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In Haiti’s Aftermath, Interest in Adoption Spikes

February 2, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Since last month's earthquake, there has been an exodus of young children from Haiti to new homes in the U.S. Tom Bearden reports.
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JIM LEHRER: Now a second story about Haiti’s young people, this one from the United States.

“NewsHour” correspondent Tom Bearden reports.

TOM BEARDEN: A steady stream of Haitian children have been arriving at airports all over the U.S. in the last two weeks, bound for new homes with adoptive parents.

Some had been living in damaged orphanages, sleeping in tents or on the ground.

WOMAN: Where did you get your gum? Where did you find your gum?

GIRL: My daddy gave me…

WOMAN: Your daddy gave you gum? OK.

TOM BEARDEN: Ten-year-old Guerdie has her own bed now, and it’s a very long way from a tropical Caribbean island. There’s snow in the front yard of her new home in Grand Junction, Colorado, a farm and ranching center on the western border of the state.

JANE YAMAGUCHI, adoptive parent: We were at the airport when she first saw snow.

TOM BEARDEN: Yes.

JANE YAMAGUCHI: And we walked outside, and my nieces and nephews were with her, and she just kind of looked at it. And she grabbed it and she picked it up, and she just had this puzzled look on her face. I don’t think she had any idea what it was.

TOM BEARDEN: Jane Yamaguchi and her husband, Kirk, are Guerdie’s new parents. She arrived just over a week ago with 31 other children from a Port-au-Prince orphanage called the House of the Children of God. Her birth parents died when she was an infant, and she was raised by an aunt for several years.

But the time came when the relative could no support her, and she was placed in the orphanage. Guerdie is the Yamaguchis’ second adopted child. They brought Gracie to the U.S. from China when she was just a toddler.

Kirk Yamaguchi has spent the last several years trying to convince other people that they too ought to adopt foreign children. Yamaguchi is the senior pastor at Valley View Vineyard Church, an evangelical Christian church with about 2,500 members.

KIRK YAMAGUCHI, pastor, Valley View Vineyard Church: And there are others in this room that God may be calling you to adopt or to be foster parents, that you can answer that call, and that maybe there’s a child out there that’s crying out for a mommy and a daddy. And he’s calling out to you.

TOM BEARDEN: Some, like Greg and Jessica Stevens, have responded. They brought two-year-old Jamesley here a few days after Guerdie arrived.

How is he adjusting to life in the United States?

JESSICA STEVENS, adoptive parent: He’s smiling. That’s how he’s adjusting. He’s doing tremendous. He really is. As my husband put it to me last night, it’s incredible that he’s gone through an earthquake, and he’s on basically planet Mars, and he’s ready to smile at any moment. So, it’s amazing.

TOM BEARDEN: Unlike the members of two Idaho churches who were arrested in Haiti this week for trying to take children out of the country without documentation, these parents were in the midst of a long and expensive process to conform to the multitude of regulations imposed by both the Haitian and the U.S. governments. The Yamaguchis started a year ago, and were expecting to wait a lot longer.

JANE YAMAGUCHI: They say it could have taken a year-and-a-half to two more years for us, so — which would have been an almost-three-year process for us.

TOM BEARDEN: So, how did all that get compressed?

JANE YAMAGUCHI: Well, after the earthquake, basically, the — I’m not sure what government agencies did what, but, basically, the Department of Homeland Security decided that they would issue humanitarian parole visas to these children that actually had to be in the process of being referred to a family.

TOM BEARDEN: Last week, the Haitian government stopped all adoptions that weren’t already legally under way before the earthquake, fearing that, in the chaos, children would become victims of human trafficking. The prime minister now personally signs off on each adoption.

Several children’s welfare organizations applauded the move.

Diana Myers is vice president for international programs at Save the Children. She says it’s vital to know who is and who is not an orphan.

DIANA MYERS, Save the Children: If a child seems to be separated or seems to possibly have lost a parent or both parents, we want to work with the community there to give them a chance to be reunited. We all know that children recover fastest if they’re able to be with family, if they can be with extended family and other relatives.

TOM BEARDEN: The Yamaguchis worked with Denver-based Chinese Children Adoption International. Lily Nie and her husband, Josh, founded the agency in 1992, and have since placed some 9,000 Chinese children in all 50 states and 15 foreign countries.

They became interested in Haiti before the earthquake, partnering with the House of the Children of God. Nie agrees that all parties need to be very careful with international adoptions.

LILY NIE, Chinese Children Adoption International: Can you imagine if they just separated from the parents or relatives? Then they may still have a chance to have a family in their own country? In that case, we shouldn’t take those children away from their country.

TOM BEARDEN: Helping children maintain contact with their culture is one reason Yamaguchi wants his church members to adopt more Haitian children.

KIRK YAMAGUCHI: So the vision that we had is, if we get a number of these kids adopted in our church community here, we can keep them in relationship with each other, and where they could continue to have some sense of identity.

Now, I don’t know if you guys notice this, but if you look around the room, most of you are all white folk.

And there ain’t many Asians here either. We’re going to work on that, too. And so we wanted to have them here, where they can stay connected and still keep a piece of that identity with each other.

TOM BEARDEN: Some organizations have expressed concerns about interracial adoptions. Most of the Haitian children seem to be going to white families. The Yamaguchis share that concern.

KIRK YAMAGUCHI: We know there’s going to challenges with Guerdie being raised in a community like Grand Junction that’s 90 percent white. And, so, we’re quite aware of that, and we want to be able to talk to Guerdie and address those issues with her, and be able to expose her to opportunities where she can be connected to her culture still.

JANE YAMAGUCHI: I know a lot of agencies would like to see the children be able to stay in their country. And if they can do it, they can. And I agree with that. I think that’s a great thing.

But a country like Haiti, if there’s the choice between a child living on the street, not getting much more than maybe some rice and beans for one meal a day, or coming to live with a family that’s a white family, I still would rather see them have a loving home. At least it gets them to a place where these children aren’t going to die.

TOM BEARDEN: About two dozen children in the adoption process still remain in the Port-au-Prince orphanage. Their adoptive parents in Colorado hope they will be allowed to leave any day now.