Opinion: State Department Hurting Haitian Orphans Adopted by U.S. Families. But there’s a Fix.
The situation in Haiti is dire. Last week, Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called the situation in Port-au-Prince “a living hell.” The World Food Program reports that 4.7 million people — almost half of the country’s population — are facing a food crisis. Gangs control 60% of the territory in the capital city and appear to be gaining ground despite international assistance to the Haitian police.
Unfortunately, the situation may get even worse before it gets better. That’s why I was so concerned reading Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles’ Feb. 13 story, “New U.S. parole program for Haitians leads to long passport lines, cops fleeing the country,” about the Haitian passport crisis and its effect on Haitian children with completed and legal adoptions.
As president and CEO of a national child-welfare organization, I know that children living in orphanages abroad are among the world’s most vulnerable people. There are several U.S. families that have completed legal adoptions, approved by both the U.S. and Haitian governments, but whose children are still living in orphanages because they cannot obtain a Haitian passport.
This is an unintended consequence of the administration’s Humanitarian Parole Program.
After reading Charles’ story, I joined other colleagues representing adoption agencies, adoption attorneys and other advocates and immediately sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, calling on him to take action on behalf of these children and their U.S. families.
Children who have completed the long adoption process also need a passport. But unlike regular passport applicants, the Haitian government requires an appointment to process passport applications in adoption cases. Because of the surge in demand, the Haitian government is no longer issuing these appointments. It’s a tragic Catch-22 that has left U.S. families with no way to bring their children home.
However, even if the Haitian government scheduled passport appointments for these adopted children, the security situation at the passport office is extremely concerning. Just last Friday, tear gas was deployed at the passport office, which caused the facility to be shut down.
Every day, there are more and more shocking reports, photos and videos of desperate people scaling fences, fighting with security and being beaten with batons. Despite the chaos, the State Department has repeatedly assured adoptive families that the passport offices are open and functioning. But those statements are contrary to what the Haitian director of immigration told Charles: “[W]e can’t even get to the doors ourselves.”
The U.S. State Department has the authority to issue waivers that could unite these children with their families soon, likely within a week. Passport waivers are authorized under the law, but the State Department must request them. Passport waivers were granted last fall during the Haitian fuel crisis. We’re calling upon the State Department to do so again for children with completed, legal adoptions.
Haiti faces many challenges right now, and adoption advocacy groups, adoption agencies and families stand in support of the Haitian people as they confront these problems. But the State Department’s failure to use its legal authority to grant passport waivers pits the interests of children living in orphanages against those who desperately seek to immigrate to the United States.
There is simply no rational reason for the State Department to refuse to exercise its authority to provide a safe, legal alternative to these children.
Its own Foreign Affairs Manual calls intercountry adoption “of the highest priority.” It’s time for the State Department to act on that commitment.
Originally published on February 19, 2023 by the Miami Herald at https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article272520309.html