.- As controversy continues to surround the 10 relief volunteers who tried to take Haitian children out of the devastated country without paperwork, the heads of five major Catholic agencies serving earthquake victims have outlined steps to ensure the protection of unaccompanied Haitian children. Their recommendations came in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
The letter was signed by the leaders of Migration and Refugee Services of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., and the International Catholic Migration Commission.
Citing their own experience in caring for unaccompanied children, they advocated that certain processes be put into place before Haitian children are brought to the U.S. and placed in adoption proceedings.
The Catholic leaders urged the establishment of “safe havens” in Haiti to provide proper care and security for children.
“Such arrangements for the security and material support of these children, who might otherwise be subject to kidnapping and human trafficking, should be the highest priority, and will permit the appropriate screening processes to proceed without delay,” they said.
The letter did not mention the attempt by 10 Baptist volunteers to take Haitian children out of the country. That effort resulted in the volunteers’ detention by the Haitian government.
The signers of the letter said child welfare experts should be assigned to determine each child’s best interest, and family tracing efforts should work to reunite children with their parents and families.
“Family reunification is an important goal and must be protected to the greatest extent possible, while placement with a guardian within Haiti will sometimes prove to be the appropriate course,” they wrote.
Consideration for children’s international placement should take place only with a “careful, individualized assessment of what is best for each of them.”
Their letter added that children whose best interest is relocation to the U.S. should be placed in foster care with refugee benefits. Further, U.S. citizens or permanent residents with minor children in Haiti should have expedited consular processing, as should those with approved petitions for family reunification.
The Catholic leaders concluded by voicing appreciation for the response of the U.S. government and voiced hope for cooperation in protecting vulnerable children and other quake victims.