I’ve been receiving lots of inquiries about how we can help the children who were orphaned by last week’s earthquake in Haiti. The answer is - it depends.
Just like any foreign adoption, an inter-country adoption from Haiti is a complicated process requiring us to prove that the child in question is an orphan and obtain an adoption decree which complies with the laws of the child’s home country- in this case Haiti.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, in coordination with the U.S. Department of State (DOS), announced a humanitarian parole policy allowing orphaned children from Haiti to enter the United States temporarily on an individual basis to ensure that they receive the care they need.
Children who have been identified as orphans eligible for adoption and who have been legally adopted in a Haitian Court or who were about to be adopted in a Haitian Court and who had established a relationship with the American prospective adoptive parents will be allowed to enter the United States on a case by case basis. If you are an adoptive parent in this situation, it’s time to contact an immigration attorney.
But what about the children who were not orphans prior to the earthquake? In order to adopt any child and bring her to the United States, the adoptive parents must prove that the child is an orphan. Orphans are those children who have been separated permanently from their parents by death, disappearance or desertion.
Children may be temporarily separated from their parents or other family members during a natural disaster or conflict, and their parents may be looking for them. It is not uncommon in an emergency or unsettled situation for parents to send their children out of the area, or for families to become separated during an evacuation. It can be extremely difficult to determine whether children who appear to be orphans truly are eligible for adoption when a natural disaster has occurred. Even when it can be demonstrated that children have indeed lost their parents or have been abandoned, they are often taken in by other relatives in the extended family.
During times of crisis, it can also be exceptionally difficult to fulfill the legal requirements for adoption of both the U.S. and the child’s country of origin. This is especially true when civil authority breaks down or temporarily ceases to function. It can also be difficult to gather documents necessary to fulfill the legal requirements of U.S. immigration law. How do we prove that a child’s parent is really dead and not laying unconscious in a hospital? How do we locate the parents of an infant who cannot tell us her name or the names of any relatives?
I expect that the United States will announce a temporary moratorium on adoptions of “earthquake orphans” until the country of Haiti has identified which children have truly been orphaned. Although we have no idea of the numbers involved, it looks like thousands of children may have been orphaned and it could take quite some time for Haitian authorities to start functioning in a way that will allow them to do this.
In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to help Haitian orphans while they wait for adoptive parents- click on the links below to see learn how you can make a donation to a reputable relief organization currently helping victims of the earthquake.