Haitian adoptions on hold after the quake

January 19, 2010 2:36:12 PM PST
A New Jersey veterinarian already put in the paperwork to get a visa for his soon to be adopted daughter, but now all he can do is worry. Is she eating? Is there enough water? Is she safe?

"I feel like she's my daughter. I'm concerned about her," Kris Mammas said.

As frantic as it feels, really all Mammas can do is wait and take notes.

The Bayonne veterinarian was in the final stages of adopting a two-year-old girl from Haiti when last week's earthquake hit the region.

"The first thing that entered my mind was the orphanage still standing. I was worried she was trapped alive in the building," Mammas said.

Mammas visited little Landy twice at her orphanage near Port-au-Prince.

By the grace of God, her building is still standing even though nearby buildings collapsed.

"I was trying to reach people at the adoption agency. I consider renting a truck in Santo Domingo and driving over with supplies," he said.

Aid groups say tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by the earthquake.

A flight carrying 53 Haitian orphans landed in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

The United Nations Children's Fund reports that even before the earthquake 380-thousand children lived in orphanages or group homes.

Some of the children lost their parents in previous disasters, including four tropical storms or hurricanes that killed about 800 people in 2008, deadly storms in 2005 and 2004, and massive floods almost every other year since 2000. Others were abandoned amid the Caribbean nation's long-running political strife, which has led thousands to seek asylum in the U.S. - without their children - or by parents who were simply too poor to care for them.

International advocacy groups are trying to help, either by speeding up adoptions that were already in progress, or by sending in relief personnel to evacuate thousands of orphans to the U.S. and other countries.

Mammas, a single father, has a five-year-old son named Alec who he adopted from China.

He says Alec's looking forward to being Landy's big brother.

"I'm hoping soon. I'm hoping any day," he said.

The Department of State announced a humanitarian parole policy for certain Haitian orphans allowing orphaned children from Haiti to enter the U.S. temporarily on an individual basis.

U.S. Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said that orphans who have ties to the U.S. - such as a family member already living here - are among those who can get special permission to remain in the United States.

Notwithstanding the U.S. policy, the Catholic Church in Miami is working on a proposal that would allow thousands of orphaned children to come permanently to America. A similar effort launched in 1960, known as Operation Pedro Pan, brought about 14,000 unaccompanied children from Cuba to the U.S.

Under the new plan, dubbed "Pierre Pan," Haitian orphans would first be placed in group homes and then paired with foster parents, said Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami.

"We have children who are homeless and possibly without parents and it is the moral and humane thing to do," Agosta said.

Archdiocese officials said many details would have to be worked out, and President Barack Obama's administration would have to grant orphans humanitarian parole to enter the U.S.

In the meantime, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said the United Nations is establishing a group whose mission on the ground in Haiti will be to protect children - orphans and non-orphans alike - against trafficking, kidnapping and sex abuse.

And orphanages that were operating in Haiti before the earthquake are scrambling to keep their kids safe, sheltered and fed. Those with damaged buildings are pledging to rebuild and take in more children, if needed.