Orphans, orphans, orphans!

Those poor orphans!  Gotta save the orphans!  That’s the prevailing narrative coming out of the Haiti disaster.  And yet “orphans” is largely a misnomer.  It’s a word that is used to invoke pity.  Poor parentless children.  But for many of the “orphans” of Haiti, it’s simply not true.

Some of the children were placed in orphanages by their parents.

Their parents.

The thought overwhelms me, as an individual whose wealth and privilege is protective and insulating.  How desperate must a parent be to surrender a child?  Pretty damn desperate.

A friend of mine used to say that a problem isn’t really a problem if it can be solved with money.  Again, that’s wealth and privilege talking.  Because were I in a desperate situation, one that could be fixed with money, I’d almost certainly be able to access that money.  I could count on my friends and loved ones to pony up.  I even know that some of my relatives who don’t speak to me would give me cash (and I know this, because it happened once).

Not everybody has that option.

So here we have all this money, and we have “orphans” in Haiti.  We could fix the problem.  We could provide supplies.  We could help first families stay together.  We could actively solicit kinship care.

And I am sure that there are some organizations working towards that end.  But what we mostly hear about is the “saving” of “orphans.”

Here’s a radical thought:  If some of those “orphans” were relinquished for adoption because their parents could not keep them, how about we airlift entire families from Haiti to the U.S.?  If you’re seriously talking about the welfare of the child, isn’t it best for the family to remain together?

But that wouldn’t serve the needs of those other families.  You know, those good families who wish to save the orphans.  The ones who are putting their power and privilege to work on our government.  So although the country is in shambles, children are being removed.  We’ve put pressure on Haiti’s government, even though officials said “no” at several points.  Because the unspoken quid pro quo is out there:  Do what we want or else.

USCIS also has a definition of “orphan” which does not meet the common usage.  But it facilitates the removal of children from their birth country:

A child may be considered an orphan because of the death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents. The child of an unwed mother or surviving parent may be considered an orphan if that parent is unable to care for the child properly and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption. The child of an unwed mother may be considered an orphan, as long as the mother does not marry (which would result in the child’s having a stepfather) and as long as the child’s biological father has not legitimated the child. If the father legitimates the child or the mother marries, the mother is no longer considered a sole parent. The child of a surviving parent may also be an orphan if the surviving parent has not married since the death of the other parent (which would result in the child’s having a stepfather or stepmother).

“Orphan” sounds so much better than “child whose parent could not provide due to abject poverty.”  “Orphan” is a neat and tidy word that sums up the disconnection of the child from any past and grants the new parents a halo of goodness.

“Orphan” is about gratitude. It’s about the child “coming home,” a phrase that inherently discounts the importance of the child’s birth country and culture.  It’s about “opportunities of a lifetime,” which by implication don’t exist anywhere but the good old U.S. of A.  It’s about the “chance of a good life,” which also doesn’t exist anywhere other than here.

“Orphan” is about a relationship that begins with pity.

Pity is a shitty place to start.  And I have deep misgivings about individuals who saw the devastation in Haiti and then felt “moved” to adopt a child.  Because adoption should never be about pity.  It should not be about saving a child.  And it’s not about a feel-good gesture.  It’s about a life change–for both the child and the parents.

To me, the surge of interest in adopting from Haiti is like the way people buy Christmas gifts for poor kids during the holidays.  And want to invite them over to their homes.  But in January and February and March the need is still there.  But it’s not as much fun.  Damn, and it’s not nearly as rewarding if nobody witnesses your benevolence.

Buying toys for poor kids and maybe even getting to give the toys to them directly is so rewarding.  Much more rewarding than working in communities.  Because I have to tell you, that kind of work is really work.  And usually people won’t thank you for it.  So if you were hoping for thanks and gratitude from poor people, you’re out of luck.

The reality is that deciding to adopt should not be about pity.  And it should be a process, one that includes thoughtful consideration and research and examination of multiple issues.  Agencies should be seeking the best parents possible for the children.  Prospective adoptive parents routinely complain about the long process in Haiti (thank G-d for the earthquake!  My baby is coming home!  This is how G-d moves!  In mysterious ways!).  But are they prepared?

Read the stories.

Some of the families are adopting multiple children.  And they have small children already at home.  Are these really the best possible families?

How many prospective adoptive parents speak Kreyol?  Or have been studying the language?  (This article has a long-suffering adoptive parent looking up the word for “mother” in her dictionary.  She’s been waiting since 2006 to adopt.)

How many prospective adoptive parents have been trained in cross cultural and transracial adoption issues?  (The same parent referenced above wonders about black hair care.  Now that she’s receiving the child.  Do you think she thought about other issues of race and culture?)  (Don’t even get me started about trauma issues.  That’s too big to even cover.  But I’m of the opinion that the average individual isn’t equipped to handle extensive trauma in a child.)

Why aren’t agencies soliciting prospective parents of Haitian descent?  Folks with experience treating trauma?

I also hate to get into the whole “why don’t people adopt domestically” argument, because I think family choices are very personal.  But we have a crisis in our own country.  At least half a million children with no parents.  Children who presumably speak English.  Children who presumably share our culture.

But it’s about being deserving.  We all know that “those people” in the U.S. have problem children.  But the orphans in Haiti deserve our help.  Although their parents and their society seem to suffer from the tarnish of “those people” as well.  Because foraging for food in a disaster is “looting,” and because rioting is what “those people” do, we have to remove the children.

Think of the children.  (Just not “those children.”)

A Haitian orphan can be shown off.  An orphan is a visible, tangible example of charity.  An orphan is a display of Christian kindness and goodness. Because obviously these parents are such good people to take poor Haitian orphans into their homes. Read some of the news articles about the kids’ “homecomings.” One happy family story detailed that one child came home “caked in dried diarrhea” and the other child’s clothing had to be burned. Not just discarded, but burned. (Remember Anita Tedaldi and her shit-eating child?)

Another story detailed siblings who came “home” on a Saturday and were trundled off to church on a Sunday. To be shown off to the congregation. Look at these good works.

Look what Jayzus and a little privilege can do.

Some of the children who are coming to the States were already in the adoption process.  However, under Haitian law the adoption must be finalized in country before a child can be removed.  No matter to us.  The Haitian government wanted to block the removal of some of the children.  No matter to us.

We’re apparently issuing visas at light-speed.  In addition, some children are being granted “humanitarian parole.”  In other words, they’re circumventing the visa process.  (Edited to add:  Contrast the expediting of visas for adoption vs. the treatment of non-adoptive-parents in the U.S. with kids in Haiti.  And then write your senators and your congressional rep.)

Part of the visa process is designed to protect the child.  It includes the “orphan” adoption petition and the homestudy.  But apparently the visa process couldn’t be completed in many cases.

Humanitarian parole is a temporary status and not intended to be a path towards citizenship.  From the USCIS site:

USCIS may grant parole temporarily:

  • To anyone applying for admission into the United States based on urgent humanitarian reasons or if there is a significant public benefit
  • For a period of time that corresponds with the length of the emergency or humanitarian situation

Parolees must depart the United States before the expiration of their parole. You may request an extension of parole, which must be approved by USCIS. Parole does not grant any immigration benefits.

You cannot use parole to avoid normal visa-issuing procedures or to bypass immigration procedures. As noted above, there must be an urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit for the parole to be granted.

Well, it looks as if parole is being used to avoid those “normal visa-issuing procedures” and to bypass immigration.  And the significant public benefit?  Babies!  Babies for parents!  Yay!  Everybody wins!

I predict significant problems in the years to come.  Remember Allie Mulvihill?  She was brought to the U.S. on humanitarian parole because there were suspicions she was a trafficked child.  No matter.  Her parents got what they wanted.  Her story attracted the intention of somebody with immigration services. Lucky for her.  Otherwise she’d undoubtedly join the ranks of deported adopted persons.  (Video here.)

If children are being removed without Haitian legal safeguards in place, what is the recourse if these same children are later found to have been removed erroneously?  Will the children be restored to their families?  Or will possession be 9/10ths of the law?

Of course, you must think about the children!  What do you want, for more children to DIE?  They CAN’T LIVE under those conditions!  Isn’t it BETTER for them to BE HERE than to be in an ORPHANAGE?

Because those are the only two choices we have.  It’s the same old argument about intercountry adoption.  Would you rather the child grow up to be a prostitute?  Would you rather she work in a factory?  So what if he maintains his culture but has no family?

Because you can’t argue because everybody knows that adult Haitians are poor and clueless or corrupt and incompetent.  But not the babies.  So let’s save the babies.

It’s about giving aid but only on our terms.  The strings attached are the children.

10 thoughts on “Orphans, orphans, orphans!

  1. The Families for Orphans Act turns the meaning of orphan entirely on its head by including in its clutches children with parents. It casts a huge net for Americans to scoop up as many babies as possible. And now lawmakers are using the Haiti disaster to move this bill out of committee. Just wow.

  2. My partner is black and I’m white. I do speak some kreyol and am basically fluent (if a bit rusty) in French. We’re licensed to adopt from foster care here and are actively seeking an older black boy. And if there were a Haitian-born child in our community who needed a home, yeah, I think we could be a great resource. And yet we’d never consider trying to be a part of this mass removal because it’s just so clearly wrong.

    I’m particularly sick of hearing about “Would you rather that child become a prostitute?” too. We’ve considered parenting several kids who have been prostitutes and that’s not at all the reason we didn’t end up matched with them. People, if you care that much about sexual exploitation of children, please do something other than claim you’ve been your child’s savior! This one just really, really gets to me.

  3. Thank you for writing this. I’ve been trying to explain to people why the Haitian “orphan” drive is wrong. You’ve explained it wonderfully, and now I’ll be able to link people to this post.

  4. This is a great post. This community might be interested in the works of David M. Smolin – particularly at this time. Smolin is a law professor who writes brilliant, scholarly papers that about the injustices inherent in transnational adoption. Here’s papers are available free here: http://works.bepress.com/david_smolin/

    One of my favorite things he says is, to paraphrase, “Why is it considered ethical to spend thousands of dollars taking a child away from a family when donating a few hundred dollars would enable the family to keep the child?”

  5. This is one of the BEST notes I’ve seen on this issue. I’ve been blogging as well about the ‘looting’ of Haitian children since the days immediately following the earthquake. While we tend to think of sexual abuse and human trafficking when the term ‘predator’ is used in relation to children, the actions of some of the international organizations and entities that rushed in to yank up Haitian children while knowingly disregarding local and international laws were just as egregious. Thankfully organizations like UNICEF and Save the Children as well as the Haitian government itself have stepped in to at least slow down this madness — which in the overwhelming majority is NOT in the best interest of these children.

  6. Here is a link to the statement by a group of adult transracial adoptees on the matter of Haiti. I posted it before but several days after the other post


    Think about the tuition you would pay for the child for a year of private school. Now take that 5000-15000 you would have spent for just ONE YEAR and donate it an organization like SOS http://www.soschildrensvillages.org.uk/

    that has been on the ground in Haiti for years caring for Orphans in their own country in “family villages” not adopting kids out to the West. These “Orphans” have many aunts/Uncles/Cousins down the street or around the corner that they don’t have to lose contact with if you don’t remove them from the country. It is much more cost efficient to help repair the system and prevent more children from being sucked into a human trafficking situation than just to adopt and care for one child in the U.S.

    I am also an adoptive parent. Domestic adoption still doesn’t solve the transracial issue in many cases if white parents adopt kids of a different culture and do not raise them in that culture. True, at least the child speaks English, and has a great potential of finding/staying in touch with their families-but if you raise them as a white child in a white community then you have still done a great disservice to the child.

  7. Just another white adoptive parent here that thinks that this baby grab is utterly wrong. I’m all for helping Haiti as much as we can, but spiriting off their children is not the answer.

    So far as foster parenting goes – as someone that lived in foster homes and watched my social worker wife deal with foster “parents” that gets a strong no from me as well.

    Damn, why can’t people listen? And see? We always figure these things out too late, then deny them because we can’t take them back.

  8. I know a lot of folks aren’t big fans of Holt but I do have to say I was impressed that they closed their Haitian adoption program immediately and spoke out (in the Oregonian) against the flood of people looking to adopt a Haitian “orphan”.

  9. Paternalistic trans-racial adoptions have also existed for many years in the great “White” north. My mother, who was plains Cree, had a white partner who fathered me. Unfortunately, when she died during my infancy, he had little interest in caring for me further, having his primary family to occupy his attention, so I was left to the foster/adoption racket, and to hell with even thinking of contacting my nation/reserve. This pattern was repeated with thousands of children under many different circumstances. Thus, the policies of eroding Aboriginal heritage, language and culture continued.

  10. Finally got time to read the whole post, and it was well worth it. It is simply brilliantly argued, r.

    I’ve lately been concentrating on “feeling” rather than “thinking”, which makes it difficult for me to be coherent on such complex subjects, but what I do know is that, for every email I have received from various adoptive communities about saving the Haitian orphans, I have felt sick to my very stomach.

    No need to think anymore – I’ll just point people here.

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