Monday, July 15, 2013

Government Meetings

A drawing of the airplane
that will bring her home
I was so nervous about this meeting that I had multiple nightmares about it last night, each time about a different disaster. I forgot to show up, the meeting was supposed to occur over Skype and I was trying to give a presentation in Kreyol while people kept running in and out of the room making noise, and other mishaps. You get the gist.

But it isn’t that bad. I meet with Mme. Villedrouin, the Director of IBESR and Mr. Guillaume, IBESR’s primary legal counsel. I have met with both before various times, and they are very patient with my language skills. I do know that both speak English, but if they want me to use the language of the country I’m supposed to be serving I’ll do my level best.

I am here to present a research paper on referral methods utilized by Hague nations, with a focus on China. After ten years of international adoptions, China is moving towards a ‘One to One’ program for their older and special needs children. In this program, designated, trusted agencies are allowed to form relationships with specific orphanages. Personnel from the agency can visit the children and interact with them and their caretakers. The orphanage and agency work in partnership to identify, prepare, and train families specifically for each child’s needs. The Central Authority retains the power to examine and approve or disapprove each match. Sound familiar? It’s what Haiti has been doing for years. If we add in that only IBESR can declare a child eligible for adoption, we remove the risk of coercion and trafficking as children come into care.

I have no idea what Mme. Villedrouin and Mr. Guillaume think of ‘my proposition’, as they refer to the paper, which I did not write. But Mme. Villedrouin immediately understands my difficulty as I tell her about a baby we have in care at BRESMA, given to us by IBESR, who has no fingers. She needs a special family. I need to be allowed to actively search for one, and to suggest the family and child match outside of the quota. She has a big soft spot for children with special needs. I now believe I will be allowed to recruit a family. I’m waiting for instructions from IBESR about exactly what information about my baby I will be allowed to share publicly, and how to present the combined dossier to IBESR once I find the right family for her.

We discuss the database project ABI is offering to the Haitian government in cooperation with Empowered Media. I am invited to return tomorrow to present the project to the technical assistant tasked with implementing IBESR mandates. I’m excited about working with this man as I’ve met him before and I know that he is highly intelligent and proactive. He’s the sort of guy who gets things done, which is exactly who he needs to be.

Finally, we must discuss a subject that causes me great discomfort. Apparently IBESR has received a number of falsified dossiers recently. Altered birth certificates, altered marriage certificates, home studies that state there are no biological children when in fact there are. These deceptions can be caught by comparing the dossier IBESR has with the one USCIS has, and this is just what has occurred. We reiterate how exceptions to the law happen: almost never.

(Future) all-American girls at AUBE creche
ABI is working one exception case right now. It involves a single mother who is 33 rather than 35. She is adopting a twelve year old she rescued from a restavek situation while living in Haiti for an extended period. In this case, IBESR came to one of my partners and explicitly asked her to work the case. That is how an exception works. In the past five years, I personally am only aware of one other besides this one. They are VERY, VERY rare, and if you didn’t go to IBESR to ask for one in person for the good of a specific child, or if IBESR didn’t come to the crèche with your case, you probably aren’t going to get one.

Otherwise, families must include at least one person age 35 or older, and must be able to demonstrate 10 years of living under the same roof. Presidential Dispensation is ONLY for biological children. By law, it cannot be used for age or length of marriage. Lalwa se lalwa!

I explain to Mme. Villedrouin that I am not at all sure that the adoptive parents were complicit in altering their dossiers. She says it doesn’t matter. Falsified is falsified, and it is unacceptable. “Fini” is the word she uses. I am cringing for any innocent family who does not meet the current law, and has a dossier presented that says that they do.

Next I meet my partner and our attorney at USCIS to go over some legal details on a few cases where we are cleaning up some dossier paperwork issues on cases that transferred to us from independent adoptions. US Immigrations law forbids the direct transfer of a child from their biological parents to an adoptive parent. The child must be unequivocally abandoned to qualify as an ‘orphan’ under US law. USCIS and DOS are also unable to accept documents that state persons (i.e. adoptive parents) were present in court at times when in fact they were not.

The good news is that USCIS is very much dedicated to helping families bring their adopted children home, so long as there was no deliberate fraud or coercion involved. The discussion switches to French, and my partners explain exactly what is and is not possible. USCIS will allow us the time we need to help our families and I suspect we’re going to see happy endings for each case.

I return to the guesthouse, my high stress meeting behind me, to much joyful noise. What a terrific family. They help me remember why we do this work. Gone are the three timid, unhappy little girls who left Haiti years ago, replaced by confident young women who are proud of their heritage and their new brothers.

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