Behind Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL), Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) will be the next high-profile U.S. political figure to travel to Haiti following last Tuesday's massive earthquake.
Rendell will bring 61 Haitian orphans back with him to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, from an orphanage in Haiti with ties to Pittsburgh, NBC Philadelphia is reporting. Rendell got on a plane bound for Miami Monday afternoon, then boarded one bound for Port-au-Prince.
Haiti's ambassador to the U.S. reportedly asked Rendell to go on the mission. It is unclear whether the mission was cleared with the Department of Homeland Security, and an e-mail to the department was not immediately returned. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced on Sunday that "humanitarian parole" would be extended to some Haitian orphans as a response to the crisis, allowing them to enter the country temporarily on a case-by-case basis.
That reprieve applies to children who have already been legally confirmed as eligible for adoption and are either being adopted by U.S. citizens or have been matched with prospective adoptive parents in the U.S. The Associated Press reported on Monday that orphans with ties to the U.S., such as those with family members living here, would also be allowed to enter.
"We are committed to doing everything we can to help reunite families in Haiti during this very difficult time," Napolitano said in announcing the policy. "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."
Haiti's earthquake has left its children particularly vulnerable--not just to hunger, lack of water, and violence--but to kidnapping and slavery, Nicolette Grams pointed out Monday at TheAtlantic.com, noting the explosions of child slavery in other developing nations following large natural disasters, such as the Indonesian tsunami of 2004 and flooding in the Indian state of Bihar in 2008, where traffickers snatched displaced, vulnerable children or lured them into slavery.
Haiti is known as one of the worst nations in the world for human trafficking; it was a problem--a big problem--there before the earthquake hit. The U.S. State Department identifies human trafficking in Haiti for domestic service, forced labor, sexual exploitation and prostitution.
Before the earthquake, between 90,000 and 300,000 children lived as indentured servants in Haiti, the State Department estimated in 2009, often sent by poor families to live with and work for wealthier "host" families.
"While some restaveks [child slaves] are cared for and sent to school, most of these children are subjected to involuntary domestic servitude. These restaveks, 65 percent of whom are girls between the ages of six and 14, work excessive hours, receive no schooling or payment and are often physically and sexually abused," according to the State Department's 2009 human trafficking report.
The report declares Haiti a source, transit, and destination for human trafficking to and from surrounding countries, including the U.S., Canada, Europe, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic.
UPDATE: An administration official said the children would go through medical screening upon arrival and that DHS would assume custody of the children until their adoption or placement status is resolved.