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Adoption Fraud in Guatemala


By E.J. Graff

September 29, 2011 / The American Prospect

Last week, I discussed some of the fraud and corruption that haunt international adoption. If you’re interested, you should know about Erin Siegal, author of the forthcoming Finding Fernanda, which explores kidnapping, fraud, and endemic corruption in adoptions from Guatemala. For years, that country was one of the top “sending” countries in international adoption—and the one most widely considered to be riddled with fraud. As I wrote here at the website of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism:

Guatemala is widely considered to have had the worst international adoption improprieties over the longest period of time. In 2006 and 2007, Guatemala sent almost as many children to the United States for adoption as China, despite a hundred-fold difference in size: In 2007, China sent 5,453 out of its population of 1.3 billion. In the same year, Guatemala sent 4,728 out of its 13 million. In that year, and several years before, an astonishing one out of every 110 Guatemalan children born was adopted in the United States

But it was also one of the most opaque. Since the problems were so widely documented (see more at the link above), why did the U.S. Embassy continue to issue “orphan visas” for children that they suspected were not orphans at all, but bought, coerced, or frankly kidnapped from their families? To answer that question, Erin Siegal has been pursuing Freedom of Information Act requests to find out what the Embassy was thinking.

Finally they’ve arrived. Here’s some of what the Embassy was writing to the State Department:

According to US immigration law, a child whose mother refused to voluntarily consent to an adoption clearly would not qualify as an “orphan.” As such, when a birth mother changes her mind and refuses to sign a relinquishment for the Embassy it generally means that the case has reached the end.

Yet, for the mother herself, her refusal to relinquish the child often means her problems are just beginning. While some Guatemalan attorneys will willingly return the child to its mother, other make the process extremely difficult, if not impossible, by pressuring, threatening, and even petitioning the court for an abandonment order. …

There’s more. (Follow her @erinsiegal.) I suspect that what she releases will be heartbreaking—for adoptive parents, birth families, and everyone who cares about justice.

2011 Sep 29