January 19, 2010

In Wake Of Haiti Earthquake, Gillibrand Presses Feds To Help Orphaned Children, Prioritize Orphanages In Haiti For Assistance, And Ensure Haitian American Families Fleeing Island Can Leave With Their Children

Senator: Children Are Already Among The Most Vulnerable And, In Circumstances Like These, Are At Even Greater Risk

Washington, DC – In the wake of last week’s earthquake in Haiti, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today pressed the State Department to help orphaned children, prioritize orphanages in Haiti for assistance, and ensure Haitian-American parents fleeing the island can leave with their children. Prior to last week’s disaster, there were approximately 20,000 children living in Haiti’s 187 licensed orphanages, and the U.N. estimates there was a total of 380,000 orphans.

Adoption Of Orphaned Children
Over the weekend, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that humanitarian parole will be offered to children who have been legally confirmed as orphans eligible for inter-country adoption and are being adopted by U.S. citizens or have been matched to prospective adoptive parents.

In addition to the children that have been legally confirmed as eligible orphans by the Haitian government, there is a group of children that are orphaned but were not as far along in the inter-country adoption process. Senator Gillibrand urged DHS along with the State Department to work with the Haitian Government to expedite the adoptions of all potentially eligible orphans. 

Keeping Haitian Families Together
Senator Gillibrand today also urged DHS Secretary Napolitano to address alarming press reports that Haitian-American parents fleeing the county are forced to choose which of their children can leave Haiti with them. Haitian-American families have a high degree of mixed citizenship within immediate families, and many families have several children, only some of whom have U.S. citizenship. To the extent Haitian-Americans are seeking to leave for the U.S. with children, spouses or other immediate family members who do not have status in the U.S., Senator Gillibrand urged DHS to allow these families to stay return to the U.S. together.

Prioritizing Children
Furthermore, in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton with 20 of her Senate colleagues in Congress, Senator Gillibrand wrote, “As you begin to construct the next phase of the United States’ and international response, we urge you to consider the needs of orphan children.  As you well know, these children are already among the most vulnerable and in circumstances like these, are at even greater risk.  Our experience has been that a natural disaster of this magnitude can not only have serious effects on children previously orphaned, but sadly, also be the cause for additional children to find themselves displaced or orphaned.”

With this in mind, the Senators requested that the State Department:

  • Ensure these children are a high priority in all U.S. evacuation and relief plans. 
  • Coordinate with U.S. faith-based and private relief partners to help channel appropriate levels of relief to orphan children.
  • Identify opportunities for temporary care and shelter within Haiti or Haiti’s border countries where these children could be safely evacuated.
  • Develop a coordinated exit strategythat guarantees a safe, timely removal of these Haitian orphans and delivery to their adoptive families in the U.S. Specifically, leadership is needed to authorize and lead this effort, ensure that security and support is provided for these children and the entire coordinated effort.
  • Identify opportunities for orphan children to receive temporary care and shelter within the U.S.