Press Release

Senators Menendez And Gillibrand, Congresswoman Clarke, Councilwoman Letitia James Urge Feds To Protect Thousands Of Orphaned Haitian Children In Aftermath Of Devastating Earthquake

Jan 22, 2010

New York, NY — In response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti which has left hundreds of thousands of children as orphans, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn) and Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) urged the State Department and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to help orphaned children in Haiti by clearing the legal adoption process logjam for all children who have been vetted for inter-country adoption to the United States. The lawmakers called for giving priority and safety to Haitian orphanages and ensuring that Haitian Americans families do not have to choose among their children in evacuating the island. The lawmakers gathered at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, one of the city’s non-profit organizations dedicated to helping the Haitian American community.

Senator Menendez said, “As we work with emergency aid officials to first and foremost ensure that all Americans in Haiti are located, there is also another population of earthquake victims who deserve special attention: the Haitian orphans who were due to be united with American families and are now facing extreme danger. In the face of the horrific, unimaginable suffering amid the ruins in Haiti, we must take the necessary steps, in the name of all that is human and decent, to help families save the orphans of Haiti who have been waiting for their adoptive parents. These parents, waiting and worrying here in the United States, can think of nothing else right now but making sure these children are safe and can be united with their new families immediately.”

“The extreme loss of life in Haiti is heartbreaking and tragic,” Senator Gillibrand said. “My thoughts and prayers are with the New York families who have lost loved ones. Many of these families have experienced far too much anguish already. We must do everything we can to help Haiti’s most vulnerable, clearing bureaucratic hurdles for orphaned children already in the legal adoption process while reuniting family members with children orphaned by the quake.”

Council Member Letitia James said, “My office has received many calls from people who are so moved by Haiti’s tragedy that they want to adopt an orphaned child.  My understanding is that a number of orphanages have been damaged, and sadly numerous children are now sleeping outside and going without food and water.  Therefore, I wholeheartedly support the U.S. government in fast-tracking hundreds of visas for children whose adoptions are already being processed.  I want to stress that adoption is a lifetime commitment, and for those families who are certain they want to adopt a Haitian child, we will do all we can to help make this happen.”

Adoption of Previously Orphaned Children
New York parents who have adopted orphaned children in Haiti are filled with worry, not knowing whether or not their children are safe. The widespread loss of important documents has caused delays for many of the estimated 900 pending adoption applications.

The lawmakers praised the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for offering humanitarian parole 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.

Among the children who are confirmed as eligible orphans, there is a group of orphaned children who are not as far along in the inter-country adoption and vetting process. The loss of evidence of their eligibility in the devastation following the earthquake should not keep families apart. The elected officials  called on DHS and the State Department to work with the families and the licensed adoption agencies in Haiti and the U.S. to complete all of the appropriate vetting as quickly as possible in order to unite Haitian orphans with prospective American families, while ensuring that children with existing Haitian families are not mistakenly taken from Haiti.

Keeping Haitian Families Together
Many families in the large Haitian community in New York City have family members in Haiti. The lawmakers urged DHS Secretary Napolitano to address alarming press reports that Haitian-American families leaving 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., the elected officials urged DHS to allow these families to return to the U.S. together. 

Prioritizing Children
Prior to last week’s first devastating quake, 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.

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 elected officials 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.