January 21, 2010: At 11AM Eastern today, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), Department of State (DOS) and other government agencies hosted a national conference call with humanitarian organizations, child services departments, adoption agencies, state governor's offices, and others who are deeply invested in the situation in Haiti.
The purpose of the conference was to clarify the challenges and reach out to the network of organizations with ties to Haiti, in the hope that cooperation between all will result in alleviating some of the frustrations being experienced by families hoping to adopt, or finish their adoptions from Haiti.
The meeting began with a review of Humanitarian Parole, which is the status being given to Haitian orphans who were in the adoption process prior to the earthquake . It was further explained that most of these children are falling into the second category.
What became apparent very quickly was the commitment of the individuals within the DOS and CIS to coordinating and streamlining the process, and the absolute feeling of helpless for those things that are not in their control.
Everyone realizes that the situation in Haiti is catastrophic. Emotional articles and painful images of the devastation are everywhere. The reality presented by the CIS today is an agonizing truth: tremendous effort is being exerted to give even basic, emergency aid to everyone in need. There is an obvious and enormous effort to give physical and essential aid to the people of Haiti . However, there is an absolute obligation to find and assist the 45,000 Americans who were in Haiti at the time of the quake. Part of that number includes orphans who were legally adopted by US Citizens, or those who were in the process of being adopted. As cruel as it may seem to some, the governments of every nation, even one as generous as our own, when faced with a disaster will always seek out its own citizens to assist and aid, first. No one is joyful about this in practice: There are only so many planes, so much water and fuel, so few hours in a day to try to organize the efforts. In truth, governments and aid organizations large and small have just been throwing aid into Haiti over the first 10 days of this insanity. There is now a much more concerted effort happening between those wishing to help. The difficult thing to grasp, is simply that there are millions of people in immediate need. And with all of those voices, and all of that need pressing upon a few thousand brave souls, whose needs are met first? When only a tiny fraction may actually leave the country daily, who has first priority?
In the case of orphans, it is the few hundred who were all ready in the process of being adopted. Each day, the maximum number are being processed and given humanitarian aid. It was reported yesterday that the US Embassy in Haiti resembled "a large day care center", with hundreds of children inside the embassy being processed and receiving a safe place to sleep and clean water to drink. Outside of the embassy, over 800 people were gathered, each with a story, paperwork, and needs. Each needing the attention of the limited supply of Embassy workers, already processing hundreds of orphans. It was also reported on an orphanage blog that a group of 60 orphans, all under age 4 years, and having broken through the crowds of people surrounding the embassy were turned away due to a lack of space. We heard from the USCIS today that these children aree now processed and awaiting transport tomorrow. "Even in giving priority to one fraction of the people, even among them we must make a priority of the sick, injured or most in need" a CIS employee stated toda. "it isn't something anyone wants to do." Even among the most vulnerable, the weakest are sent first to the planes.
During the meeting today, it became apparent that discussing the hundreds of thousands of orphans without ties to the US was not on the agenda. "We are still 2-3 weeks from processing the last child in our current categories" stated one DOS employee. For children on the ground in Haiti, the focus must be on creating safe-havens where they can receive shelter, clean water, and an environment free of fear.
Most importantly, CIS had a message for families awaiting the arrival of their children: "Work with us." Furthermore, families should know that emails they have sent to the DHS office have been sorted (by child's catagory) and replies will begin to arrive today. The needs of the CIS and all agencies working cooperatively are as follows:
- Families Adopting (in process prior to earthquake), please use the following email address:
firstname.lastname@example.org and include the full name and date of birth of both parents adopting. On the next line, list the adoptive child's name, date of birth and orphanage name. In this way, parents and children can be quickly matched.
- Families Flying to Haiti: Not recommended, but if you do decide to go, let DHS (email above) know before you go. Confirm that your child meets one of the two categories for a humantarian parole. Resources are limited and coordinating your child's arrival at the embassy is very important for safety purposes.
- Families meeting their child at airport: Bring all of the paperwork that you have. Even if it was emailed and processed. Be as thorough as possible. Most children will fall into Category 2. Unfortunately this means that you must be designated a "sponsor" by the DHS. Depending on number of children, clarity of your documents, and number of DHS workers, this may take 2-3 days.
- Families who cannot be declaired a sponsor: Unfortunately this process has never been done before (bringing in orphans prior to a final adoption decree). "It's a work in progress". These children will be treated as (not my words) an Unaccompanied Alien Child. A UAC must go into the temporary custody of a trained, compassionate member of the Alien Resettlement Operation until sponsorship may be transferred to adoptive parents. DHS assures families that this option will be avoided if possible, but families must register and bring as much documentation as possible.
- Agencies and Orphanage Support Groups: "We need spreadsheets emailed to us". The request is for a spreadsheet or list of all children in the orphanage, DOBs, if at all possible. Something simple if that is all that can be managed.
- Church and Humanitarian Groups: If you are not currently working with an orphanage, medical center, etc. then please find a US organization that is currently involved, and work with them to offer assistance.
- To Americans Everywhere: At this time no new adoptions may be implemented from Haiti. There is no government in place in Haiti to process international adoptions. There is no plan in place at this time to evacuate children from Haiti who were not in the adoption process prior to the earthquake.
For more information, visit the Department of State website