Thursday, October 29, 2015

And... back to frustration!

On Friday, October 23rd, USCIS and DOS hosted a conference call for Haiti adoption stakeholders.  Together they have created this chart:

Information regarding a child's name after adoption is in direct conflict with information I was given personally at IBESR on Friday, October 16th.  Unfortunately, this is par for the course in Haiti.  If you want a Visa for your child, you will need to follow the instructions provided by USCIS and DOS.

According to the information that USCIS and DOS have, your child must have the surname of his biological parents removed from his name on his adoption judgment and his certificate of adoption.  However, all three entities will accept a passport issued prior to November 1st, 2015, with the child's original surname still in place, provided that you can show that is was made using the original adoption certificate with the Haitian surname included.  This will save families much time and money, but the decision (and the inconsistency) remain maddening.

IBESR claims that they never discussed name changes for abandoned children with USCIS and DOS, while USCIS and DOS state that they asked about them repeatedly and could not get an answer.  Actually, I believe both parties!  I suspect this is a cultural issue.  In the United states, your surname is the name that is after your first name and your middle name, if you have one.  In Haiti, a surname is the family name given to you by your parents, which just happens to be tacked on after your first name(s).  Therefore, asking about an abandoned child's last name makes no sense at all.  They don't have surnames through Haitian eyes, because we have no idea who their birth families were.  The mayor of wherever the child was found will give him one or two or three names, and whichever one of them happens to be last in line still isn't his "last name" in the sense that we consider it to be one.

At this point, it seems that USCIS/DOS want us to remove whichever name the mayor put in last position on an abandoned child's birth certificate, and most judges are not doing so.  They're simply giving the child his new family's last name on the end of the names he already has.  Not sure how this one is going to play out...

Please refer to the DOS charts for your next steps:

DOS has also released a list of anticipated court filing costs.  These are generally accurate for documents made in Port-au-Prince.  Regional courts may require an expedite fee if you want your documents done quickly, as will the National Archives and parquet/MOJ/MFA for legalization.  Please note that the DOS fees do not include any payment for the (exhausting) labor of the person performing the work, nor the cost of paying an attorney to write a letter to the Dean.  Also, most courts will not issue receipts for payments made.

For those families whose child's biological parents relinquished before a Justice of the Peace before the issuance of the new law on November 13th, 2013, the following is a list of steps to be taken, as specified by IBESR and the Deans:

1.  Pick up dossier from USCIS
2.  Submit a copy of all the child dossier to IBESR
3.  Interview biological parent in IBESR + Sign consent
4.  Request letter + "Ordinance" to the Dean asking him for the appearance of the biological parent to sign a relinquishment
5.  Pick up relinquishment from Dean's office (plenary consent)
6.  Request letter to the Dean in order to obtain the "Soit communiqué" for the transfer of the dossier to parquet
7.  Appearance of the biological parents to Parquet for interview by the prosecutor
8.   delivery of "Conclusions" from parquet
9.   Redaction of Judgment (Dean Office)
10. Register of Judgment at DGI (stamps)
11. submission of the Judgment to parquet for Exequatur
12. Submission of dossier to the civil registrar to obtain the Adoption Decree
13. Submission of the adoption Decree to the National Archives for the "Attestation on Adoption Decree
14. Legalization parquet
15. Legalization Ministry of Justice
16. Legalization Ministry of foreign Affairs

17. Translation

It will be very challenging for any adoptive parent to complete these steps independently.  Independently adopting families might want to consider seeking professional assistance.

Monday, October 19, 2015


This morning Margarette and I deposited three dossiers with USCIS.  They’re not allowed to tell us a darn thing about all their meetings, but they can tell us if they can accept the particular dossiers we hand them.  And they can – all three of them.  Two have plenary consents (well, one has a consent to simple OR a plenary adoption, but we submit that one with a letter explaining what the word “or” means) and adoption judgments that refer to that plenary consent but don’t say the word plenary in their own text.  One has a passport and all of her adoption decrees written to include her Haitian last name as her new middle name.  And USCIS accepts them all with a huge smile.  This particular worker is just as thrilled as I am with the way everything worked out.  She is a Haitian attorney and was no doubt cringing the whole time this devastating tempest in a teapot was going on.

We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the crèche directors and facilitators who ran themselves into the ground insisting that the judges, deans, and IBESR communicated before the delegation ever arrived.  It was only through their labors that IBESR was able to present USCIS with a concrete answer to their questions regarding simple vs plenary adoptions.  But for them, dozens of children would have languished in orphanages for many, many months longer.

All is well with the world.

What it all means: simple adoption vs. plenary

We can expect an official release of information from USCIS and DOS around the end of this week.  But in the meantime, here is the information ABI has gathered.  Please note that this information is being provided free of charge as a charitable service.  It does not constitute legal advice or recommendations in either country and should not be construed as such.

  • Your child’s relinquishment was issued in Children’s Court and is explicitly plenary AND
  • Your adoption judgment refers to that plenary relinquishment AND
  • Your certificate of adoption refers to that adoption judgment

  • Your adoption is plenary (regardless of what your child is named).

Check with your agency to confirm that all is as described above.

If your adoption is based upon a relinquishment issued in Tribunal court before a Justice of the Peace, prior to the new law, even though that relinquishment was the correct legal form at the time, you will need to convert your adoption from simple to plenary. 

This is a complex process and it is not recommended that US Citizens attempt to do the legal work in Haiti themselves.  Your odds of producing correct documents are not good.  I wouldn’t try to do it myself, and I’ve been working here for twelve years and know the language.  It’s a job for a professional-someone who can document having successfully processed 50+ successful adoptions to the US.  ABI offers reasonably priced consulting services for conversions, and I imagine some of the other highly experienced agencies will as well.  If you have a legally issued adoption passport, then you should not have to get another.  

We’ll pray that each of you can free your children quickly.  They have waited long enough.

Friday, October 16, 2015


We won.  Simple as that.  God is good!!

Margarette and I head over to IBESR, where we will spend the whole day doing what a Haitian facilitator does – waiting.  We’ve been promised a letter for a special case in which the Mayor of the town where a little boy was found abandoned signed a relinquishment authorizing a child for either simple or plenary adoption.  Apparently USCIS in Haiti is having some trouble with the meaning of the word, “or”.  This is one of those situation that gives me ulcers.

I leave Margarette downstairs and go upstairs to explain to an IBESR staffer that Haiti does not have to issue an official letter to DOS for Hague cases before they issue the referral to the adoptive family.  That is backwards.  They need to issue the letter after the family has accepted the referral.  I am absolutely, positively certain that this message has been conveyed repeatedly to IBESR because I know the person at DOS who conveys it, and she is a plain speaker.  Maybe Kreyol will work better than French, so I give it a shot and ask her to please, please release the referral letter for one of my families adopting teenage boys already.  We’ll see if my explanation did any good.

Back downstairs where at last I catch a glimpse of the elusive Me. Andolphe Guillaume, principal legal counsel to IBESR.  Naturally, he comes in while Margarette has stepped out to talk to someone else.  I’m on my own and praying with all my might that it is not my lousy Kreyol and desperate hopefulness that make it sound like he is repeating all of my own legal arguments back to me as he explains that plenary means plenary, that a judge has the discretionary right to name a Haitian child however he wishes (including making her original Haitian surname her new middle name) and that everything I dared hoped for is going to happen. 

A bi-lingual colleague helps me out as I make him repeat everything as if speaking to a very stupid small child.  I can’t afford not to understand fully what he is saying.  Our government personnel heard this news yesterday, but they are absolutely forbidden to tell me, person to person, what the outcome of their meeting was.  It wouldn’t be fair, and the US Government releases critical information in memos examined and approved by committee. IBESR is less formal, and that is why I can tell you today that if your child has a plenary relinquishment, all is probably going to be okay.  Hallelujah!!!

Margarette and I wait out the whole day, and six hours later we leave clutching the lever we’ll use to open the door for every other child – a legal opinion from Me. Guillaume explaining why a plenary adoption is a plenary adoption.  And also an explanation of what the word “or” means.

I just might sleep tonight, and I hope all of you who waited and suffered will too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


I had eight days’ notice for this meeting.  Eight days to arrange travel, tell my family that I was leaving for Haiti two weeks after returning from a conference with all the adoption agencies and DOS in DC, and to arrange for a stay of execution… er, permission to turn in my assignments late at William Mitchell, where I am a first year law student.

So here I am, in a room filled with seven delegates from USCIS and DOS, many of whom I just saw in DC a few days ago, the Haitian DOS and USCIS staff, and a gathering of agency representatives.  Most of the representatives are unfamiliar to me.  As it is forbidden by IBESR for an agency to have a representative who is also an orphanage director, many agencies have chosen people who are new to adoptions processing to work on their cases.  Worrisome!  We addressed the situation by having our primary partner in Haiti pass the reins to a very competent and caring friend to watch over our beloved kids, and incorporate herself as an adoptions facilitation service in Haiti.

Guess who isn’t here?  IBESR!!  I am beside myself with frustration.  Turns out this meeting is a fact gathering session for DOS and USCIS, so that they are very well prepared regarding all the issues we’re facing.  I appreciate the sentiment and the effort to really understand what’s going on, but these poor ladies already have heard an earful from me.  They don’t need to hear it again.  When it’s my turn to speak, I stand up and express my disappointment, because what I wanted to do was debate the legality of claiming any adoption based on a relinquishment in Children’s Court is not plenary.  It IS.  I won’t bore you silly with the details, but I shared my analysis with U.S. attorney Kelly Ensslin Dempsey and anyone in Haiti who would listen, and they all concur with my logic and my reasons.  Plenary is plenary!!

USCIS and DOS tell me that they are not here to debate Haitian law with the Haitian government, which I suppose makes sense.  But I have no time for sense.  We are aware that there are at least 87 families affected by the latest debacle in Haitian adoptions.  I only have time for what is morally (and legally!) right.

I am exhausted and driven wild by the finger pointing.  Our government says IBESR has ordered them to stop and evaluate simple versus plenary.  IBESR is saying that it is USCIS and DOS who told them they won’t process any more cases.  I know for a fact that a great many of the US personnel involved have a strong personal belief that the whole issue is imaginary for most of the stuck cases, but USG policy includes a potent gag order for USG personnel.  I’d probably last about seven minutes working for DOS before they fired me!

After the meeting the delegation head out to IBESR.  I head out to BRESMA, where I can spend some desperately needed time realigning my perspective and preparing for the next battle.  Kelly and I have not been fighting alone.  Now we must wait and pray that those with sandals on the ground in Haiti, agitating for common sense and correct statutory interpretation, have won the battle.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I-800, I-600, Hague, and UAA – Oh My!

It’s all a confusing soup of acronyms, abbreviations, the laws of two countries and the ‘World Organisation for Cross-border Co-operation in Civil and Commercial Matters' (Hague Permanent Bureau).    Add in the rumor mill of Haiti and the chaos of international adoption, and you get… well, you get the level of confusion we have now.

 I am going to attempt to clarify some of the issues facing adoptive families as they negotiate the US Immigrations process.  Please note that I am NOT an attorney. ABI does provide consulting and services Primary Provider as a Hague accredited adoption service provider to families who are caught between laws or procedures in Haiti. The following is information gathered from careful research, experience, and lots of help from supportive attorneys and government officials.  It is not intended to serve as a substitute for actual legal advice.

First, a brief clarification of which parts belong to Haiti, to Hague, and to the US:

Haiti’s New Adoption Law
In November of 2013, Haiti enacted a new adoption law.  You can read it for yourself here:

 The new law in itself caused a lot of turbulence as Haiti transitioned to new procedures.  The new law is a Haitian matter.  It is NOT issued by or monitored by the Hague Permanent Bureau!  The new law and Haiti’s accession to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption are separate events.  (They do tie together with DOS, eventually.  More about that later.)

 The new law offers superlative protection to biological families who are considering an adoption plan for their child, as only IBESR can request to have a child found legally free for adoption in Children’s Court.  IBESR is taking its responsibility to educate biological families regarding the meaning and implications of intercountry adoption very seriously.

 The new law has been determined by the US Department of State, our Central Authority, to be in compliance with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.

 An important fact to note for independent families who started their adoption before the new law came into effect:

Article 76

The current law applies to all dossiers in progress for which biological parents’ adoption consent has not yet been given in front of the family court Judge.

For dossiers in process where the consent has been given in front of the Justice of the Peace, the Court will order that biological parents appear in person on the set day and hour, either to confirm their informed consent to simple adoption or to give their informed consent to plenary adoption.

That means that if nobody gave consent in Children’s Court to a plenary adoption at the very beginning, biological parents MUST still appear in court to grant consent to plenary adoption!  USCIS/DOS cannot approve your adoption if it does not follow the Haitian law!

The Hague
On April 1st, 2014, Haiti officially became a Hague country.  That means that families could no longer file I-600A forms for Haiti after March 31st, 2014.  As Haiti began using the new law to manage cases several months before that date, the transition was smoother than it could have been.  Most importantly, DOS was able to determine that Haiti’s new law and current procedures do in fact conform to the rules of the Hague Convention.  This is a very good thing, as had they not found Haiti in compliance, DOS would have had no choice but to close Haitian adoptions for American citizens. 

 Here is where the new law and Hague interact – had Haiti submitted their instrument of ratification (sort of ‘signed up’) with Hague right after the Senate voted on it but before the new law was in place, I can’t imagine how DOS could possibly have found them to be Hague compliant.  Fortunately, due to some impressive leg work done by the Joint Council and some pretty smart people at IBESR, that did not happen.

 From April 1st, 2014 forward, all international adoptions in and out of Haiti will be Hague adoptions.  You can read the text of the Hague convention on intercountry adoption here:  It’s actually a pretty short and simple document.

In case all of this wasn’t complicated enough in the first place, the US threw another wrench into the spokes with the Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (UAA).  The UAA is a law that prevents families from adopting internationally without a Hague accredited agency signed on to oversee and assist.

 You can read the Act here:

 There are quite a few families who adopted independently in the past who are upset about the law.  They feel it will make international adoption even more expensive than it is already.  I can’t disagree there, for the lucky few whose independent adoption actually worked.  However, as ABI does a great deal of repair work trying to pick up the pieces for families whose independent adoptions have turned into tangled nightmares, I personally believe that the UAA is a much-needed protective measure for adoptive families and the children that they adopt.

 There are multiple very clear explanations about who is and is not affected by the UAA online:

Are a few good places to start.

Very big picture:
Generally, the UAA does not apply if either of the following occurred before July 13, 2013:

·       Prospective adoptive parents filed the I-600 or the I-600A. See UAA Section 2(c)(1).


·       Prospective adoptive parents “initiated the adoption process with the filing of an appropriate application in a foreign country sufficient such that the Secretary of State is satisfied.” See UAA Section 2(c)(2).   (For example, your dossier went into IBESR before July 13th, 2013.)

If neither of these are true, you may very well be required to have a Hague accredited agency involved as your Primary Adoption Service Provider.

 Even if you don’t fall under the UAA, you really might want to consider using a Hague accredited agency anyway.  With all of the changes, knowing that your dossier is correct and legal before you turn it in to USCIS at the very end of the process is a very good idea.  An experienced agency should know exactly what documents are required and if yours are in order.  It’s a lot easier to do it right in the first place than to desperately scramble around trying to address an RFE, or worse yet, a NOID.

 Quick word to the wise- trying to handle an RFE or a NOID on your own makes about as much sense as trying to do an appendectomy on your own kid, unless you are in fact a surgeon.  Or in our case, an immigrations attorney or experienced Haiti program coordinator.  Or both. 

So, what does all of the above gibberish really mean?  For most families it comes down to US immigrations.  Once you have adopted your child, how are you going to get him home and make sure he’s a citizen?  That’s the big question…

 First, let’s clarify some of the alphabet soup.

 I-600A: the form you sent to USCIS with your home study.  USCIS took your fingerprints, and eventually you got a letter from them saying that you were found suitable and eligible (pre-approved) to adopt a child from Haiti.  This letter is usually referred to as form I-171H.  Sometimes it’s an I-797C instead. 

 It was no longer possible to file a form I600A for Haiti after March 31st, 2014.

 I-600: this is the form you file on behalf of a particular child whom you wish to adopt.  Not at all the same as the I-600A, although most people do the I-600A first.

I-600A is about the US government approving you as an adoptive parent.  I-600 is about approving the child for immigration to the US.

I-800A: the form you send to USCIS with your home study.  USCIS took your fingerprints, and eventually you got a letter from them saying that you are suitable and eligible (pre-approved) to adopt a child from Haiti.  The letter is called a form I-797.

All families wishing to adopt from Haiti must file form I-800A if they have not already been approved for I-600A.

I-800: the form you will send to USCIS after you get your referral from IBESR, requesting provisional approval under the Hague Convention and US law to adopt a particular child.  Your agency should provide you with a lot of assistance.

I-800A is about the US government approving you as an adoptive parent.  I-800 is about approving the child for immigration to the US.

The I-600 Filing Process:

If you have current I-600A approval and your fingerprints are current, you can file form I-600 anytime before April 16th, 2016.  You must have an IBESR referral before you file.

There are two ways to file form I-600. 

1.      You can file it with your child’s adoption decree, after you have adopted him. This can be done in person with USCIS in Port-au-Prince, or you can mail it in to the USCIS Dallas TX lockbox.  (Speak with your agency or an attorney for details of what needs to be included in the filing.)

2.      You can file through the Adjudicate Orphans First pilot program (  Under the AOF program, you can file with very little information besides the child’s birth certificate, relinquishment, and some sort of documentation regarding what became of the biological family.  Again, speak with your agency or an attorney for details of what needs to be included in the filing.  This option is very important to keep in mind when we consider the end of the transitional I-600 filing period for Haiti.

The End of the Transitional Period:
Following March 31st, 2016, it will no longer be possible to file a form I-600 for Haitian child.  Even if you have current I-600A approval, UCSIS will be unable to accept your I-600 petition.  Haiti will transition to a fully Hague nation on April 1st, 2016.  Therefore:

·        If you have I-600A approval, you MUST file form I-600 on behalf of any child referred by IBESR to you so that it ARRIVES at the USCIS Port-au-Prince office or USCIS Dallas Lockbox on or before March 31st, 2016


·        You must seek I-800A approval and file form I-800 on behalf of any child referred to you by IBESR.

 There has been some misinformation spread that the child’s adoption decree must be completed before March 31st, 2016 for you to be able to file form I-600.  This information is untrue, because Haiti is one of the countries in the AOF pilot program.  Please refer to your agency for further information.

The I-800 Filing Process:
If you have an approved I-800A and your fingerprints are current, once you have an IBESR referral it will be time to file form I-800 by mail.  The form must be accompanied by your child’s Article 16 report.  The ‘report’ is actually a compilation of documents that allow the NBC to determine that the child might qualify to immigrate to the United States under the laws found at 8 CFR § 204.313.  USCIS intends to provide the public with a list of documents on its website, but this guidance is not yet available.  In the meantime, speak with your agency regarding what must be included.

Most I-800 cases in Haiti fall into one of three categories:

1.      ‘Normal’ cases- IBESR issued a referral, the family has I-800A approval, they need to file form I-800 on behalf of the child.

2.      Prior contact cases – family is I-800A ready, but they have had prior contact with the child’s legal guardian.  Please note that prior contact with the CHILD is legally irrelevant to the Hague or to US immigration law.

3.      Pre-existing adoption – family has already adopted the child but did not have a Form I-800 provisional approval or Article 5/17 approval for the adoption to proceed prior to doing so.  The family does not have current I-600A approval.  Most of these cases are independent adoption families who have made an error with filing or maintaining a current form I-600A.  ABI is managing several such cases.  We recommend families in this situation seek experienced assistance in applying for US immigration for their child.

The I-800 process for Haiti remains vague and undetermined as it has not yet been finalized between IBESR, DOS, and USCIS.  At the time of this writing (July 31, 2015) a solution for the ‘normal’ cases is imminent.  We should shortly have a well defined, specific, and orderly process for the management of standard I-800 cases in Haiti.  Gossip abounds, but in fact the final decisions are well underway.

For cases in which there was contact between the prospective adoptive family and the legal guardian of the child, USCIS, DOS and IBESR are working to arrive at a solution.  There are persistent rumors that ‘pre-identified’ adoptions are forbidden under the Hague, US law, and/or Haitian law.  None of these are true. 

It is true that under Hague (see Article 29), and therefore US law, that Haiti must acknowledge and permit any contact that occurred prior to the issuance of a referral.  Again, IBESR, USCIS, and DOS are working on a solution.  Solutions already exist in numerous other Hague countries.

 Pre-existing adoption cases are highly complex and will be managed on a case-by-case basis.

 It has been a very rough ride over the past few years for all of us involved in Haitian adoptions in any way. The new Haitian law provides outstanding protection for children.  Dedicated individuals at DOS, USCIS, and IBESR have worked very, very hard to make sure that Haiti’s adoption process will not only be compliant, but that it will be a model process for how international adoption should work.  It hasn’t been easy, or fast, but it has been worth it for the long run. 

 As international adoption programs around the world collapse, leaving children with no better alternative to waste away in institutions, a few very fortunate Haitian children each year will have one last chance at a real family.  And for that reason, we will keep fighting on.

Every child has the right to grow up in a permanent and loving family.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Good News for Children With Special Needs

IBESR has slightly raised the quota for dossier submissions.  All agencies may now submit ten dossiers per year for intrafamilial adoptions or for children with special needs in addition one dossier per month for non-special needs.

According to Haitian law, "special needs" include the following:

...children with behavior troubles or suffering from a trauma, or having a physical or mental incapacity, or being older than 6 or are members of a sibling group.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Slow Day and an Epic Tantrum

A slow day at last.  I go do BRESMA in the morning and spend several hours doing what I wanted to do in the first place; relaxing with the kids.  This is my time to take photos and videos and meet several new children who have arrived recently.  They’re easy to identify, with their papery skin and red hair.  In a few months, they will look so much better.
Speaking of looking better, I check in on the little boy of a set of twins who became very ill last summer while Margarette was away in Europe.  She and their adoptive family came to Haiti on the same day to find both twins alarmingly thin and listless – the little boy frighteningly so.  No more.  He’s fat, fat, fat now!  And spoiled too.  I couldn’t be happier.  He’s the special project of one of the nannies, who watches over him jealously, but the others like to fuss over him as well.  Nobody would ever guess that he had given us all such a scare.

The kids enter the room where I’m observing carrying little packets of something sticky.  I’m offered several pre-chewed bites, but politely decline.  I don’t need any Medika Mamba to help me gain weight, thanks.

From the other room comes the sound of a child being beaten or murdered or tortured – I’m not sure which.  They are all toddlers in this room, after all…  The racket continues for a good five minutes and I go to investigate.  L. is sitting in a high chair, next to his twin sister.  She’s scowling, but he is screaming his head off, his whole head wet with tears and sweat.  L. is trying to hit everyone in sight, filled with rage.  The nannies are bellowing over his deafening protests, discussing the Nutella they are mixing with his Medika Mamba.  I knew he didn’t like the Medika Mamba, which he needs, so they have to mix it with chocolate to get him to eat it, but this is ridiculous.  A nanny forces a bite into his mouth, L. screaming so hard I’m worried he’ll choke.  He shoves the bowl away violently. His sister is feeding herself the peanut butter mixed with chocolate, still glaring at everyone, but eating it.  I take a taste.  It’s delicious – like Reese’s peanut butter cups melted in a bowl!  I tell L. that if he doesn’t eat it, I’m going to take it and eat it myself.  That cools him down a little bit, but he’s still throwing an impressive tantrum.  I ask his nannies what the problem is.  It is very difficult to imagine any child who would not be very, very happy to eat what is in L.’s bowl right now.

One of the nannies explains the problem.  It’s the bowl, not what is in it.  L. is outraged that they won’t stuff the mixture back into the little baggie so that he can squeeze it out into his mouth like everybody else.  So, to summarize, our previously starving Haitian orphan is now a spoiled little prince!  I am delighted.  One of the nannies scolds him, tells him to eat or she’s going to take his bowl away, and he resentfully begins to stuff himself, still giving us all the evil eye.  Ah, the drama of toddlerhood.  Praise God that our little prince now has the energy, determination, and confidence to protest how he is served the food specially mixed to meet his discriminating palate!
The new kids have not yet learned to be so demanding, but I have faith that in time they too will become the little tyrants that every tiny child has a right to be.

At the guest house I eat lunch (yeah!) and meet with the director of another orphanage about a complicated case.  The child was in the US on a medical Visa for 20 months, having been born without an anus.  The repair was not entirely successful, and B. now has no bowel control.  She’s back in Haiti, but her biological family has eight other children and is unable to care for a child who ‘leaks’ and will probably be in diapers for the rest of her life without more intervention, never mind the repeated serious bladder infections her condition is causing.  We’re going to attempt to do the next-to-impossible: a pre-identified Hague adoption when one of the parents is over age.  But exceptional circumstances merit exceptional measures, and as I told the delegation on Wednesday, odd cases roll downhill to ABI.  This will be a huge battle, but it is absolutely the right thing to do.  Finding another family for a child with B.’s condition when there is already one who wants her, who she already thinks of and refers to as her own family, would be even more difficult.  So, we’ll do what we must for the love of one child.

Finally Margarette and I get to meet.  We’ve gone over our cases in the van between our endless meetings and appointments this week.  Now we must go over our contracts for all cases submitted to IBESR following October of 2014.  It’s a radical shift in how we work, and after eleven years of trust and partnership that have worked so very well, neither one of us is pleased about making any changes.  I tell Margarette that if she doesn’t like the contract it’s my fault, since I’m the one who edited it for Haiti.  It’s ten pages of single-spaced legalese, all written to conform to the Hague and US Immigration law. 

Our contract was not easy to write, and it’s not pleasant to sign as it represents a parting of the ways.  All these years, we’ve worked only with orphanages we know and trust.  Safe homes for children where they are not only fed and given medical care, but also love and opportunities for development.  Places which would give us honest evaluations of each child’s needs and strengths, with which we would jointly propose matches to families who would best serve each child.  Now, the matches will be made by a committee that does not yet exist, and the trust will be replaced by protocols, hope, and faith.  My visits to our partner crèches will be no more than that – visits, not evaluations of children and who can best parent them.  Now I'm the one who wants to scream and cry, but it won't do me any good either.

Margarette signs, but she doesn’t like it.  Neither do I, but what choice do we have?  Haiti is still full of children in need, and we have been called upon to serve them, even if we will now only be permitted to do so in an inferior way. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Missed Meetings Again

An album from his new family to show off to his buddies
Me Jean is kind enough to call us this morning to let us know that she won’t be at IBESR to meet with us.  Sadly, this does not save us the drive, as we have to go to meet with her assistant to agree upon how we will officially request permission to re-do the little girl’s dossier, which Me Jean has already granted us over the phone.  We have to have a paper trail, I guess. 

It’s a useful trip anyway, as I get to say hello to a lot of the workers.  Face time is critically important in Haitian culture, and it’s very political to speak some Kreyol as well.  It shows that you care and that you respect the culture.  I’m surprised by how many people here I know.  Our agency has taken on a lot of the more complicated cases, so maybe it’s to be expected.  I meet the new person who is handling sending out referral letters and receiving the acceptances.  I apologize in advance for my atrocious written Kreyol.  I can get by verbally, but I’m pretty much illiterate.  I learned Kreyol from the kids, not from books.  I still have to say the words out loud to myself to understand what I’m reading.
We spend a few hours waiting from Me Guillaume (an attorney and the head of the Adoptions Division) as well, with whom we’d like to discuss a few issues, but he never appears.  Perhaps someone tipped him off that we’re here.  Poor man.  I always have questions for him that are difficult to answer.  I congratulate Mme Villedrouin on her recent award from the US Consulate for Women of Courage.

K.E. (soon to be K.E.B.) gives AUBE orphanage
a thumbs up
Next stop is AUBE.  The nannies have the kids chant a welcome for me and I get to applaud and tell them how wonderful it was.  I take a few photos of the children who are already referred and those for whom we hope referral letters will soon be issued.  Sonia and I go through our cases together.
Yesterday, Sonia parked herself in the office of the Mayor of Port-au-Prince all day long.  She is a kind and gentle woman, but she is also indomitable and persistent.  Apparently the Mayor has finally relented and stated that he’ll go to the Children’s Court next Tuesday.  I’ll believe it when I see it, but I know for sure that if he isn’t there, Sonia will stage sit in after sit in until he does.  She has no choice, as none of our abandoned children can go anywhere until he cooperates.

The kids look great.  I get to deliver an album to a little boy whose family will come soon for their visitation, chat with a few kids whose Manma Blan just came for a visit, and meet some delightful new older boys who are able to tell me why they are at Sonia’s and have a few questions about what will happen next.  I sure wish I could tell them when it will happen.  IBESR doesn’t want to do any more biological family trainings for a few months.  They’ve pulled the single social worker who does them off of interviews and have her doing some other job.  They so desperately need a reasonable sized team!
Back to the guest house at last.  I missed lunch again!  Perhaps it is because they know this that the ladies have prepared enough food for at least three people, even though I am currently our only resident.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Cold Day in Haiti

It's not Disneyland, it's God's Littlest Angels' new facility

To the mountains!  I always love a visit to GLA, particularly when I’m visiting Haiti in the summer.  I live in South Dakota in the US, and it’s hot there, but nothing like Haiti in August.  Every year I vow not to come in July or August, and inevitably some meeting or event is scheduled for which I must be present.  The Haitian mountains are cool and beautiful – tropical green with towering evergreens and brilliant bougainvillea and hibiscus everywhere.

We must stop on the way to GLA as the street is blocked with people all in formal wear.  Everyone is wearing black, white, or both, and I’m confused at first.  Franck explains this is a funeral.  I tell him that we don’t wear white to funerals in my country, and he is surprised.  Dressing all in white for a funeral is quite conventional in Haiti.  There are a lot of other differences between a Haitian funeral and those I’ve been to in my community, and when it’s my turn to go, I want to go out Haitian style!!
Funerals are not generally mournful gatherings in Haiti.  We did see a few people crying, but most were celebrating.  One of the most important parts of the celebration is the marching band.  In Haiti, one departs the Earth with joy and singing and celebration of one’s life.  The band marches, the hearse or coffin bearers follow, and then come all the participants (I can’t quite call them mourners as they march or dance in step, clapping and sometime even singing hymns).  That is how I would like to be remembered too!

My meeting with Dixie is more frustration.  She has many abandoned children in care from the Kenscoff area.  It is necessary for the Mayor of Kenscoff to sign off on their adoptions before the children’s judge.  This is a common theme – certain mayors of the larger cities are trying to extort the equivalent of US $320 PER CHILD from the orphanages for each certificate they sign in court.  In this case, the problem is different but just as maddening.  The previous mayor issued the original abandonment certificates.  Now this one doesn’t want to continue what he started.  This is a perpetual problem in Haitian bureaucracy, even more so than in our own.  Public servants seem to have no concept of their office as a continuous entity.  It makes no difference who the mayor was when the certificates were issued, so long as the office did in fact issue the certificates.  They were not issued by a person, but rather by the position itself.  Dixie has had many children in care for many, many years at this point, and some of them have no other homes to go to.  So difficult.

Playhouse at Ft. Jacques
Finally I get to see GLA’s new facility up in Ft. Jacques.  It is amazing!  They have almost five acres at the very top of a mountain.  You can see forever from here.  The construction is just what I would have expected from a group that has dedicated their whole lives to the service of children.  It is beautiful, cozy, and comfortable.  The kids live in delightful cottages adjoining their playground.  The spacious school building even has a computer lab and classes in English.  GLA older kids come home with the ability to communicate and to participate in school very quickly.  They are very fortunate children to have ended up here.  I am too.  I just wish I'd brought a sweater, because it's a cold day in Haiti!!

My final appointment of the day would also have been in the mountains, but today Dr. Bernard is downtown in his office.  At least we beat most of the traffic as it is only midafternoon when I arrive.  We discuss a few of our cases together, including a really complicated situation involving a child who is in the US on a medical Visa and cannot return.  Dr. Bernard is even more of a cynic than I am, but I persuade him that we really do need to keep all relevant government officials completely in the loop, even though I agree that he is surely correct and that they have forgotten all about the child and her medical needs.  We will do every single step by the book.  That policy has served ABI very well over the years, and we’re sticking to it!

I’m very happy to learn that New Life Link has in fact gotten multiple referrals, not just the one for the twin girls going to an ABI family.  Dr. Bernard’s young employee Emmanuel is doing an excellent job, and I make sure to tell Dr. Bernard that he is.  Really dedicated, competent help is hard to find.

Finally, back to the guest house.  I missed lunch again.  Bedtime at eight o’ clock, I hope.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Earlier this month I was honored with an invitation to another Adoption Round Table at the US Embassy.  Unfortunately, I had to send my regrets.  My work in Haiti has caused me to miss more proms, games, first steps, and birthdays than I even like to consider.  But I was not about to miss my daughter competing in the state high school basketball finals.  Her team finished seventh in the entire state B tournament, and this time Mom was there for every moment of her triumph.

Good ol' Boys Club
At the same time, there were transportation strikes in Haiti and the US Government postponed their delegation to Haiti.  Much to my delight, the meeting was rescheduled for today, when I was already scheduled to be in Haiti.  The meetings are always informative and useful, and this one is to be attended by several people I’ve worked with for years but never met face to face.  What a gift!

The morning starts with a tour of BRESMA for some special visitors.  I think they’re very impressed by what they see, and one person present (who is an attorney in real life) shows her true colors when her colleagues have to shoo her out the door.  She would rather stay and color with the preschool age girls.  I would too, but today is not the day for personal preferences.  It’s time to put on our diplomatic hats and fancier clothes and head to the US Embassy.

It’s a limited meeting, with only a few US agency representatives and the Directorship of three crèches invited.  I’m delighted to learn that Dixie Bickel from God’s Littlest Angels is here as well.  Hers is always a voice of reason, and of course she is very well informed.  Lucien and Gina Duncan are here, as is Margarette Saint Fleur of BRESMA.  Definitely a good sampling of the best informed and most ethical adoption facilitators and crèche directors in the country.  The US delegation includes the in-country staff of both USCIS and DOS, as well as many important leaders from both departments from their Washington DC offices.  I will not share names here to protect their privacy, but suffice it to say that the US Government is demonstrating a very strong interest in and concern for the welfare of Haiti’s vulnerable children.  USCIS and DOS often get a bad rap from adoptive parents, but over the past eleven years I have overwhelming found their personnel, at least at the higher levels, to be not only cooperative but compassionate as well.

We discuss various issues that we’re seeing lately.  At the moment, the primary focus is on transitional cases.  There are approximately 400 I600A petitions filed by US families to adopt from Haiti, which is now a Hague country.  Therefore, all of those cases are considered transitional.  They will be processed as would a Hague case in Haiti, under the new law (unless they are already begun – contact your agency or an immigration attorney for details), but as an Orphan/I600 case in regards to US Immigrations. 
Please read this information from USCIS for critical details regarding the filing of forms I600 in transitional cases:!

The delegation tells me they have not yet begun to focus on the straight Hague cases, as they don’t anticipate any I800 filings for Haiti cases processed under the new law for quite some time.  They are visibly taken aback when I inform them that I will in fact be filing the first such case in about two months at most.  The moral of the story, my American readers, is DO NOT LET YOUR I600A EXPIRE!  I suppose they’ll have to figure out how to process Haiti Hague cases sooner rather than later!

There is extensive discussion of the delays at IBESR.  Lucien Duncan expresses his opinion that the issue at IBESR is “lack of qualified human resources”.  I could not agree more!  There is one social worker to meet with, inform, and counsel biological families considering placing their children for adoption.  One social worker to meet with each adoptive family visiting Haiti on their socialization trip.  On Tuesday she was way up in the mountains in Thomassin, meeting with one of my families.  The trip and visit took most of the day.  When exactly is she supposed to write up her report on their meeting?  Mme Jean is a superb social worker, but she’s only human.  IBESR desperately needs a team – a large one – to accomplish their designated tasks.  Margarette and I calculated that the fees for the dossiers currently submitted must total at least $520,000 US, but I imagine that money is long since spent, and that IBESR lacks the financial resources to hire more staff.  As I told the US delegation, as I continue to tell IBESR, $385 was never enough funding to complete all of their assigned tasks.  I urgently wish that IBESR would now require an additional $1100 for each dossier already filed but not yet matched, as they plan to do for each dossier from October 2014 on.
I am able to relate to the delegation how much more reliable and safe the new relinquishment process is.  At this point, I think it would be very difficult indeed to traffic a child for adoption, with the birthparents unknowing of what is was to which they were agreeing.  They seem very pleased to hear about all of the safeguards in place.

Overall, I’d say that all the meeting participants are quite pleased with IBESR’s work, just not the speed at which is it being performed.  We all understand that transition is very difficult.  Unfortunately, the children who are growing up without families do not understand.  Nor should they have to.  They don’t have the time to wait and be patient as their childhoods slip away.
My Haitian colleagues and I leave the meeting in a bilingual discussion of all that occurred.  They are very satisfied indeed – they feel heard and they are very impressed by how much the US Government cares about Haitian adoptions, as evidenced by the number and importance of the personnel that they sent to speak with us.

Leg of a starving one-year-old child
Speaking of trafficking – as soon as we are finished with the meeting at the Embassy, Margarette and I go directly to IBESR to continue our very, very long battle to attempt to repair a few cases from an organization that had some very questionable ethics.  Today we need to meet with Me Jean, an IBESR attorney.  In one of the cases, the child’s grandmother was made to sign as her mother.  The little girl’s entire dossier is false!  We need permission to do it over again, this time with a family counsel and a death certificate for her mother, who is in fact deceased.  I’m angry twice over, as this particular bit of fraud will not only set the child back even more months of waiting, but it’s not even that hard to get a family counsel for a true orphan.  This was a lie born of sheer laziness, and the child is paying for it.

I’m very glad I came along.  Me Jean is empathetic to Margarette’s request, but she says she’s worried that the US government will not allow the case.  I am able to explain to her exactly how the law works – we haven’t submitted any of the falsified dossier to the US Government.  If only she’ll allow us to do the child’s dossier over, and correctly this time, we’ll file a clean and legitimate case with US Immigrations.  We are not required to turn in documents that we know are false and replaced with correct ones.  She’s running out the door and instructs us to return on Friday.  This is how it usually works in Haiti – you have to have an appointment to make an appointment, and even that is no guarantee that both parties will appear at the right time or even on the right day.
Finally I’m home again.  Dinner is ready and so am I – in Haiti I too seem to usually get just two meals per day.  My husband likes to refer to my travels as my ‘Caribbean Vacations’.  Funny how I always wish I could take a few days off after one of my ‘vacations’!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


This morning I awoke at 4:30 to a gray and cloudy Minnesota morning, and slushed through the hotel parking lot still filled with melting snow to the airport shuttle, wearing my sandals and a light weight dress under a Carhartts parka.  Such is my dual life…
Haiti is hot today – hot like July would normally be, and I stuffed my parka in my bag while on the plane.  An essential back home, it is useless weight to me here.

I’m met by friends and colleagues at the airport – the Jacmel site directors of the Hands and Feet Project.  They live here full time, and if they have parkas anymore, I imagine it takes some digging to unearth them.

We go to a restaurant called The Deck, which I have not visited before.  It’s in the UN compound.  You have to give them your ID to get in, but after that it’s pretty ordinary inside.  I have been here before, years ago, just after the earthquake.  At that time it was bristling with arms and activity, and I had to do a lot more than just provide an ID to get inside.
The compound is still an international mixture, with a kaleidoscope of languages and ethnicities.  The variety is reflected in the menu at the restaurant, which must be intended to make a world of workers feel more at home.  I order an ice tea, which arrives tasting like beer with lemon and sugar.  I’m not a beer fan, and I can’t even make myself drink it.  I’ve only been here an hour, and I’m already acting like a spoiled American brat.  But I’ve eaten cat that I liked a lot better than beer!

We talk about the progress, or lack thereof, at IBESR.  Everyone is frustrated to no end.  But this is Haiti, and things move even more slowly here than they do in our own US Government.
Driver Franck comes to fetch me, and we go straight to BRESMA orphanage as soon as I have dropped off my bags at the guest house.  I’m very tired, but there is not time for rest on my Haiti trips.  I am thrilled to see the kids, and with a few toddler exceptions, they are very happy to see me.  The best part of all is seeing that a little boy who got very sick in the summer and became dangerously thin is not quite fat.  Serious thunder thighs.  Glorious!  Medika Mamba and intensive attention have worked their magic and he’s a real chunker now.  I take a few photos and spend some time just relaxing with the kids.  If it were up to me, this is all I would ever do in Haiti – relax and play with the children I came here to serve in the first place.  But that’s not how it is.  Not for me, anyway.  God puts us where He wants us, not always where we think we want to be.  Tomorrow is a big day.