Utah families press US to let would-be Haitian adoptees come amid turmoil in Caribbean nation

One of two Haitian children Natalie and Jake Burns, of Herriman, are trying to adopt. The Burns asked that the boy's face not be shown, given turmoil in Haiti and concerns about his safety.

One of two Haitian children Natalie and Jake Burns, of Herriman, are trying to adopt. The Burns asked that the boy's face not be shown, given turmoil in Haiti and concerns about his safety. (Natalie Burns)

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HERRIMAN — As the days, months and years pass, Natalie Burns waits, crosses her fingers and hopes from afar as she tries to finalize the adoption of two children from Haiti.

"It's extremely frustrating. You watch birthdays pass, can't do anything to celebrate," said the Herriman woman, who launched efforts with husband Jake to adopt in 2018.

Under normal circumstances, adopting kids from Haiti can be fraught with obstacles. But now, given the political upheaval in the island nation, it's been especially wrenching — so, the Burns, four other Utah families and more from around the country are pressing the United States government to let the kids come early. Around 70 Haitian kids are the focus of the effort by adoptive families around the U.S., including 12 kids the five Utah families are adopting.

"We don't want anything bad to happen to them," said Matty Monroe, of Monroe, who is trying to adopt two Haitian kids with her husband, Douglas. "They are our kids ... They belong to this family."

Kori Ridges, of Cedar City, in the process of adopting three kids from Haiti with husband Kedrick, knew the adoption process would be rocky. She just didn't know it would be as tough as it's been. As turmoil surged in Haiti last March when 3,500 to 4,000 inmates escaped from Haitian prisons, the U.S. State Department sent word that Haitian children with completed adoptions and those nearing the end of the process would be able to come, raising her hopes. Around 30 Haitian kids in the process of adoption were allowed to leave, but in April and May, that window of opportunity closed.

"It was absolutely devastating for all us families," Ridges said, particularly in light of the continuing uncertainty in Haiti, focus of a U.S. State Department "do not travel" advisory since 2020 due to violence and unrest. "To take something away like that — it rocks my world in a way that's hard to explain," she said.

Ridges said the U.S. government has previously granted "humanitarian parole" to Haitian kids being adopted by U.S. families, allowing them to come early, notably after a devastating 2010 earthquake. That's the sort of action she and the other adoptive families seek. "They've done this before with Haiti, and they do it all the time around the world," she said.

A March 27 letter to the administration of President Joe Biden, and signed by Utah's two U.S. senators and four U.S. House members and many other U.S. lawmakers, makes a similar call for action.

To take something away like that — it rocks my world in a way that's hard to explain.

–Kori Ridges

"These orphans and their adoptive parents have done everything necessary to create the conditions for their legal entry into the United States," the letter reads. "However, they are unable to obtain the final documentation required for travel — Haitian passports and Haitian travel authorization letters — due to the central government's institutional collapse and the ongoing mass civil unrest in the capital, Port-au-Prince."

Likewise, an advocacy group working with the adoptive U.S. families is pressing the U.S. State Department to help.

"There is an urgent need for the children to enter the United States and a clear and safe path for them to do so though humanitarian parole. As the central adoption authority for the United States, the U.S. State Department should and must act in the best interests of these children to safeguard them against unnecessary harm," Sherriann Hicks, president of the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys, said in a May 21 statement. The Haitian government supports the evacuation of the kids, Hicks' group says.

Regardless, the U.S. government, which on April 22 updated an advisory warning against adopting from Haiti, has tough words on the matter.

"Even before the latest crisis began, inter-country adoptions from Haiti typically took an average of four years to complete and, in some cases, much longer. While some of the Haitian government entities responsible for the various aspects of the adoption process are functioning on a limited basis, there is no timeline for when they will resume full operations," reads the advisory.

'We just want them home'

Meantime, Burns, Monroe and Ridges — three of the five adoptive Utah moms seeking the U.S. government's help — manage the best they can as they worry about their kids in Haiti. Burns said she has occasional long-distance contact with the kids she's adopting, while Ridges isn't even sure where her three kids are.

"You just do what you can do with the bandwidth that you have," Ridges said.

Burns hopes the government can step in "before any of our children are killed;" while all three say they plan to keep up the fight for their kids in Haiti.

"Giving up on them is just not an option. They need to be with their loving families," Monroe said. "We just want them home."

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Tim Vandenack covers immigration, multicultural issues and Northern Utah for KSL.com. He worked several years for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden and has lived and reported in Mexico, Chile and along the U.S.-Mexico border.


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