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Passport rush blamed on US policy stalls adoptions in Haiti

San Juan, Puerto Rico — Dozens of children are stuck in orphanages across Haiti, unable to leave the increasingly unstable country and start new lives with adoptive parents, as a change in US policy has sparked a passport rush to the main Haiti immigration office.

US President Joe Biden announced last month that the United States would accept 30,000 people a month from Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela if they passed a background check and had an eligible sponsor and a passport. for traveling.

The resulting demand for Haitian passports has overwhelmed Haiti’s passport office in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where people with appointments can’t squeeze through the aggressive crowds or get new appointments. -YOU.

Meanwhile, adoptive parents say the US State Department has refused to grant passport waivers because they fear their children will succumb to starvation, cholera or gang violence.

“It’s infuriating,” said Bryan Hanlon, a postal inspector who lives with his wife in Washington.

They became the legal parents of Peterson, 5, and Gina, 6, last year and fear they will not be able to obtain passports for the children and get them out of Haiti, which has been on a downward spiral since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

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

The country is also battling a deadly cholera epidemic and a spike in famine.

Last year, 5-year-old Peterson suffered from malnutrition and had to be taken to a clinic, where he was treated for a few months.

Then in October, the siblings had to flee the orphanage with a caretaker as gangs attacked the neighborhood, killing dozens of civilians and burning homes. The violence that erupts as gangs fight over territory has left tens of thousands of Haitians homeless.

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

With their orphanage abandoned due to violence, the children had been taken by one of their caregivers to her home in southern Haiti, where they remained, he said.

Hanlon said he and his wife send money to the caretaker, but “some days there’s just no food to buy or no fuel to cook it with.” Other times she can’t leave the house to collect the money because it’s too dangerous, he said.

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

In late January, her daughter and her caretakers flew from their orphanage in northern Haiti to Port-au-Prince to meet a huge crowd at the immigration office. Despite an appointment, they were unable to get inside, nor were some of the office’s own employees, Baeth said.

“It’s just devastating,” she said, adding that, like the Hanlons, they were unable to obtain a passport exemption from the State Department. “It’s as if our voices weren’t heard.”

A State Department spokesperson said intercountry adoption is a top priority for the agency and it uses all appropriate tools to identify and overcome barriers.

“We understand that it is currently difficult for prospective adoptive parents to obtain a Haitian passport,” the spokesperson said. “We remain committed to helping prospective adoptive parents navigate the often complicated journey of international adoption. We will continue to engage with the Haitian government on this issue.

Hanlon shared emails with The Associated Press in which the U.S. government denied his waiver request noting that Haiti’s immigration office and Department of the Interior were open for business and that the waivers passport should only be used on a case-by-case basis. – on a case-by-case basis and as a last resort.

Ryan Hanlon, president and CEO of the US National Adoption Council, which is not related to Bryan Hanlon, said in a phone interview that the State Department manual calls on officials to prioritize adoption case.

“Can we even say we prioritize adoption when we have legal options that we choose not to use?” he said. “It’s the safety of the children that’s the concern here.”

Given the continued crush at Haiti’s main immigration office, government officials recently opened two makeshift offices in a gymnasium and soccer field elsewhere in Port-au-Prince. They have also set up a calendar with specific days for groups including women and the elderly. Saturdays are reserved for children.

Officials say they don’t know how many Haitian children are in this situation, but two of the 11 U.S. agencies that are major providers of adoption services in Haiti say a dozen or more of their children are affected and that the number has increased. From 2016 to 2020, people adopted 827 children from Haiti, according to the most recent State Department statistics. Only 96 children were adopted in 2020, compared to 227 in 2017.

At an adoption agency, A Love Beyond Borders, based in Colorado, at least 13 children in Haiti have been adopted but have been unable to obtain passports amid a backlog that grows daily, Stephanie said. Thoet, coordinator of the agency’s Haiti program.

She noted that even Haiti’s Interior Ministry has not been able to access the passport office to manually hand over records of adopted children and is concerned that officials are being killed or kidnapped by gangs as they travel with documents that have taken years to complete.

“I’m terrified every time they go,” she said.

At another agency, Utah-based Wasatch International Adoption, at least a dozen children who have already been adopted cannot get passports, and the number is growing, said Chareyl Moyes, Haiti program manager for the agency. ‘agency.

“The situation is dire,” she said, adding that she was worried about the death of a child or a caretaker. “Do we want to wait until it’s then?”

Baeth said it was hard for her daughter to understand why it took her so long to be together. They tell her how much she means to them and send 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, sent them videos of her doing cartwheels and somersaults.

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

He recalled how upset Gina was one day and told his caretaker, “I don’t want to talk to them on video anymore. I want to talk to them in person.

Her son, however, is younger.

Hanlon said that when the boy learns he can’t travel to certain parts of Haiti, he tells the other kids not to worry, assuring them, “My dad is like Superman. He will steal and kill the wicked.

Hanlon paused as his voice cracked.

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

ABC News

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