The transcript from yesterday’s on-the-record statement by the U.S. State Department contains responses to a number of important questions related to Haitian orphans and adoption. See the full transcript here. Questions pertaining to orphans, adoption and related issues are below:
MS. BOND: … Let me just say a few words about adoption cases in Haiti. We know that there are several hundred Americans in the United States who were in various stages in the process of adopting Haitian children. They are naturally frantic with worry about the children’s welfare and want to know how that adoption can be expedited so the children can be brought safely home to the United States.
We are looking at each and every case individually and are working with officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Haitian Government to determine solutions in each case. USIS is preparing to issue a joint press release from State and DHS which will describe the kinds of cases we can assist with now and what adoptive parents should do to help us make a determination about whether their child is eligible to travel now. We hope to announce a plan for processing travel documentation for children that fall into two specific categories shortly.
Thus far, we are happy to say and proud of our Embassy to be able to say that the Embassy has processed immigrant visas for 24 orphan children whose cases were ready for visa processing. As you may know, our visa office is closed at this time because of the emergency care we have to provide to American citizens; however, visa services for adopted children are continuing to go forward.
All of the 24 children who have received immigrant visas have departed Haiti and have joined their families in the United States. These cases with completed Haitian adoptions were at the very end of the documentary process and were ready for visa interviews and issuance at the time of the earthquake. The consular section at the Embassy is ready to assist in other cases that are ready to be processed for immigrant visas.
In all cases where a visa can be processed, we will need to have the child present, but we will work with the orphanages to arrange for that.
Parents who are interested in following up on this and determining whether their own child is eligible to receive a visa and travel now can contact us at ASKCI@state.gov. So that’s email@example.com….
MS. BOND: Exactly. And we have come up with something that’s quicker than issuing a new passport. We have a procedure that allows people to travel very quickly directly back to the States. We worked that out with DHS. So not having a passport is a zero problem.
The question about what can be done to – what, in principle, can be done to assist people who are whatever stage of the adoption process, it’s extremely important to remember that the best interests of the child are at the heart of all of this, and so we do want them to be where they’re safe, clearly, and we want them to be well cared for.
But for people – for children who are very early in the process, so that, for example, we have not yet been able to confirm that the prospective adoptive parents are suitable adoptive parents, the best interests of the child is not to send them directly to those people if we have an added chance to vet. But we will be – we are working on each of these cases. We have a good-sized team of people that are focused on this to take a look at what has happened in each case, what actions have been taken by the Haitian Government, what actions have already been taken by the U.S. Government. And those actions relate to confirming that the child is truly an orphan eligible to be adopted and that the adoptive parents are suitable to adopt that child and have agreed to the adoption and so forth. And we are working closely with DHS to examine the documents in each case and come up with a procedure that might allow us to show some flexibility in view of the extreme circumstances of the earthquake.
This also requires the agreement of the Haitian Government. These are Haitian children, and so any adjustments or changes that we make to our procedures will require the approval and agreement of the Haitian Government, and we are in touch with them about that.
QUESTION: Have you been in touch with all of the parents whose children are in line for adoption? Because all of us – I could say most of our organizations on the call – we’re getting calls from parents that have already been to – like the child’s been identified, they’ve already been in the process of visiting Haiti several times to meet with them and have been in regular contact, and they said that they haven’t heard anything.
MS. BOND: Right. Well, we are going to be reaching out to those parents in order to tell them here’s what we’re going to need in order to move forward and to confirm that either we already have it or that, in some cases, there are documents that they may be able to provide to us. And we have received hundreds, thousands of incoming messages from parents. I well imagine that it’s very frustrating to them that they haven’t immediately gotten a call back from us, but what’s important for them to know is that the information that they are sending us, we are taking and putting into our own matrix to make sure that we have the most up-to-date information. Much of what they’re sending us is information that we already have in our database, but we are adding in whatever they send and we will be reaching back out in order to let people know what to do.
One person on my staff mentioned to me yesterday that she had gone through 300 messages that had come in. They turned out to be related to 16 adoption cases. I would like to just mention that we are following up on these, but multiple messages over and over and over again do not add to efficiency….
OPERATOR: The next question will come from Kim Ghattas of BBC. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you very much for doing this. I have three questions, all about adoption. You mentioned that, at the moment, you’re looking into speeding up the process for those who are already quite far down the process of adoption and bringing the children to the U.S. What about those who are very early on in the adoption process? How much of a setback is this, or will they also see their procedure speeded up?
And then would you encourage or discourage parents who are considering adoption to look at Haiti at the moment? Which leads me to my third question: How worried are you about potential abuse and fraud in the wake of the earthquake that people might try to abuse the situation and bring children out illegally?
MS. BOND: Thank you. Those are very good questions. Your first one was about how – whether the process would be accelerated for people who are very early in the process. For the most part, the – what I would give as an example of someone who is very early in the process is someone who has expressed an interest in adopting and indicating that Haiti is the country that they’re looking at but has not yet reached the point of being matched with a specific child. And so they are in the process, but there isn’t a particular child. And being matched with a child can only happen after the parents have been vetted and the child has been clearly checked by the Haitian Government and we know that that’s really an orphan. So I think people who are early on in the process should not anticipate that there will be an acceleration in their particular process because the focus will be on some other priorities, including assisting just recovery from the earthquake.
The second question was: Would we encourage Americans who are considering adoption to look at Haiti? In a very general sense, yes. But I think it’s very important to understand and appreciate that people who are seeing what’s happening and thinking to themselves, gosh, there must be a lot of orphans now, children who have just lost their parents, we should offer to help, we should take a child into our own home – that’s an extremely generous and admirable reaction, but it’s important to remember that in the immediate aftermath of a disaster like this – it was true in the tsunami, for example, and in any other example you can give – there are children whose parents are looking for them and they’ve been separated from their family or their parents may have been killed but there are other adult family members who are very interested in caring for them and are looking for them. And so the first thing you do is not to remove children from the country on the – just the quick assumption that, oh, there’s probably no one left and we’ll just adopt them out. That’s not the first solution that should be looked at for those kids.
We are, naturally, worried about fraud – that’s always a concern – but are equally worried about working with AID and others and with other governments to ensure that the children who are – the vulnerable children who are orphaned or separated from their families receive the immediate aid that they need and serious attention is paid to sorting out their status and whether they have family members left before considering is given to looking for adoptive families for them.