MIAMI — In a move mirroring Operation Pedro Pan in the 1960s, Catholic Charities and other South Florida immigrant rights organizations are planning an ambitious effort to airlift possibly thousands of Haitian children orphaned in the aftermath of Tuesday's earthquake.
"We will use the model we used 40 years ago with Pedro Pan to bring these orphans to the United States to give them a lifeline, a bright and hopeful future," Catholic Charities Legal Services executive director Randolph McGrorty said Thursday at a news conference in the offices of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.
"Given the enormity of what happened in Haiti, a priority is to bring these orphaned children to the United States," he said.
Archdiocese of Miami officials and other local organizations have already identified a temporary shelter in Broward County to house the children, McGrorty said.
He also said they had been in contact with the Obama administration to assist in bringing the children from Haiti with humanitarianvisas.
Operation Pedro Pan was launched Dec. 26, 1960, as part of a successful clandestine effort to spirit children out of Fidel Castro's new Cuba as communist indoctrination was spreading into Catholic and private schools.
By the time the program ended 22 months later, the unique exodus of children - ages 5 to 17 - had brought 14,048 unaccompanied Cuban minors to America. Secret help was provided by the U.S. government, which funded the effort and supplied thevisa waivers, and the Catholic church, which promised to care for the children.
The late Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, a Miami priest, was considered the father of the effort.
As the children filtered into Miami and their numbers swelled, many went to live with relatives and family friends, but others were sent to Miami-Dade group homes and camps called FloridaCity, Kendall and Matecumbe. The children were then relocated across the country to archdioceses in places such as Nebraska, Washington and Indiana.
There, they went to live in orphanages, foster homes and schools until their parents could find a way out of Cuba. Sometimes the separation was brief; sometimes it lasted years.