Thursday, October 8, 2009

Liberty, justice, and bureaucracy for all...

A busy and somewhat frustrating day. Margarette is still in Jeremie, so Irlande and I attended a Visa appointment with a pair of toddler twins whose adoption is complete, passports are in hand, and I600 form is adjudicated. Imagine my surprise that even when I pointed out the Power of Attorney form in the packet from USCIS as the Consular officer looked over our paperwork, and was told that they cannot accept copies of powers of attorney. Which would make perfect sense, except that USCIS had sent the copy, not us! The original was included in the I600 packet. So apparently the copy of the officer’s legal document adjudicating the case is acceptable, but the copy of the power of attorney for me that he included was not. And we tend to think of the Haitian government as difficult and overly bureaucratic…

We left the Consulate with arms full of toddlers, but no Visas. On to plan B.
Holt International employees Mansour Masse and Mike Noah picked me up outside the Consulate and took me to the Villa Creole hotel while Jamie and Ali took the babies and Irlande back to BRESMA. Mike, Mansour and I had lunch, strategized for our meeting, and discussed various current issues in Haitian adoptions. We are very lucky to be working in a supportive community of honest adoption agencies and orphanages. The cooperation we share has benefitted all of us greatly.

At two we went back to the Consulate for a meeting with Garry Pierrot, Adoptions Unit Chief, and Linda Percy, his new co-chief. Ms. Percy will take over the Chief position for a few months when Mr. Pierrot leaves his post in December or January until his permanent replacement arrives. Ms. Percy lived in Africa for 13 years prior to coming to Haiti five months ago. She has an obvious heart for our kids, and was visibly disturbed when I described the effects the extreme delay in the issuance of Presidential Dispensations has caused to our children who wait and wait.

We discussed the quality of service at the Embassy. When I went this morning, our staff was somewhat skeptical that I would be allowed into the Embassy without a printed copy of the email confirming our appointment. I went in ready to fight for my right, as an American citizen, to appear for an appointment with or without a copy of an email! But I had no trouble whatsoever walking right in with Irlande and the kids after a quick check to verify that we did in fact have an appointment. I discussed entrance requirements with Mr. Pierrot and Ms. Percy, and was assured that nobody would be required to present an email to prove an appointment, and that verification with the Adoptions Unit or USCIS staff would be required regardless. Overall we were able to report that service has been excellent, although we were not able to get a consistent timeline for processing. We were assured that DOS will attempt to respond to all emails in a minimum of 72 hours.

The recent decision of Judge Rock Cadet to enforce the section of Haitian law requiring that adoptive parents appear in court. Although nobody has yet done so, apparently the law states that both the adoptive and biological parents must appear in court together at the time of relinquishment of the child. This presents immediate and grave ethical issues – at present no ethical facilitator allows any family to meet a child as their referral for adoption prior to the complete and legal relinquishment of that child to the orphanage. If birth and adoptive parents meet prior to the relinquishment, there is great potential for disaster. Adoptive families may be accused of incentivizing the Haitian family into giving up their child. Or the Haitian family might change their minds about the adoption when the implications are explained to them again by the court. Having a family change their minds and find a way to parent their own children is always our first and best hope for any child about to be relinquished. But if that child has already been introduced to an adoptive family as his very own, there is a chance for heartbreak on both sides.

Thus far Judge Cadet has accepted proof of visitation from families who began their adoptions prior to his ruling, and has accepted the signature of others before the same justice of the peace after the birth family relinquished their child. We’ll have to hope that he continues to do so.

The Department of State is in a most difficult situation. It is of course their duty to support Haiti in adhering to its own law, and yet the State Department has maintained a travel warning against Haiti for years.

Exhausted, filthy, and very, very hot, I returned to BRESMA II to find a bowl of excellent hot and somewhat spicy soup waiting for me. It was greatly appreciated, as I seem to have a knack for managing to miss meals here. There is no refrigerator filled with snacks waiting for me either – around here if you miss a meal, you just have to wait for the next one. And as hot is it has been today (just like it usually is in August!), missing more than one in a row is unpleasant. I am so spoiled as an American. Most of these children ate just one meal a day before they came here.

This late afternoon and evening were presents and phone calls time. I got to distribute care packages, photo albums, and gifts to the kids. They all ask the same question: “When are my parents coming to see me?” And then, like children everywhere, they examine their gifts and list what they want their families to send next time. I have to tell everyone I don’t take orders again and again.

I do hope that by next time I have a new cell phone with a good quality speakerphone feature. I’d like to be able to just sit back and translate conversations for children and families, and let them hear each other’s voices.

Tomorrow I’m off to another appointment at the Embassy; this one with USCIS-DHS. It’s only 8:00 but I’m ready for bed. It’s at least 90 degrees in this room, so it could take quite a while to fall asleep. Not to mention that there are about fifty noisy children in the house…

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