Americans Eager to Embrace Haitian Orphans
Fifteen minutes after the earthquake shook Haiti, Jaime and Jason Stanley got the news.
The twins - their twins - were safe.
Since June 2008, the Johnston, Iowa, couple has tried to adopt a boy and girl from God's Littlest Angels, an orphanage in Petionville, Haiti, in the hills outside Port-au-Prince.
Although 6-year-olds Jean Dany and Danise survived, the Stanleys believe the twins' lives are still at risk. "As the days go on, supplies get harder to come by, and I'm afraid safety's becoming a concern with looters and riots," Jaime Stanley, 34, said Tuesday.
Hundreds of Americans who have applied to adopt children from Haiti are anxiously waiting. Thousands of others, struck by the pictures of children amid the devastation, are inquiring about adopting those who are newly orphaned.
"The phone has been ringing off the hook," said Sarah Ronan of Bethany Christian Services, an adoption agency in Grand Rapids, Mich. She said hundreds of people have called. Her agency already had 66 pending adoptions from Haiti.
Since the quake, a thousand callers have inquired about Haitian adoptions at Dillon International, a Tulsa agency, said Dillon's Rebecca Hackworth.
The U.S. government announced Monday that it would expedite certain pending adoptions: It's granting what's called "humanitarian parole" to allow into the country orphans who had already been matched with U.S. parents who have been properly vetted. Final paperwork can be put off until after the children arrive.
A flight carrying 53 orphans landed Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Most of them will join their adoptive families in a day or two.
The State Department cautions that not all Haitian children separated from parents will be eligible for adoption. "It's important to remember that in the immediate aftermath of a disaster like this . . . there are children whose parents are looking for them . . . or their parents have been killed but there are other adult family members who are very interested in caring for them," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michele Bond said.
"Everybody's going to have to wait," said Cheryl Carter-Shotts, managing director of Americans for African Adoptions, a non-profit agency in Indianapolis. She said it will take a while to re-establish social service agencies and figure out which children will need homes.
As countries such as China and Russia tightened rules for Americans who want to adopt, Haiti emerged as a growing source of adoptees. Last year, it ranked eighth among countries whose orphans were adopted in the United States.
The process can be lengthy, Hackworth said. "There's a lot of corruption and inefficiency in the Haitian agencies that have handled adoption." Her agency's last case took 26 months.
Now time is critical, and the U.S. humanitarian parole process is still too bureaucratic, said Tom Vanderwell, a board member of God's Littlest Angels who told the Stanleys their twins were OK.
"The U.S. government is asking for several different documents. It's taking too long," he said. "I don't want to see anybody die because of bureaucratic tie-ups."
Of the 160 children at the orphanage, 80 are being adopted by Americans, he said. None of the orphanage's buildings fell in the Haiti earthquake. Food and water are being rationed, he said. A board member chartered a flight to fly in medical supplies and food for the orphanage Tuesday.
Haiti approved the Stanleys' adoption in November, but the twins still need Haitian passports and U.S. visas. The Stanleys, who have two biological daughters ages 6 and 7, had expected them to arrive by June.
The Stanleys' visited the twins once, in October 2008, and spent three days playing with toys and bubbles and introducing them to Blow Pops and Tootsie Rolls.
"From that moment on, we were 'Mama' and 'Papa,' " Jaime Stanley said.
They applied for humanitarian parole online Monday night and are calling members of Congress trying to expedite the process.
"Until they can get on U.S. soil and out of the danger they're in," Jaime Stanley said, "we won't be comfortable."