their children home.

Klobuchar has introduced The Supporting Adoptive Families Act to help provide pre- and post-adoption support services, including mental health treatment, to help adoptive families stay strong. In addition, Klobuchar authored the International Adoption Simplification Act to help siblings stay together during an international adoption and protect adoptees from unsafe immunizations in foreign countries. The bill was signed into law on Nov. 30, 2010.