Mr. President, I come to the floor today to call attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Haiti and to the plight of the many Haitian children who have been adopted by American families and are still waiting to be brought from the disaster to loving homes, to families who are waiting to welcome them. Many have been waiting for a year, 2 years. Many of the families in my State have actually gone to Haiti, and they have met these children.
In the days immediately following the earthquake, the United States, the United Nations, other nations, and organizations have moved swiftly to provide food and water, medicine and clothing, as well as international aid workers to assist in these disaster areas. The people of this country, the people all over the world, have been extraordinarily generous. Currently, thousands of American civilians, as well as members of our Federal agencies and Armed Forces, are in Haiti lending their hands to help the Haitian people.
Unfortunately, though the United States is doing much to save lives in Haiti, lives continue to be lost. And unfortunately, some of the most helpless of Haiti’s people—its children—are among those in most need of our help. I am focusing on this issue, this small but important piece of our aid relief, because I have had so many families come to me from my State who are clutching photos of children they are waiting to bring home.
Minnesota has one of the highest rates of international adoptions in the country. Part of that is because we have had a strong tradition of aid, of bringing people from Somalia, the Hmong community, to our State. We have also had a strong tradition of reaching out for decades and adopting children from other countries.
Many of the families I met with over the weekend have been able to confirm that their children are safe, and for that they are so grateful. But they have also heard reports of orphanages that are not in the best shape—not enough food, not enough water. They know these children because so many of them have seen them before. They knew even before this in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere that these children were not always getting adequate diets.
On January 15, I wrote to Secretaries Clinton and Napolitano, urging them to use their authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act to grant humanitarian parole to all U.S. families applying for entry to the United States on behalf of their prospective children during this period of emergency. I also spoke with Secretary Clinton. She was amazingly generous with her time, and sympathetic and working on this issue.
I am thankful that on Monday, January 18, Secretary Napolitano announced her authorization of the use of humanitarian parole for orphans who are eligible for adoption in the United States. Humanitarian parole is typically used sparingly in cases of compelling emergency. But as I noted in my letter, the magnitude of this disaster clearly warrants broader application of this policy.
There are details, and the details are important. How are these kids going to get to the United States so the paperwork can be processed? There has been talk of a safe haven set up, but we have not seen that happen. Meanwhile, our families in Minnesota are getting more desperate as they hear about the second quake today, as they hear about the problems from the people who are running the orphanages.
This is what I am talking about. Betsy Sathers, a Minnesota resident, was widowed when her husband of 10 months was killed in the tragic I-35W Minneapolis bridge collapse on his way home from work. They talked about having children. So Betsy Sathers decided to adopt some children. She signed up to adopt kids in Haiti. She recently returned from celebrating their second birthday—twins. That is who I am talking about when I talk about someone who is awaiting the arrival of these children in her home.
This is another family—I have their picture here—I met over the weekend. Ginger and Dale Reynolds are adopting two kids, Roselene and Rodeley. They were in the final stages and hoping to bring their kids home. They were told they were in the next batch of adoptions when they last visited before the earthquake hit.
What is striking about this family is that Ginger still signs all of her e-mails with blessings, and they are still incredibly positive despite having their kids in this orphanage. They are also stressing how they want us to help all families, not just theirs. When I met with them, another family was there who was not quite as far along in the process. They spent most of their time talking about how this other family should be helped as well.
Finally, Dawn and Lee Sheldon—I have their photo as well. This is when they were in Haiti. These are the two children they want to adopt who are not with them yet. They are adopting two children. The conditions have been very bad for the particular orphanage where their two kids have been staying. This family has been glued to CNN, which has filmed at the orphanage, looking to see these children’s faces.
While we talk legalities, understandably, orphans in Haiti are continuing to suffer from lack of water, lack of food, lack of shelter. Many orphanages have been partially or entirely destroyed in the shocks from this quake. In others, the bodies of deceased personnel still lie near the children, for aid agencies are unable to take away all of the dead.
The hardship and the horror that these orphans face is extreme, and we must act now to bring them out from the unsanitary and potentially traumatizing situation in which they find themselves.
I am grateful for the quick work of Secretary Napolitano and Secretary Clinton. They are on the scene. They are doing the work. But we have to do everything we can to bring these children home. These orphanages, the ones that have not been damaged and are still functioning, need the beds, sadly, for other children. These children have homes to go home to—homes that are welcoming them, homes that consider them their children.
Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.