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Dem senators urge expansion of policy to bring Haitian orphans

Ten Democratic Senators are pressing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to expand a humanitarian parole policy to let more Haitian orphans into the United States.

The senators, in a letter spearheaded by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), are urging Napolitano to expand the policy to allow orphans without any family in Haiti to live temporarily with close family members in the United States.

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The Department of Homeland Security on Jan. 18 extended the humanitarian parole policy for certain Haitian orphans, particularly those who have begun the process of being adopted by American families.

But the senators estimated that the policy as it stands would only affect 600 to 700 orphans, a small portion of Haitian orphans.

“It is estimated that Haiti was home to more than 350,000 orphans before the devastating January 12 earthquake. Many more children have lost their parents as a result of this catastrophic disaster,” the senators wrote to Napolitano on Friday.

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The senators stressed that the humanitarian parole status should only be granted with the permission of the Haitian government and only for orphans that can’t be reunited with family in Haiti. “It is also imperative that close family members are also properly vetted by the U.S. government."

A coalition of House and Senate lawmakers this week pressed the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Defense and the U.S. Agency on International Development to initiate a plan to ensure that all of the 600-700 orphans affected by the recent humanitarian parole policy be evacuated within 10 days. The Jan. 18 humanitarian parole policy allows orphans that have established adoptive relationships with American families to immediately travel to the United States.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command announced Friday that is sending a Civil Liaison Team to assist with humanitarian operations. The team will come from the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion in Miami and includes Haitian Creole-speaking soldiers trained in foreign humanitarian assistance operations.