Friday, February 05, 2010

After 2 years, a family circle is complete

A Houston couple adopting a Haitian orphan thought the wait was over.
Then came the earthquake…


Holding her 6-week-old, Jude, Debra Parker hugs Ronel, 9, who arrived from Haiti on Thursday with his dad, Ernest Parker. New sister Carly, 12, and brother Colton, 10, were at the airport, too.
Debra Parker and three of her four children stood facing the baggage claim escalator at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. A semicircle of friends and family fanned out behind them. As step by rolling step flattened at the bottom, empty, the circle grew restless. Debra turned to look back at them.
“This is how I felt for two weeks,” she said.
Debra's husband, Ernest Parker, has spent the last two weeks sleeping on the waiting room floor of the American Embassy in Port-au-Prince, where he was picking up the family's long-awaited fourth child: 9-year-old Ronel. The Parkers have been trying to adopt the boy, an orphan who nearly starved to death, for two years.
Ronel was freed to immigrate to the U.S. after the recent earthquake, but a bureaucratic breakdown delayed his exit while Ernest haggled endlessly with Haitian and American officials.

Finally, just after 8 p.m. Thursday, Debra recognized their feet on the top stair. A cheer erupted from the crowd of more than three dozen, many holding signs reading “Welcome Ronel” in English and Creole.
Debra clutched her youngest son, 6-week-old Jude, in one arm, and hugged her newest son with the other. A cousin thrust a Teddy bear into Ronel's hands, wearing a T-shirt that said “Welcome to the family.”
The last few weeks were harrowing even for a child inured to hardship. Ronel weathered the earthquake and the ensuing chaos, then was given the news he'd been waiting years to hear: He could finally go to America, to the Parkers. But the plane came and went without him. Haitian officials said he was missing some paperwork.
As chaos gripped the country, Ernest went to get the boy himself. But just after he arrived in Haiti, a group of Americans was arrested for trying to bring 33 undocumented children across the border.
“Everything shut down,” said Ernest's mother, Sue Parker. “Even as of Tuesday night, they told us it would be indefinite. Then we really started to get scared.”
Ernest battled on, but each day brought new frustrations and miscommunications. He submitted four sets of fingerprints, and each set was lost. Immigration officials told him he and Ronel were cleared to leave, then rescinded their permission.
Finally, Ernest said, the head of the American Embassy grew tired of the constant calls and e-mails from the family's friends and supporters, including Congressman Ted Poe, and let them leave.

Adoption not yet complete

On Thursday, Ernest wore a scruffy beard and an exhausted smile. He said he hadn't slept since 6:30 Wednesday morning.
Ronel smiled dazedly, his arms crossed over his new Teddy bear.
His new sister, 12-year-old Carly Parker, flipped through a Creole phrase book.
“Can you read this?” she asked, pointing to the words for “Are you OK?”
Ten-year-old Colton Parker reached for the book.
“I need to find ‘I love you,' ” he said.
As frustrating as the past few weeks have been, Ernest said they gave him valuable time to bond with his son. Thursday was Ronel's first time meeting his new siblings.
“All the fighting's over,” Ernest said. “It's just time to love, to be a family.”
Ronel's adoption isn't complete yet: The terms of the American “humanitarian parole” policy allowed Haitian children already in the process of adoption to finish that process here. Because the policy is so new, the Parkers don't exactly know what hoops they will still have to jump through. But, they said, that can wait. On Thursday night, they just wanted to go home.
“I think we're going to go inside, lock the door, and become a family,” Debra said.
In the baggage claim area, Ronel stood largely speechless as he was introduced to his extended family. At one point, he drifted away from a conversation he couldn't understand, among people he had never met.
Ernest reached out, put a hand on Ronel's shoulder, and pulled him back in.

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