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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Capitol Hill

Kathleen Foster

New York

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Haitian Kids One Step Closer to Citizenship

August 5, 2010 - 1:27 PM | by: Kathleen Foster

  

More than 1,100 Haitian children rescued from the rubble of January’s earthquake in Haiti are now one step closer to becoming true members of their new American families.

The Help H.A.I.T.I. (Haitian Adoptees Immediately to Integrate) Act of 2010 has passed in the Senate. The bill, which is sponsored by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA), would allow these children to start the U.S. Citizenship process as soon as their adoptions in the United States are finalized, avoiding a two year wait.

That gives adoptive father Scott Dice of Denver a sense of relief. “Our biggest fear is what would happen to him if Cherie and I were to die in a car accident tomorrow. He could be deported.” Scott and his wife Cherie formally adopted 18-month-old Armstrong last month. But without citizenship, the orphan could be sent back to Haiti… if he is orphaned again.

“The unprecedented devastation has turned the international adoption process upside down,” says New York Senator Gillibrand, “It could take years before these children could have any legal status in the U.S. In this moment of great uncertainty, we must ensure that these children have the legal protections that they deserve.”

The 1,100 children were brought to the United States between January and April of 2010 on Humanitarian Parole visas, which is normally used to bring refugees to the States. Under Humanitarian Parole, the Haitian children must live with their adoptive families for two years before becoming eligible to apply for legal permanent residence. The Help H.A.I.T.I. Act eliminates that wait.

“When they came in under Humanitarian Parole they were assigned to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. This mechanism is really for refugees, not for adoption,” says Tom Difilipo, the president of The Joint Council of International Children’s Services.

Though not ideal, Difilipo says in the days after the earthquake, Humanitarian Parole was the best way to get the children out of harm’s way quickly. “The system isn’t designed to move a child from a refugee status into an adoptive family. It’s to bring them into safety in the U.S. and then move forward from there. That’s what this act is about. It’s about moving them from that path that has a dead end back onto the path that has a family at the end.”

The House of Representatives has already passed its own version of The Help H.A.I.T.I Act but still needs to vote on the Senate’s final version. The bill’s sponsors hope the House votes on it next week, during an already scheduled special recall from summer recess. If passed, the bill could become law as early as September.

For more on this story, check out the below piece filed by Fox News Correspondent Laura Ingle.