Interpreters: Detained Americans thought they met with Haitian police
Ten Americans accused of illegally trying to take children out of Haiti met with people they thought were Haitian and Dominican authorities the week before being stopped at the border, said interpreters who worked with the group.
The Americans were turned back Friday as they tried to take 33 children across the border into the Dominican Republic. At least some of the group are members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho. They are being held in a jail in Port-au-Prince.
While the Americans have admitted that they had no documents to take the kids out of the country, three interpreters who worked for them told CNN the group met twice with a man, thought to be a Haitian policeman, who offered to help.
The first encounter took place on January 26. He told team leader Laura Silsby that they couldn’t gather up Haitian children as they were doing, but then offered his help, according to an interpreter’s account.
“They met a police guy and he told them that he could help and he was helping them with some paper,” said Steve Adrien, one of three interpreters employed by the group. “We did not meet him in a police station, but in the street in a car.”
The Americans again met with the man in Port-au-Prince on Thursday, near the Dominican embassy.
“He was helping Laura (Silsby) to get in touch with the ambassador in the Dominican embassy,” according Isaac Adrien, Steve’s brother and another one of the interpreters.
He said the group came away from the meeting with a document from the embassy that they took with them to the border on Friday.
Silsby said on Sunday that she had obtained a permit from the Dominican authorities to take the children into the Dominican Republic.
“We went to the Dominican consulate and were told to proceed straight to the border,” she said.
Mel Coulter, the father of Charisa Coulter, 23, who was among those arrested, told CNN affiliate KTVB on Saturday that the group members “want to bring kids out who have no home, who have no parents, who have no hope — and this was an attempt to give them the hope that they’ve lost in Haiti.”
The Americans thought they had all the necessary documents to transport the children out of the country, Coulter said, but they were stopped at the border Friday and told there was a paper missing.
“So they returned to Port-au-Prince, where they went in early [Saturday] morning to try and get the last documentation, and apparently were arrested on the spot and jailed.”
He said the group wants “to do everything according to the processes that are required.”
During Friday’s border stop, Isaac Adrien said, Silsby called a Dominican border guard, who came out to talk to his Haitian counterparts, but to no avail.
“He came and talked to the officials, but they would not listen to him,” Adrien said.
The Americans had a preliminary hearing with a judge on Tuesday, court officials said. A list of charges was to be drawn up and sent to a tribunal judge, whom the Americans were eventually expected to appear before.
The group of five men and five women said they were trying to move the children to the Dominican Republic after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake on January 12 devastated parts of Haiti, flattening the capital and killing tens of thousands.
The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said Sunday that the Americans had been detained for “alleged violations of Haitian laws related to immigration.”
Government approval is needed for any Haitian children to leave the country, and the group acknowledged that the children have no passports. Haiti’s prime minister has said that the group was kidnapping the children.
The number of Haitian orphans brought to the United States — those whose approval and paperwork already had been in the bureaucratic pipeline at the time of the disaster — now stands at 578, with an additional 44 processed and awaiting transportation, said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
George Willeit of SOS Children’s Villages — who said that Haitian police and the social ministry brought the 33 children who were traveling with the Americans to his group — said some of the children have living relatives.
“Some of them for sure are not orphans,” he told CNN. The group thinks that at least 20 are not orphans and many others have relatives such as aunts and uncles.