Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Plight of Haitian Orphans in US One Year Later

"Most have homes, but some Haitian orphans still in shelters"
By Rose Arce and Soledad O'Brien, CNN
CNN's Alsye Shorland contributed to this report.
January 11, 2011

"In the middle of a snowstorm nearly a year ago, a planeload of 54 Haitian children landed in Pennsylvania as part of an airlift of orphans stranded by the powerful earthquake that devastated their country.

They were taken to Pittsburgh's Holy Family Institute, where they were thrilled by the flush toilets, running water and plentiful food, said the institute's president and CEO, Sister Linda Yankoski.

Their stay at the facility for troubled or abused children was supposed to be temporary, just until U.S. adoptive families took them in, she said.

Wednesday is the first anniversary of the Haiti quake, and by now most of those children have moved into adoptive homes, as have hundreds of others around the country who arrived in similar airlifts.

But many spent months in federal custody -- some even experiencing their second winter detained in shelters in Pennsylvania and Florida, still waiting for their lives in America to truly begin.

"They are confused, they feel rejected, they wonder what's going to happen to them and whether they are ever going to be with a family as they were promised," said Michelle Abarca, a lawyer with the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, which is representing some of the children who were taken to Miami.

"They faced rejection in Haiti, rejection here. It's all rejection."

The children's complex legal status unfolded because they were airlifted out of Haiti in the midst of a crisis, believed to be orphans in the process of being adopted by U.S. parents. The plan was to finish the adoptions in the United States, an unusual exception to international adoption protocol.

But once the children were in the United States, it quickly became clear not all of them were orphans already matched with U.S. families. Even for those who were, completing adoptions from so far away had obstacles...

In all, the United States granted 1,090 children, including the 54 in Pittsburgh, what it calls "humanitarian parole," effectively permission to enter and stay in the United States on special visas while their U.S. adoptive parents complete the paperwork here, rather than abroad as is usually required...

About 400 children immediately moved in with U.S. families trying to adopt them, said Jeffrey Kelley, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But HHS ended up with custody of another 660 children as their complicated legal situation was sorted out. They were placed in foster homes or shelters used for children who enter the country illegally.

A string of government agencies was able to get most of them placed with adoptive parents or in foster homes in days. But a few dozen remained detained in shelters over the course of the year for a variety of reasons:

• Some children did not have firm commitments from U.S. adoptive parents.

• In about a dozen cases, the U.S. adoptive parents changed their minds and returned the children to shelters.

• In other cases, the biological parents in Haiti had not finished paperwork declaring they were giving up their children for adoption, or the paperwork was missing.

• The Haitian government slowed the adoption process further after one group of Americans was arrested for trying to illegally depart the country with children.

Eventually, one by one, all but 15 of the children moved in with families....

In Haiti, the number of children in need of new homes continues to grow, and the United States has reopened the door to new adoptions. The Maison des Enfants de Dieu orphanage featured in "Adopting Haiti" has filled up again with children destined for U.S. adoptions, this time to be completed in Haiti."

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