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Associated Press/Photo by Ramon Espinosa

Crossing lines

Haiti | Failing to heed sound advice, 10 Americans now find themselves facing kidnapping charges in Haiti

Ten Americans from two Baptist churches in Idaho face charges of child kidnapping and criminal association in Haiti, one week after the group attempted to enter the Dominican Republic with 33 Haitian children they described as orphans. After the court hearing in Port-au-Prince on Thursday, officials shuttled the Americans to a jail in the capital.

Haitian authorities said the Americans didn't have the proper documents when they tried to cross the border last Friday, and that many of the children, ages 2 to 12, aren't orphans. The Americans said they were trying to provide care for children orphaned or abandoned after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Laura Silsby, the group's leader, said she didn't know that many of the children had living parents. She told reporters last week: "Our hearts were in the right place." But evidence mounted that their legal standing was never as secure.

Steve Hersey, director of Quisqueya Christian School (QCS) in Port-au-Prince, said Silsby's group approached the QCS gate the night before they attempted to cross the border, looking for ways to get out of Haiti. Hersey said he refused to help, and warned the group that their plan was "unconscionable."

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Hersey added that he urged the Americans to not move the children and advised them to connect with reputable organizations that have experience dealing with displaced children. "It was clear they had little understanding of Haiti law and customs," Hersey said in an email on Thursday.

Carlos Castillo, the Dominican consul general in Port-au-Prince, said on Wednesday that he also warned Silsby's group to desist: "I warned her, I said as soon as you get there without the proper documents you are going to get in trouble."

Several residents of Calebasse, a devastated village outside Port-au-Prince, said they voluntarily gave their children to the group for the promise of a better life after the quake. Those reports conflicted with earlier statements by Silsby that some children came from distant relatives and some from a collapsed orphanage.

The Americans, members of a group called New Life Children's Refuge, said they planned to establish an orphanage for children in the Dominican Republic. CNN reported that the group has no experience running an orphanage, and that the group's headquarters are listed as Silsby's now-foreclosed home.

Silsby acknowledged on Thursday that the group hadn't sought permission from Haitian authorities, but insisted they were only trying to help. Edwin Coq, the group's attorney, said Haiti's legal system doesn't call for an open trial, but a judge would consider the evidence and could render a decision within three months.

For now, workers at the Austrian-run SOS Children's Village are caring for the children in Port-au-Prince.

Related coverage:

'Still in shock' | Haiti is hit by a massive earthquake followed by aftershocks, with an epicenter near the capital, Port-au-Prince | Mindy Belz and Jamie Dean | Jan. 12, 2010
Helping Haiti | WORLD provides a list of relief organizations accepting donations to assist earthquake victims in Haiti | The Editors | Jan. 13, 2010
Search and rescue | U.S. disaster experts, the U.S. military, and private relief groups head to earthquake-devastated Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 13, 2010
In the dark | Haitian-Americans hope to contact loved ones and quickly send aid back home to family and friends | Alisa Harris | Jan. 13, 2010
Weeping and waiting | Haitian earthquake victims await help, but obstacles slow relief efforts | Jamie Dean | Jan. 14, 2010
Desperation | Too many Haitians are in a holding pattern awaiting aid, as relief organizations try to make progress | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Long night | With tens of thousands of casualties, Haitians weep and wait for morning | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Deliverance | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 19, 2010
Crying for help | Hard-pressed Haitians seek assistance as aid groups face logistical challenges | Jamie Dean | Jan. 21, 2010
Leaving Port | Beyond the capital city are rural communities equally devastated by the quake and in need of help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
The new normal | As life and death continue their morbid mingling, relief groups forge ahead to help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
Finding home | Now that search-and-rescue efforts have been called off, attention turns to providing shelter for survivors | Jamie Dean | Jan. 23, 2010
Chaotic aid | Relief groups attempt to help Haitians despite murky rules, government interference, and the lack of a cohesive plan | Jamie Dean | Jan. 28, 2010
Aftershock | Caregivers predict a second wave of death, as Haitians find moments of deliverance amid days of devastation from one of the modern world's worst natural disasters | Jamie Dean | Jan. 29, 2010
Homecoming | For Haitians orphaned before the quake, it means leaving home and starting over | Alisa Harris | Jan. 29, 2010
Crisis giving | Instant need calls for long-term strategy | Rusty Leonard | Jan. 29, 2010
An indecent grief | First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz | Jan. 29, 2010
Hope for Haiti? (audio file) | Hear WORLD news editor Jamie Dean discuss her visit to the earthquake-ravaged country | Nick Eicher | Feb. 1, 2010
Despair and salvation | While the UN grapples with unruly crowds, The Salvation Army peacefully distributes food | Jamie Dean | Feb. 2, 2010
Haiti's plight (audio file) | A discussion of the country's days of devastation and moments of deliverance | Jamie Dean | Feb. 5, 2010
Stress management | Helping Haitians recover takes zeal-with wisdom | Jamie Dean | Feb. 12, 2010
Taking charge | In quake aftermath, build new cities, says Haitian ambassador (and Bible translator) Raymond Joseph | Mindy Belz | Feb. 12, 2010
Houses of God | Grand-Goave, Haiti | The Editors | Feb. 12, 2010
Living water | Water Missions International offers long-term solutions for clean, drinkable water | Angela Lu | Feb. 13, 2010
Building blocks | While Christian Aid Ministries provides for the immediate needs of quake victims, it looks ahead to helping the country rebuild | Angela Lu | Feb. 16, 2010
Close quarters | ActionAid helps homeless Haitians deal with sanitation and security issues at camps set up in Port-au-Prince | Angela Lu | Feb. 23, 2010
Hardest hit | With nearly half a million orphaned children before the quake, Haiti's challenge to parent them just got bigger | Jamie Dean | Feb. 26, 2010
The search for miracles | Port-au-Prince is a city desperately seeking turnaround-and that's before the earthquake | Jamie Dean | March 12, 2010
Hope in the darkness | World Hope International offers Haitians practical assistance and spiritual guidance | Angela Lu | March 24, 2010
Night crawlers | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape | Jamie Dean | March 25, 2010
Homecoming | Missionary Patrick Lataillade, who nearly died in the quake, returned to help Haitians this week | Angela Lu | March 27, 2010
Hashing out Haiti | As the UN makes recovery plans, Haitians struggle for the basic necessities for survival | Jamie Dean | March 31, 2010

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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