Monday, June 18, 2007

Files Stuck in MOI - Part 1

Lots of people ask what the status of Noah's adoption is and what the hold-up is about. This should give you an idea of why Noah is stuck in the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and why we desperately need your prayers on behalf of these children. This was written on June 3rd by an adoptive mom named Vera after her trip to the MOI last week. I've shortened it so that you can get the idea of the mess in Haiti.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Haiti trip - Ministry of the Interior - May 2007

It has been a while since I updated my blog. I came back from Haiti last week from a 10-day trip. Tamarah's finished adoption file was stuck in the Ministry of Interior (MOI) for almost three months. I had called the Director of Political Affairs' (DOPA) office in mid-April to find out my daughter's file status and was told that my dossier was okay and if I came in person, it would be signed out to me.

When I got to Haiti, I went to the MOI to see about getting Tamarah's file signed out. It took two days just to locate her file. There are three offices in MOI that deal with the adoption files.

Office #1 is the Unit Juritique. This is the "original office" where all finished adoption files went through prior to the other offices being added in January 2007. In this office, there are one or two lawyers who review the files for accuracy. The lawyer makes sure that all Haitian documents, from birth certificate to adoption decree do not have any mistakes. Once that review is done, the file used to get signed out and was ready for passports. Now, once the lawyer has reviewed the file, a letter is typed by the secretary and the file plus unsigned letter goes to Office #2.

Office # 2 is the Director of Political Affairs (DOPA) Office. This is where the letter is signed by the DOPA. According to a conversation with him, the file goes to yet another office, but I only saw three offices involved as I followed the files. Once the DOPA has signed the letter, the dossier file and letter go to Office # 3.

Office # 3 is an upstairs office in MOI. I do not know the name of that office. The director of that office goes to the DOPA (office #2) and gets files that have the signed DOPA letter. He takes the files back upstairs and then interviews one of the orphanage representatives about the adoptive parents. The orphanage worker brings copies of dossier documents, passports, driver's license, employment verficiation, homestudy report, letter from pastor, etc. for this interview. The interview is guided by a form questionaire that has to be filled out. Instead of allowing orphanages to take a form with them to fill it out, it has to be done with that director. It takes about 60 minutes to fill out one form. Once the form is filled out, the file is signed out to the orphanage and is ready to go to passports.

From my personal experience, once the file comes out of MOI, all the original documents come back to the orphanage and the papers are taken to the Immigration Office where the passport is applied for. Once the papers are submitted, the child has to go to get fingerprinted at the Office of Immigration for his/her passport. Depending if an orphanage pays for an expedited passport or not, getting the passport takes between one to four weeks.

Once the child has the passport, for a U.S. adoption, she/he can get the visa physical and once the sealed envelope with the physical is received, the application for the visa is ready and can be submitted. A child can have his/her visa phsyical started prior to the passport being issued, but has to return a second time with the actual passport to verify the identity.

At the time that I got to MOI with Mirlande (adoption facilitator's Haitian assistant), approximately 200 finished adoption files were sitting in one of the first two offices in MOI. I had been told of a family that has been waiting for nine months for their file to be signed out of MOI. Keep in mind that this was a rumor, but I knew that my file had been in MOI for three months.

What is so frustrating is that once papers are submitted to MOI for signature, the child has already been legally adopted and carries the adoptive family's last name. The child is no longer an orphaned child and has a family. However, that child cannot join his/her family until MOI has signed out the file. It really felt like our children were held hostage. At least that is how it felt to me.

The first two days, we spent in Office # 3, sitting and waiting for adoption files to come upstairs for interviews. Most adoption workers sit in Office # 3 to wait and see if any of their files are ready for interviews. They come every day, sit in a hot office and wait.

The people who work in that office are nice. One clerk was especially polite.

When I asked the director, who was not working on any files for the first two days, about the adoption files, he told me that he only works on files when "they send them." I asked him who "they" were and he would not answer that. He was polite and would laugh at me and my frustration. I asked him to please consider my position... I had been told that my file was ready if I came in person, I could get it signed out. I had a sick baby. I had to take a week off from work, pay $1,000 for an airline ticket, just to sit in a hot office and be told that maybe "they" would bring my file. He would just laugh and tell me not to be upset.

At the end of day #1, after having waited in office #1 for most of the day without seeing any adoption files worked on, Mirlande and I went downstairs to the DOPA office. It was locked. We were told that somehow the door had been locked and nobody could get into that office, not even the Director of Political Affairs. (I do not know if that was the truth, but that is what we were told and the door was obviously locked.)

At that point, I called the Haitian Ambassador in Washington D.C. and asked for help. I had had some contact with his office prior to coming to Haiti. I explained the situation to the Ambassador's secretary and gave her the necessary phone numbers in MOI.

Mirlande and I went home...I had a sick baby to tend to. The Ambassador called me back and said that he had talked with the DOPA in person and that he was told my file was ready and to come back on Tuesday (day #2).

On day #2, we went back to the office #3. Again, we sat for a long time in that hot office. We asked about my daughter's file but got no answers. We went downstairs to office #2 of DOPA and again found that office locked. So, we went to office #1. We found that my file was still in office #1 after three months! The secretary in that office had a legal pad with a list of names and Tamarah's name was on one of the pages. She confirmed that her file was in their office.

I asked about having the file sent to office #2. She was not sure about that. In the meantime, we had contacted our friend Rodon who is a "depute de la circoncription" - member of Haiti's Congress/Senate. He came to office #2 and after an explanation of what had happened, he went to office #1 and spoke with that director. The director confirmed that my file was okay and said to come back on Wednesday (day #3) to get the letter issued so it could be taken to office #2 for the DOPA to sign it.

We came back on day #3. We went to Office #2 and sat and waited for several hours. Since we did not see any "movement" for several hours, we went to office #1. We asked the secretary about the letter. The director and lawyer in that office told the secretary to finish the letter so that my file could be sent to office #2 with the DOPA. She secretary refused to type the letter. She would not do it and there was an argument between the secretary and the lawyer and director because both were directing her to do the letter. She continued to refuse.

After a while, the Director of Political Affairs (DOPA) walked passed me as he was entering his office area. When he saw me, he said some derogatory comments about me in Kreyol. He must have thought that I did not understand.

About an hour later, Mirlande was called into his office. I followed her. As the DOPA saw me, he said that he did not want me "La Blanc" in his office. I stayed on the outside of the doorway. He proceeded to scold Mirlande. He told her that he had signed 2,000 files in the past month for adoption passports. He also told her that he was upset that the Ambassador had called him. He said that I could wait all that I wanted, he was not going to sign the letter for my daughter's file.

Okay, let's do the math. Approximately 300 children are adopted to U.S. families per calendar year. I am estimating that about 100 children are adopted to Canadian families per calendar year, another 300 children to French families and maybe 100 more children to families in other countries in Europe. That adds up to approx. 800 adopted children per calendar year. I asked if the DOPA has sign for other passport permissions as well but was told that he only signs the letters for adoption passports. Considering that 200 files were waiting and had entered from January 2007 through April 2007, the math was just not adding up!

Moving on... It really concerned me that the DOPA was so angry about the Ambassador calling him. After all it had been the DOPA's office that had confirmed with me three weeks pior to day #3 that my daughter's file was ready for the letter to be signed, just to find it still sitting in office #1 in a file cabinet...three months later!

So, back to the "drawing board" - It was obvious to me that the secretary would not just disobey her boss in her office and that she was following orders from "above"... the DOPA maybe?

I contacted the Haitian Ambassador's office again, spoke with the secretary and explained what happened. Also, three moms in the U.S. were contacting the Haitian Embassy as well regarding this issue. They were waiting for their files as well. I did not dare ask for their files while I was in MOI since I did not want them to be "black listed" like my file had been. Two of the moms were able to talk with the Haitian Ambassador and relayed messages to me. He was working on it and was upset at the treatment that I had received. It seemed that instead of it being "no problem" it now seemed that it was a problem.

The good news was that by day #3, I saw people walking around in MOI with adoption files in hand. The director from office #3 came out of office #2 with about 20 files! Those files were ready for interviews and were ready to be signed out. At least there had been some effect to my efforts.

On day #4 (Thursday), we came back to the MOI and were told that my file was not ready. We were given the run-around again. We were told by some of the clerks that the DOPA was very upset that the Ambassador had called him. Again, the Ambassador was called and this time, he decided to go higher up. He contacted me and I was told that he had spoken with the Chief Cabinet Stanley Joseph (CCSJ) who is the head of MOI. He told me to go and see the CCSJ on Friday.

On day #5 (Friday), Mirlande went to office #3 and office #2 and then to office #1, found that nothing had "changed" and then called Rodon to accompany us to see the CCSJ. One thing about Rodon, he can get you into literally any office. Sure enough, he was able to get us to see CCSJ, also, it seemed that he was expecting me since he had spoke with the Ambassador.

I did not know what to expect...would I be yelled at again? Would I be told that my file would not be signed out?

I was pleasantly surprised. The CCSJ was a kind, educated, sharp and compassionate man. We explained the situation to him and he (on the spot) got up and said that he would look for my file. This was the moment to tell him about my friends' files also. One girl needs spine surgery and one boy has terrible Asthma....I was able to give him a total of seven names and file numbers.

He came back and said that it would be done. He also told me to ask all the parents to please be patient because he had just been appointed to the position and had not officially started yet. I was beginning to have hope again. He seemed very concerned for the sick children and promised that the files would be signed out as soon as possible. He told Mirlande to come back the following Tuesday for the files. I was leaving on Monday.

We left his office with a lot of cautious hope in our hearts!

However, when Mirlande went to MOI on Tuesday, nothing had been done. As a matter of fact, the DOPA waved my file in front of Mirlande and told he that it along with the other 7 would never be signed.

Mirlande called me in tears! ---- Back to the "battle stations"! ---- We called the Ambassador again. He made his calls and reported that our files would be signed and ready by the end of the week.

Finally Progress! - On Friday afternoon, two of the six files were signed out following the form interview. One of the files was mine. (PRAISE GOD!) The other four files did not get signed out because there wasn't enough time to do the form interview, but they are ready!

Mirlande is taking a few days off and will be back at MOI on Thursday for the other files. I really don't know how she does this, day after day. It is exhausting. I was exhausted! I was sad to have to leave Haiti without Tamarah, again. But now I know that it won't be long for her to get her passport and visa.

This should tell you what we're up against. I'm just praying that Noah comes home soon!


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