WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins today joined a bipartisan group of 15 Senators and 35 House members in sending a letter to the Obama Administration asking for greater collaboration between the federal agencies in an effort to evacuate the 600 to 700 orphans who have been granted humanitarian parole. In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Designate Rajiv Shah, these members of Congress stressed the need for a plan to swiftly evacuate orphans safely to their adoptive U.S. families.
The letter was co-signed by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Michael Bennet (D-CO.), Kit Bond (R-MO), Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA), John Ensign (R-NV), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), John McCain (R-AZ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Mark Udall (D-CO).
“In our view, the chaos that has ensued is a direct result of a lack of logistical inter-agency coordination, a lack of communication to the public, and ad-hoc processing of travel documents by the U.S. Embassy,” the members of Congress wrote. “Therefore, we are writing to ask for your personal assurances that the State Department, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Agency on International Development, puts in place a plan to directly ensure that ALL of the 600-700 orphans affected by Monday’s announcement of humanitarian parole are safely and efficiently evacuated within the next ten days.”
On January 18, 2010, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would extend humanitarian parole to those Haitian orphans with established adoptive relationships with U.S. adoptive families so that these orphans could travel immediately to the United States.
However, in the three days following the announcement, federal agencies have yet to put forth a coordinated logistical plan to assure these orphans’ immediate safety, efficient immigration processing and exit to the U.S. Without such a plan, American citizens will put themselves or the children they are seeking to adopt at risk in attempting an evacuation, the Senators argued.
“Over the past four days, we, along with several other congressional offices have been urging State Department, USAID and Homeland Security officials to consider the consequences of making this announcement without a plan that ensured safe and efficient processing and travel for these children,” the letter says. “Despite our best efforts, over 350 American families are now desperate and many are trying to independently evacuate their children. At the same time, orphanage directors, who are also lacking the information and support they need to protect the children in their care, are leaving the orphanages in search of help.”
“Understandably, families are anxious to bring their children to the United States where they can personally assure their safety, said Kathleen Strottman, Executive Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). “If they are not given the benefit of a clear U.S. government led plan to do that, then they will come up with one of their own. Given the situation on ground, it is in no one’s best interest for 350 or so American families to be planning individual rescue missions.”