Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–January 20, 2010.
Participants: Secretary of State Clinton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Overseas Citizens Services Michele Bond, Counselor for Human Services Policy Sharon Parrott, Acting Deputy Director, United States Citizenship and Immigration Service Lauren Kielsmeier
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone, and Michele and Sharon, Lauren. I’m joined today with three of our extraordinary public servants from the federal government who you will hear from in a minute, and I will introduce them.
But first, I want to give you a brief update on developments in Haiti. Today we are closely monitoring the impact of the significant aftershock – it was above 6 on the Richter scale – that struck Port-au-Prince this morning, and we are assessing potential damage from it.
In better news, we saw the arrival of the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship with more than 600 medical personnel, that adds important capacity to our relief efforts. Already, patients are being taken on board via helicopter, and treated. The Comfort adds to what is one of the largest international rescue and relief efforts in history. Food, water, medical supplies, and other essential aid continue to flow into the country. And relief workers are operating around the clock to deliver more aid more quickly to more people. There are significant challenges – devastated infrastructure, limited transportation options, security concerns – but we are making real progress every day.
One area we are urgently focused on is the plight of Haitian orphans, and I am pleased to have with us today Michele Bond from the State Department, who is heading up our efforts on this issue; Sharon Parrott, who represents Secretary Sebelius from the Department of Health and Human Services; and Lauren Kielsmeier from the Department of Homeland Security, working with Secretary Napolitano. These three dedicated public servants, along with all whom they work with, are leading our efforts on behalf of the children who were orphaned before this earthquake, because children are especially vulnerable in any disaster, especially those without parents or other guardians to look after them. This devastating earthquake has left many in need of assistance, and their welfare is of paramount concern as we move forward with our rescue and relief efforts.
Now, when it comes to children, it is imperative that we closely coordinate with the Haitian Government, the United Nations, and our other international partners such as NGOs and faith communities who are on the ground, who are working to ensure that aid reaches Haiti’s orphanages and that the newly orphaned children are accounted for and cared for.
But we will also be doing everything we can to unite the many children and families who have been separated in the aftermath of the earthquake and to do all that we can to expedite the travel of children who were in the line for adoption, who have a legal, permanent home, guardianship waiting for them. We will not let red tape stand in the way of helping those in need, but we will ensure that international adoption procedures to protect children and families are followed.
There are several hundred Americans in the United States who were already in the process of adopting Haitian children before the earthquake. As a mother, I share the anxiety that they must be feeling as they wait for word about their children’s safety, and we are doing everything possible to locate these children and then expedite their arrival in our country. The State Department is heading up a joint task force with the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to streamline the process and ensure that families both get word and get reunited as quickly as we can. We’ve established an interagency working group to focus on the humanitarian needs of highly vulnerable children. And we are working with the many members of Congress who are understandably very concerned on behalf of their constituents.
I want to underscore that we are consulting closely with President Preval and his government on this and every facet of this massive relief effort. They are setting the priorities for relief and recovery despite operating under the most difficult circumstances. I’ve also spoken with a number of leaders and foreign ministers from across the region and the world, and we are keeping in touch about our ongoing commitment to Haiti. And I will be traveling to Montreal, Canada on Monday to attend a meeting of donor countries who are already involved or wish to be involved, not only in the emergency crisis we’re facing now of search and rescue and the delivery of immediate relief, but also in the longer-term challenge of reconstruction and recovery.
The outpouring of support and assistance from around the world has been extraordinary, and I’ve been very proud to see generous Americans from every corner of our country open their hearts in solidarity with the Haitian people. These are the times when we remember our common humanity, when we pull together across cultures and borders to help those suffering and in need.
Now, in these difficult first days, we’ve seen miracles: children pulled alive from the rubble, separated family members finding one another, walls that did not crumble, and foundations that did not crack. But unfortunately, those miracles have been too few. Seeing the human suffering and dislocation of daily life in Port-au-Prince, a place I have come to know over the past three decades, reminds us of the magnitude of the task at hand – all of the lives that are lost, all of the terrible injuries, the families that have been broken, the homes in ruin, and a country that was on the cusp of progress dealt another cruel and unimaginable blow.
Yet there are reasons to believe that the days and months ahead can and will be better. Over the years, I have come to know the resilience and determination of the Haitian people. They may have seen more than their share of sorrow. They may have known more struggle and pain and nature’s fickle wrath than many of the rest of us. Yet they come through these storms, they are carried forward by their faith and their hard work, and I am confident that even in this darkest of hours, they will once again persevere.
President Preval and I have been working closely during this past year on plans for the future – for sustainable growth, for new opportunities. These plans, which are a very solid foundation, will, of course, be revised and rethought, but they will not be abandoned. Haiti will need not only the talent and grit of her people, including the Haitian diaspora, but it will need all of us, partners and friends who are committed not just in the immediate aftermath of this terrible earthquake but for the duration.
So let me reaffirm what President Obama said so forcefully in recent days: The people of the United States will stand with Haiti every step of the way. This is a partnership with a neighbor for the long term.
Now I would like to introduce Michele Bond from the Department of State, Sharon Parrott, who will follow her, from Health and Human Services, and Laruen Kielsmeier from the Department of Homeland Security.
MS. BOND: Thank you, Madame Secretary. I am honored and delighted to accept this request to head up our whole-of-government interagency effort to ensure necessary coordination of U.S. adoptions and process in Haiti.
As we’ve witnessed in television reports of adopted children arriving in the United States, there is no sweeter scene than a child walking to the safety of loving parents who have been waiting to welcome that child home, far away from the horror and devastation they have recently witnessed in their homeland. We fully sympathize with the worry and the concern of adoptive parents who have not yet welcomed their children home and are worried about their safety and their welfare.
Having been in the Department of State for more than 30 years and spent about half of that time working on issues involving children and orphans, I really look forward to working closely with colleagues in the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services on this critically important mission. Together, I am confident we will successfully expedite the process of bringing to the United States children who are in line to be adopted by American citizens while closely following and respecting international standards for intercountry adoption.
Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Michele.
MS. PARROTT: Hello, I’m Sharon Parrott from the Department of Health and Human Services. The Department of Health and Human Services is so pleased to be working with our federal partners on this important mission. To be able to be a part of joining children who need homes with loving homes is truly a privilege, I think.
It is really critical, I think, for everyone to understand, including prospective parents, that when children arrive and adoptions are not final, we do have to take steps to safeguard and protect those children that are now entrusted to our care. We are so thrilled that there are loving parents here in the United States ready, already in process to welcome children who desperately need homes. And no one wants to expedite the process more than the three federal agencies responsible for getting children here and getting them to parents. And I’m very confident that, working together, we’ll be able to develop a – we’ll have a process in place that will safeguard the needs and protect children and get them to their adoptive homes as quickly as possible.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Sharon.
MS. KIELSMEIER: Thank you, Madame Secretary. We are pleased to be here today. On January 18, Secretary Napolitano, in coordination with the State Department, announced a humanitarian parole policy allowing orphaned children in Haiti with prospective adoptive families in the U.S. to enter the United States.
The humanitarian parole policy will be applied on a case-by-case basis to the following children: children who have been legally confirmed as orphans eligible for intercountry adoption by the Government of Haiti and are being adopted by U.S. citizens, children who have been previously identified by an adoption service provider or facilitator as eligible for intercountry adoption and have been matched to U.S. citizen prospective adoptive parents. USCIS and the Department of State are assisting individuals through the American Embassy in Port-au-Prince to determine eligibility for evacuation and entry to the United States.
DHS appreciates the urgency of the situation and need to process evacuees quickly. In order to ensure children are not separated from relatives in Haiti and to protect potential victims of trafficking, DHS strongly discourages the use of private aircraft to evacuate orphans. All flights must be appropriately coordinated with the U.S. and Haitian governments to ensure proper clearances are granted before arrival to the United States. DHS encourages U.S. citizens with pending adoption cases in Haiti to send detailed information about their cases to Haitianadoptions – all one word – @DHS.gov for additional assistance.
Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’ll be glad to take your questions on this issue.
Jill. And I’ve got my experts, so I will probably be turning to them.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, you have mentioned several times that you are coordinating with President Preval. As we know, the Government of Haiti was pretty much decimated after this earthquake. Is there any chance that in coordinating and perhaps asking them for direction in what to do that the relief effort was slowed down?
And then also a second question kind of in the same vein: We’re hearing a lot from the ground from people who say that supplies are simply not getting in. We can’t get into a lot of detail, but that seems to be a theme that’s emerging. Are you satisfied with the pace of getting supplies, especially medical and other supplies, and personnel on the ground?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, as to the first question, as you know, I met at length with President Preval and Prime Minister Bellerive on Saturday when I was there. We agreed to a joint communiqué which we have issued under my signature and President Preval’s which outlines the very broad request for help that the Haitian Government has made to the United States Government. We are proceeding as quickly as we can to meet the innumerable needs that are there on the ground.
But I do think it’s important to underscore that the Government of Haiti was grievously damaged by the earthquake. The physical damage to the actual buildings of government, the loss of ministers and government officials is extraordinarily difficult to contend with. However, President Preval, the prime minister, and those ministers who have been working with him meet every morning, every afternoon. They are deeply involved in coordinating not only with the United States, but with the United Nations and with other countries and donors as well.
Of course I’m not satisfied about getting material and personnel in for everyone who needs it, but I am realistically aware of the difficulties that this terrible natural disaster has posed. And I think given the challenges that the relief and rescue effort faced, everyone in this country and those of citizens of countries that are also participating along with the United Nations should be very grateful for the extraordinary outpouring and very proud of the men and women who are in Haiti.
Every day, we get better. Today’s better than yesterday. Tomorrow will be better than today. But there were so many challenges that had to be addressed all at once, and I think that having followed and been involved in disasters over many years now, the other way of looking at it is that it’s really remarkable how much we’ve gotten done. And yet we are not satisfied; we are working every day to get better. We have more assets on the ground today than we did yesterday. So we’re just going to continue to do more and more.
The USNS Comfort is a big help, having more U.S. troops working to deliver humanitarian aid, but when the principal instruments of authority and assistance – namely the Haitian Government, the United Nations, including MINUSTAH themselves – were so impacted, we really had to start at the very beginning to be able to put in place what we have accomplished thus far. I get reports twice a day about what is happening. We push hard when something comes to our attention. But frankly, if you look at the whole broad context of what we’ve been able to do, I think that overall, it’s a heroic, historic effort that is ongoing.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: The development expert, Paul Collier, who helped craft that plan you discussed earlier told me today he thinks there needs to be a Marshall Plan for Haiti and he says he thinks your husband should lead it. Have you discussed that possibility with him? And what do you think are the most important considerations for the rebuilding of Haiti going forward?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have a great deal of respect for Paul Collier, who some of you may not know is one of the premier development experts in the world now. He’s a citizen of the United Kingdom. He was someone we consulted on our plan about how we were going to work with Haiti that we had all teed up and ready to go when the earthquake caused us to change our direction on what we needed to do immediately.
I think there has to be a coordinated reconstruction and development effort. Again, though, we were working this past year with the Haitian Government. We were fulfilling their requests about what they wanted to see done in agriculture, in energy, in infrastructure. It is very important that you be closely connected and listening to the people of the country that you are attempting to help. Too much development in the past has basically been kind of parachuted in and that hasn’t necessarily been sustainable.
So I think Dr. Collier has some very good ideas. There are others who are bringing their ideas to the forefront. As you know, my husband was working with the United Nations on the tsunami recovery. The United Nations has a broad mandate and legitimacy to deal with a lot of these issues. And so when I go to Montreal on Monday, we’re going to begin to look at how we get prepared for what will be the next phase.
The search-and-rescue teams are still there. They’re pulling people out today. The food, the water, the medical supplies are pouring in and getting distributed. The security is improving so that we’ve got a safe passage for relief workers and their supplies. That was the first priority. Now, we will simultaneously, while all of that continues, begin to talk through how the international community will step up to the challenge of helping Haiti build back better. That is our goal.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, how concerned is the – excuse me, the Obama Administration about Haitians, given all their difficulties, taking to the seas and trying to come to the U.S. to escape the problems? Even though you’re doing all you can to help there, it may not be enough.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have seen no evidence of any kind of mass movement like that. Secretary Napolitano issued the order for temporary protected status for those Haitians who are undocumented in the United States as of January 12th. But we’ve made it very clear that there will not be an opportunity for those who leave Haiti to be permitted to go into the United States, that we don’t think it’s in the interests of either Haiti, and it would be in violation of our immigration laws.
So I know Secretary Napolitano has a very comprehensive plan about how we will help the people in other parts of Haiti. You saw the buses leaving Port-au-Prince. A lot of those people are going into the countryside. We want to provide assistance to them so that they are sustained there. But we’ve done what we think we can do. But we will not be changing our immigration laws.
I’m going to let our experts answer your questions about orphans. Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: On the orphan issue, I’m wondering if you could tell me roughly what numbers of orphans are covered by the parole order already, how many actually may come to the United States under that order? And what the United States can do to prevent misuse of the system – I’m thinking on the ground in Haiti? For instance, is there – are there investigators you can put into this? How do we ensure that unscrupulous brokers don’t begin just to send children on for adoption who shouldn’t be eligible? And thirdly, is there any evidence that the trafficking is already underway? You mentioned that that – you know, they shouldn’t be using private planes. Do we have any sense that that’s actually happening?
MS. BOND: Okay. Those are good questions. As to the first question of what is the scope of this, how many children might be involved, we can only estimate that based on the number of American parents, adoptive parents who have filed paperwork with DHS indicating an intent to adopt from Haiti. And it’s always true that some people who file the paperwork don’t go through with an adoption or switch to another country or something, so you don’t have a firm fix on it. But we do think it’s several hundred, certainly 5-, 600 at least who are likely to be pursuing the completion of their adoption.
As to the question of how we can know that the children that we are dealing with now are the ones that are really those children on the paperwork, it’s important to understand that these children have been in the adoption process, in many cases, for two years or three years. We have photos. The families have photos, many of them have visited. We have good information. We know exactly who the children are. And so it would be very difficult for someone to slip a different child in as a substitute for the child in the particular case or the particular paperwork.
We don’t have any reason to suspect that children have entered the United States illegally to date. But we want to emphasize that that potential is there, and that’s why the warning was given that people with the best of intentions flying in to try to rescue children and take them back to the States are doing something that is actually very harmful for the children, and we strongly urge against it.
QUESTION: Thank you.