Passport rush blamed on US policy stalls adoptions in Haiti


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Dozens of children trapped in orphanages across Haiti, unable to leave The country is becoming more and more unstable and start a new life with adoptive parents because the change of US policy has liberated hurry to get a passport at Haiti’s main immigration office.

US President Joe Biden announced last month that the US would accept 30,000 people a month from Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela if they pass a background check and have an eligible sponsor and household. mat for travel.

Demand for Haitian passports then overwhelmed the Haitian passport office in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where daters were unable to squeeze through aggressive crowds or land new appointments.

Meanwhile, adoptive parents said the US State Department had refused to issue passports because they were worried their children would not be able to cope with famine, cholera or gang violence.

Bryan Hanlon, a postal inspector who lives with his wife in Washington, said: “It’s so frustrating.

They became the legal parents of Peterson, 5, and Gina, 6 last year and fear they won’t be able to secure passports for the children and get them out of Haiti, which has spiraled into a spiral. going down since July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

Last year, the number of reported kidnappings in Haiti rose to 1,359, more than double the previous year, and 2,183 homicides were reported, up a third from 2021, according to the United Nations. Gangs are also raping women and children At an alarming rate, officials say, including those as young as 10 years old.

Armed groups attacked more than a dozen schools and set one on fire, killing a student and kidnapping at least two teachers, according to UNICEF statistics released on Thursday.

Haiti is also fighting a deadly cholera outbreak and hunger spiked.

Last year, 5-year-old Peterson became malnourished and had to be taken to a hospital for treatment for several months.

Then in October, the two brothers had to flee an orphanage with a caretaker when gangs raided the neighborhood, killing dozens of civilians and burning homes. Violence erupted as gangs scrambled for territory, leaving tens of thousands of Haitians homeless.

“It was the worst day of our lives,” Hanlon said. “We don’t know if they’re alive or dead.”

With the orphanage abandoned due to violence, the children were taken by one of their carers to her home in southern Haiti, where they remain, he said.

Hanlon said he and his wife send money to carers, but “there are days when there is no food to buy or no fuel to cook”. Other times, she couldn’t get out of the house to pick up the money because it was too dangerous, he said.

Brooke Baeth, an elementary school speech therapist in Minnesota, understands fear and frustration. She and her husband became the legal parents of a 5-year-old girl in Haiti nearly a year ago, but they do not know when they will be able to meet her.

In late January, her daughter and carers flew from an orphanage in northern Haiti to Port-au-Prince only to meet a huge crowd at the immigration office. Baeth said that although they had an appointment, they were not able to go inside, as well as some of the office’s employees.

“It is devastating,” she said, adding that like the Hanlons, they were unable to obtain a passport waiver from the State Department. “It seems our voices are not being heard.”

A spokesperson for the State Department said international adoptions are one of the agency’s highest priorities and that the agency uses all appropriate tools to identify and overcome barriers.

A spokesperson said: “We understand that it is currently very difficult for prospective adoptive parents to obtain a Haitian passport. “We remain committed to helping prospective adoptive parents navigate the complex journey of international adoption. We will continue to work with the Haitian government on this matter.”

Hanlon notes that they are the legal parents of Gina and Peterson, not prospective adoptive parents.

He shared emails with the Associated Press in which the US government denied his request for an exemption by noting that both Haiti’s immigration office and the Interior Department were open and the waivers were open. except passports are only used for a specific case. -case basis and as a last resort.

Ryan Hanlon, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. National Council on Adoption, who is not related to Bryan Hanlon, said in a phone interview that State Department guidance calls for Officials prioritize adoption cases.

“Can we even say we prefer to apply when we have legal options that we choose not to use?” he say. “Children’s safety is the concern here.”

With overcrowding going on at Haiti’s main immigration office, government officials recently opened two temporary offices in a gym and a football field elsewhere in Port-au. -Prince. They also run a schedule that sets aside specific days for groups that include women and the elderly. Saturday was reserved for children.

Officials say they don’t know how many Haitian children are in this condition, but two of the 11 U.S. agencies that are the main providers of adoption services in Haiti say dozens of children become adults. Their growth is affected and the number is growing. Between 2016 and 2020, Haitians adopted 827 children, according to the most recent US State Department statistics. Only 96 children will be adopted in 2020, down from a high of 227 in 2017.

At one adoption agency, Colorado-based A Love Beyond Borders, at least 13 children in Haiti have been adopted but were unable to apply, said Stephanie Thoet, the agency’s Haiti program coordinator. passports in the context of a growing backlog of processing.

She noted that not even the Haitian Ministry of Interior could access the passport office to manually transfer the files of adopted children and was worried about officials being killed or kidnapped by gangs. as they go back and forth with paperwork that takes years to complete.

She said: “I was so scared every time they went.

At another agency, Utah-based Wasatch International Adoption, at least a dozen children who have been adopted are unable to obtain passports and children, said Chareyl Moyes, director of the agency’s Haiti program. This number is increasing.

“The situation is terrible,” she said, adding that she was worried about a child or caregiver being killed. “Do we want to wait until then?”

Baeth said it was hard for her daughter to understand why it took so long to be together. They told her how much she meant to them and sent her pictures of the snow, prompting her to excitedly ask if she could eat it. The girl, who wants to be a unicorn rider when she grows up, has sent them videos of her doing acrobatics and somersaults.

Hanlon said his daughter knew what was going on: “She understands enough to feel frustrated.”

He recalled how upset Gina was one day and told her carer: “I don’t want to talk to them via video anymore. I want to talk to them face to face.”

His son, however, is younger.

Hanlon said when the boy was told he couldn’t go to certain parts of Haiti, he told the other kids not to worry and reassured them: “My dad is like Superman. He will fly down and kill the bad guys.”

Hanlon paused as his voice cracked.

“Some days, I feel like I’m letting him down.”

This story was first published on February 9, 2023. It was updated on February 10, 2023 to remove a mention of UNICEF saying that 1 million children in Haiti are out of school. UNICEF withdrew its estimate, saying it did not have enough evidence to support this figure.


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