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Here in the U.S., interest in adopting Haitian orphans is soaring.
But as NPRs Jennifer Ludden reports, any large scale adoption effort will be slowed by legal and moral challenges.
JENNIFER LUDDEN: Kelly Rourke runs the Building Arizona Families adoption agency. She's gotten calls from across the country from those moved by Haitis tragedy wanting to become adopted parents. She's also fielded a good deal of misinformation.
Ms. KELLY ROURKE (Director, Building Arizona Families): I received a call from someone stating that they heard that there were orphans that had been flown over, and we could just go and, you know, choose one. And thats not how it works.
(Soundbite of laughter)
LUDDEN: Adoptions from Haiti normally take three years. But with a number of orphanages destroyed, babies and children going without food, sleeping in the open, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security bowed to pressure to help. A humanitarian parole will allow expedited visas for up to 900 orphans whose prospective parents have already been identified and whose adoption process was well underway. A first planeload of more than 50 such children arrived in Pittsburgh this week.
DHS spokesman Matt Chandler says for the untold number of other children left abandoned by the earthquake, it is important that they stay in Haiti.
Mr. MATT CHANDLER (Spokesman, Department of Homeland Security): We remain focused on family reunification and must be vigilant not to separate children from relatives in Haiti who are still alive or displaced or to unknowingly assist criminals who traffic in children in such desperate times.
LUDDEN: Chandler says private flights to rescue children are strongly discouraged. Tom DiFilipo heads the Joint Council on International Childrens Services, an advocacy group for orphans. He says there's good reason for such caution. With the best of intentions, DiFilipo says Western countries have moved too fast after other crises. Take Vietnamese children, adopted abroad after the war there.
Mr. TOM DIFILIPPO (President, Joint Council on International Childrens Services): As they grew up, they wanted to explore their history, where they came from, who their birth parents were. And we found out, unfortunately, that they had living relatives, same thing with the genocide in Rwanda.
LUDDEN: In Haiti, where many bodies are being dumped in mass graves, there will be no official list of the dead. DiFilippo says that will make it tough to verify who's been orphaned.
Mr. DIFILIPPO: What that will require then is for individuals to actually go into communities with pictures or just with conversation, to find out which parents have missing children. Go and meet the child, make sure that its actually the right child.
LUDDEN: DiFilippo says he can imagine that process taking up to a year. In Arizona, adoption agency director Kelly Rourke has no doubt that there will be a huge demand for international adoptions. Already before the earthquake, she says, Haitian orphanages were overflowing. And, in fact, many of the children in them had actually been given up by their parents.
Ms. ROURKE: Because they couldnt feed, or clothe, or take care of their child, and their child was going to die if they didnt do something drastic.
LUDDEN: Despite the crisis now, Rourke says a delay in new adoptions may be a good thing for prospective parents here as well.
Ms. ROURKE: It is a lifetime commitment and families who had not considered adopting before and did not have it on their heart, for them to all of a sudden make a decision, you know, in a 24-hour timeframe, is something that we want to be really cautious about.
LUDDEN: For families who are sure they want to adopt a Haitian child, Rourke says, all she can do for now is put their name on a waiting list.
Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.
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