City couple awaits arrival of Haitian boy they are trying to adopt

Two hope to benefit from policy that removes much of red tape in process

  • Monica and Michael Simonsen, both 31, are awaiting word on when the baby boy they are in the process of adopting from Haiti will be evacuated.
Monica and Michael Simonsen, both 31, are awaiting word on when… (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
January 22, 2010|By Joe Burris | joseph.burris@baltsun.com

In a matter of days, Stanley Hermane will likely go from a crowded orphanage in earthquake-ravaged Haiti to a warm and cozy bedroom in Baltimore.

Michael and Monica Simonsen, a Riverside Park couple who have been trying to adopt the 21-month-old boy for most of his life, are eagerly awaiting his arrival. Now it appears that last week's earthquake had a small silver lining for families in the adoption process: Much of the red tape has been removed.

The Simonsens are among scores of families looking to benefit from a recent Department of Homeland Security measure that will allow many Haitian children already in the adoption process to come to the U.S. right away. The "humanitarian parole" policy, which allows orphaned children to enter the United States on a case-by-case basis, has set off a flurry of inquiries from families who have been looking to adopt for some time - as well as those who want to adopt solely to aid Haiti's recovery efforts.

"We are committed to doing everything we can to help reunite families in Haiti during this very difficult time," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement. "While we remain focused on family reunification in Haiti, authorizing the use of humanitarian parole for orphans who are eligible for adoption in the United States will allow them to receive the care they need here."

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said that as of Thursday morning, 96 Haitian orphans had received humanitarian parole. Some of the orphans were already in the adoption process with families here, while others will meet prospective parents. None of the children will be sent back to Haiti, he said.

The measure is welcome news for families like the Simonsens, who hope to have Stanley in their home within a week. They and many other families have been involved in an adoption process in Haiti that often takes years to complete.

"Every day is 'the day.' You wake up that morning and say, 'We think it's going to be the day,' " said Michael Simonsen, 31.

Adoption agencies have been scrambling to help get the kids here as soon as possible, in case the situation in Haiti deteriorates further.

The Maryland branch of the national adoption organization Bethany Christian Services has received dozens of inquiries about adopting Haitian orphans.

"We have some families that have been approved for adoption and are in the domestic process who wanted to know if it was possible to adopt some of the orphaned Haitian children," said Paulette Holloway, director of the Crofton-based branch. Families who have not been approved for adoption - as well as churches offering families who could adopt - have called as well. But she's had to tell them that if they're not already approved, they cannot quickly adopt the orphans.

Bonnie Delongchamp, development director for Massachusetts-based adoption agency Alliance for Children, said her agency has been inundated with calls and e-mails from parents.

"It's been unbelievable, just constant," said Delongchamp. "Most of the e-mails read, 'We feel in our heart that the way we want to help the people of Haiti is to open our heart and our home to a child.' People have heard about the tragedy and the orphans and decided to do that, not necessarily because they were planning to grow or start a family."

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell accompanied a plane to Port-au-Prince that brought back more than 50 orphans to the U.S. The children were taken to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. The day before that, Florida-based Three Angels Children's Relief brought all 26 children from its orphanage outside Port-au-Prince to the U.S., and placed all the children with waiting families.

"For us it was pretty miraculous. I never would have dreamed, even a couple days ago, that it even would have been possible to do that," said Three Angels president Gretchen Huijskens, who added that some of the children had been in their orphanage for four years.

"We were practically raising them," said Huijskens. "It was beyond surreal being able to fly them in on Monday evening, process them and hand them to parents."

According to the U.S. State Department, 330 immigrant visas were issued to Haitian orphans being adopted by U.S. parents in fiscal year 2009. That's up from 301 in 2008 and 191 in 2007.

While some families have been united with children they're seeking to adopt, there are others like the Simonsens who remain cautiously optimistic. That in part comes with coming close to having an adopted child before.

After trying unsuccessfullyto have children of their own (they ultimately had a son, Dane, who is 6 months old), they signed up with a domestic adoption agency and were all set to adopt a then-unborn child, going to all of the mother's doctor visits. But once the child was born, the mother had second thoughts and ultimately decided to keep her child.

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