The complicated question of Haiti’s orphans

January 20, 2010

HAITIThe devastation caused by Haiti’s earthquake has extended to some of its youngest and most powerless victims: orphans awaiting clearance to join adoptive families in the United States.

The U.S. government has already said it will allow orphaned children from Haiti to come to the United States temporarily for needed medical treatment, and on Wednesday expanded its effort.

Now three departments — State, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services — say they’ll join together to deal with what is a complicated question, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

“It is something that needs to be handled very carefully, because there are many issues involved in terms of making sure that … children that come to us are indeed orphans, until all the search and rescue is done, or other families are located,” Napolitano told a Senate hearing.

She was responding to a direct plea for help from Senator Jon Tester of Montana. Tester said five of his constituents “have completed all the paperwork to get the children from Haiti … and yet, they’re being held up.”

“I need to get a commitment from you that the Citizenship and Immigration Service, an agency within your department, will work with my office to help expedite our ability to get those kids out,” Tester asked Napolitano. She immediately agreed, and then described a complex situation. QUAKE-HAITI/

She said the problem of Haitian orphans was tragic and was likely to grow as the days pass and the number of casualties rises. But beyond that, she said, there are questions about whether adoptive parents in the United States are legally qualified for adoption. Napolitano added that many children brought to the United States need to be immediately put in the care of the federal health department and checked before they can be moved.

“So we have formed a team: it’s the State Department, it’s us, it’s HHS, as three of the big components, to really work on this adoption issue. Because we all want the right things for these children,” she said. “This issue is only going to grow over time.”

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Photo credit: Reuters/stringer (Haitian girl stands in front of a wall at the Croix de Bouquets Orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti September 5, 2006, where more than 60 children receive care), Reuters/David Denoma (One of 53 Haitian orphans carried into a hospital in Pittsburgh, Jan. 19)

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