Interview
Michele T. Bond
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services
Washington, DC
January 19, 2010


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[Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of a video produced by the U.S. Department of State.]

QUESTION: What is the State Department doing to assist U.S. citizens in Haiti?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOND: We have evacuated more than 4,500 U.S. citizens in the week since the earthquake hit. That’s a phenomenal number considering that we’re taking them out of an area that’s been devastated by the earthquake and we’re taking them out to airport that’s rather small and limited in its capacity. Yesterday alone we evacuated almost 1,700 American citizens. We are routinely shuttling citizens from the U.S. Embassy compound to the airport for evacuation. To date, Americans who have arrived at the Embassy for assistance or who go directly to the airport we’ve been able to assist them that day to depart and we’re very happy and very proud that that’s been the case. They haven’t had to wait and wait for us to be able to help them get out of the country. U.S. citizens with passports have been instructed to proceed directly to the airport for evacuation flights.

Within just one hour after the earthquake struck on January 12th, the Department of State mounted an around-the-clock task force to coordinate rescue and relief efforts and respond to the needs of American citizens. My bureau, Consular Affairs, staffs two task forces in Washington and two call centers where we have received more than 300,000 calls since our toll free line was opened. Our colleagues and the Embassy in Port-au-Prince has also been responding to thousands of requests for assistance.

When callers contact us either by phone or by email regarding American citizens in Haiti, the workers on our task force enter the biographical information about that person and their last known location into our crisis database. The Embassy in Port-au-Prince uses the same database to add information about citizens’ welfare as it becomes available. We add updates in the United States as people here hear from their family members in Haiti or contact is made one way or another, and they let us know about the updated status of their loved ones.

Meanwhile, on the ground in Haiti, consular personnel, augmented by personnel throughout the Embassy and additional staff that we have deployed to Haiti, have been working to ensure that American citizens get necessary medical assistance. We’ve been evacuating U.S. citizens on all available flights. Consular officers in the Dominican Republic are also working 24/7 to assist U.S. citizens who are evacuated from Haiti to the Dominican Republic to make onward travel plans to the United States and ensure that they receive necessary medical care, if required.

QUESTION: How do people request assistance?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOND: The toll free number for inquiries for American citizens in Haiti is 1-888-407-4747. The email address for those who prefer to send us an email is Haiti-earthquake@state.gov.

Information about U.S. citizens who are believed to be trapped in buildings is passed immediately to search-and-rescue teams on the ground in Haiti. So far, we have opened more than 10,000 cases in our crisis database. And, as we receive information about anyone, we do contact family members to pass that information back to let them know what we have learned.

QUESTION: Are we only helping U.S. citizens?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOND: Assisting U.S. citizens is our first priority; but in our search and rescue efforts, we are working to rescue anyone who still may be alive. As Vice President Biden said, “We are not just searching for Americans… We’re searching for human beings. We are searching for anyone we can hear a cry from.”

During the immediate hours after the tragedy, our task forces received many calls regarding persons of other nationalities who were in Haiti. The State Department convened a meeting of Non-Governmental Organizations and tech companies, which designed a Person Finder which helps people find persons of all nationalities within the earthquake zone. That tech tool can be accessed through the State Department website: www.state.gov/haitiquake, all one word, “haitiquake”. This tool is available in French, English, and Creole.

QUESTION: What about children awaiting adoption by U.S. families?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOND: I mentioned that American citizens who have been affected by the earthquake are our top priority. Well, American citizens who are waiting to complete the adoptions of children in Haiti are included in those who are top priority.

We know there are several hundred Americans in the United States who were in various stages in the process of adopting Haitian children. Naturally, they are frantic with worry about the children’s welfare and they want to know how to expedite adoption so the children can be brought safely home to the United States.

On January 18, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, in coordination with the U.S. Department of State, announced a humanitarian parole policy allowing orphaned children from Haiti to enter the United States temporarily on an individual basis to ensure that they receive the care they need – as part of the U.S. government’s ongoing support of international recovery efforts after the earthquake. Information about this process can be found on our website adoptions.state.gov.

QUESTION: How many orphans have been evacuated?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOND: As of January 19, we are happy to say that the Embassy has processed immigrant visas for 29 orphan children whose cases were ready for visa processing when the earthquake struck. In addition, USCIS has granted humanitarian parole to over 100 orphans. As you may know, our visa office is closed at this time because of the emergency care we have to provide to American citizens; however, visa services for adopted children are continuing to go forward. We anticipate that we will continue to issue visas or humanitarian parole to children every day.

QUESTION: How can parents follow up on children they are in the process of adopting?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOND: Some adoptive parents have asked us whether they should fly to Haiti to assist or collect their children. At this point, given the state of emergency in Haiti, we are advising against such travel.

Parents who are interested in following up on this and determining whether their own child is eligible to receive a visa and travel now or who want to know what they can do to get their child’s case processed can contact us at ASKCI@state.gov. So that is a-s-k-c-i@state.gov.