US Helps the Orphans of Haiti

By Katherine at Legal Language
Posted on 01/29/2010
In Adoption

Prior to the calamitous January 12 earthquake, Haiti was home to 380,000 children classified as orphans. Some had lost both parents; others had been cast out by single parents or other family members who were too poor to provide for them. 20,000 lived in orphanages; hundreds of thousands more lived in poverty or were homeless. Since then, even more children have lost their families.

To accommodate the children affected by this disaster, the US Senate is pushing for legislation to make it easy for families to adopt orphans from Haiti.

The Families for Orphans Act

The legislation, which is being added to the previously introduced Families for Orphans Act, is being supported by dozens of senators and other US lawmakers.

Six senators held a press conference on January 26 to speak about the orphan crisis in Haiti and the benefits of passing the Families for Orphans Act. The initial efforts of the legislation will be to provide aid to the children orphaned by the earthquake in Haiti, but would also affect other adoption procedures in countries around the world.

Relief agencies spoke about the importance of acting quickly. “These children face increased risks of malnutrition and disease, trafficking, sexual exploitation and serious emotional trauma,” said Executive Director of UNICEF Ann M. Veneman in a statement.

However, acting too fast to place orphans with families might have serious undesirable consequences. “We remain focused on family reunification and must be vigilant not to separate children from relatives in Haiti who are still alive but displaced,” said Matthew Chandler, a DHS spokesman.

Existing Adoption Cases

International adoption is a time-consuming process. Prospective adoptive parents must complete many requirements, such as passing FBI security checks and filing paperwork with US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The children, along with their birth and identification records, are then granted immigrant visas, allowing them to come to the US.

Nearly 1,200 US families were in the process of adopting orphans from Haiti before the earthquake occurred. Many documents and other important paperwork was destroyed. When an agency tried to send a group of orphans from Haiti to Pennsylvania late last week, they were detained due to lack of official papers.

The orphans were soon granted humanitarian visas and allowed to leave Haiti. USCIS is now granting humanitarian parole for Haitian orphans on a case-by-case basis, and several US government agencies are working with officials in Haiti to accelerate the remaining open adoption cases.

What You Can Do to Help

Charities and government agencies have received hundreds of offers from American families who wish to adopt or provide foster care for Haitian orphans.

An official statement from USCIS noted that, while these offers are generous, it is best to first determine “whether children are truly orphans.” In the near future, American families may have the opportunity to foster or adopt an orphan from Haiti, but for now, the US government suggests helping by donating to a reputable relief or humanitarian organization.

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