Nightly News   |  February 01, 2010

Adoption or abduction?

Ten members of an American church group are still in a Haiti jail three days after their failed attempt to take 33 children out of the country without any documentation or permission from surviving family members ignited an international controversy. NBC's Michele Kosinski reports.

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>>> orders and gaining respect.

>>> we have been closely following the issue of how dix difficult it is for american families to adopt children from haiti . members from a church group in the u.s. are accused of trying to take 33 children out of the country, including children whose parents are reportedly alive. members of the group say they were trying to rescue vulnerable orphans, while one member of the haitian government insists they knew what they were doing was wrong. all of this as that country continues a life and death struggle every day. now 20 days since the quake. we begin here tonight with nbc's michelle kosinski in port-au-prince. good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. these ten americans , one of whom became ill in jail and needed to be hospitalized are accused of child trafficking . getting to the bottom of what exactly happened out here, and whether their methods were as sound as their intentions were is as difficult as it is to do anything in haiti right now. the american church group spoke out from this haitian jail where they will have to spend a third night.

>> this is not trafficking and we know it, without a doubt, that god's going to reveal truth.

>> reporter: waiting for a judge to decide whether they will be formally charged with trafficking in children.

>> our understanding is that they had lost parents during the quake or possibly some of them had a parent abandon them before the quake.

>> reporter: the ten were stopped saturday at the dominican border. with them 33 children, but no official documents.

>> without passport, without paper.

>> reporter: the group mostly without idaho, calls itself the haitian orphan rescue mission . they were taking the children from a damaged orphanage in haiti to a new one they had prepared in the dominican republic .

>> i was going to come back and fill out the one additional piece of paper they wanted me to complete. that all changed the next morning, they brought us into the department of justice and put us in jail and took the children away.

>> reporter: according to information they posted on line, one of the goals of their new children's life refuge is to provide opportunities for adoption. but several of these 33 children now being cared for at an orphanage outside the capital, it turns out have parents. 10-year-old sabrina said she was promised a good school and a vacation, and her parents could visit her. i miss my mama and papa, she said.

>> i waited patiently for the lord --

>> reporter: the americans insist they did not plan to adopt out any of the children with parents and permission to take them had come from this man, who also lives in the u.s.

>> i had verbal agreement from the parents with their names and their contact phone number in any case, we can contact them. and also they have our contact numbers.

>> reporter: sanvi runs four orphanages in haiti . we first found one where children in dirty clothes engulf engulfed us. at another orphanage with nine children. lord sanfi said the pastor had permission from all living parents to send their children to the dominican republic with the americans . she said no money changed hands and it was a great opportunity. that the children were full of joy to go, because they have nothing here. the u.s. state department says what happens next lies with the haitian government and the judicial system here is up and running, but that the u.s. is helping to determine what this group's motives were. brian?

>> tough story to try to figure out, michelle kosinski starting our coverage in port-au-prince tonight.

>>> also in haiti , the medical