exposing the dark side of adoption
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The Miami Herald

Author: ASHLEY FANTZ, afantz@herald.com

Couples whose adoptions have been in limbo during an international investigation into their Coral Springs adoption agency will be allowed to continue pursuing their dream of becoming parents.

The U.S. Department of State, in conjunction with the Guatemalan government, will process paperwork it has received involving adoptions from International Adoption Resource, said Stuart Patt, spokesman of the department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Florida's Department of Children & Families suspended IAR last week for its alleged connection to a Latin American child smuggling ring.

One of its employees is at large, wanted by the international police agency Interpol for alleged involvement in smuggling rings in Guatemala and in Colombia, where, it said, a child died in his care.

The investigations prompted more than a dozen would-be parents from across the nation to establish an Internet chat room where they fretted about the fate of their adoptions.

Patt said that their paperwork will be processed to completion, but no new cases from IAR will be accepted in the United States or Guatemala.

``We will be scrutinizing paperwork because the bar has been raised for potential fraud,'' he said.

``But issuing [the children] immigrant visas - it should all continue down the pipeline as long as the requirements of the law have been met.''

A Midwestern couple who paid IAR more than $10,000 since February for a Guatemalan baby girl said the news offered them a ``glimmer of hope.'' The couple, who did not want to be identified, were happy but somewhat skeptical. ``That sounds really good, I guess,'' said the wife. ``I assume it's still going to take a while [to get our child].''

Despite their inability to get information from IAR, the couple remained with the agency, thinking they could not break their contract and still hope to get a child. Until this week, the couple never heard the name Rolf Salomon Levy Berger, who Rebecca Thurmond, IAR's director, hired as an ``adoption consultant'' according to a May 2003 letter Thurmond penned to DCF.

On Monday, the Costa Rican government issued an international order for Berger's arrest in relation to nine smuggled Guatemalan babies who were found in September in a Costa Rica home. Authorities linked Berger and IAR to the babies through paperwork found in the home.

Patt called IAR's troubles an example of why governments are attempting to ratify a set of regulations that international adoption agencies must follow to gain mandatory accreditation from the U.S. State Department.

Yet, the regulations probably won't become law until 2005, Patt said. ``We are moving forward, but it has taken some time to get every country on the same page,'' he said.

Meanwhile, adoption professionals caution against Guatemalan adoptions. In the country of 12 million, more than 80 percent of adoptions have little or no legal oversight, according to Amnesty International. Some children adopted there are kidnapped or sold by destitute families.

Jill Scott is the director of 6-year-old

Adoption Source

, an international agency in Boca Raton that handles about 50 adoptions each year. Her agency no longer offers Guatemalan children.

``We feel that families are at risk when they send money to a Guatemalan adoption attorney because [of] the chances of adoptions not going through'' said Scott. ``We wouldn't want clients to be out money, which they certainly would most likely be.''

2003 Dec 10