More Guatemalan Adoption Scandal

Thanks to the AFAAD Listserv for this article.

1 in 100 Guatemalan babies every year is raised in the US. It’s a staggering number for such a small country. Since 1990 there have been over 29,400 adoptions from Guatemala making it only second to China as a sending country.

Casa Quivira, which has been considered one of the most legitimate adoption agencies in Guatemala is facing a large investigation into child trafficking.

The trafficking continues in Guatemala, and it’s hard to see an easy solution when both agencies, notaries, and the birth parents do not have an institutionalized adoption process nor watchdog government agencies to oversee these transactions.

It’s unfair to all parties involved, and instead of slowing the adoption numbers they continue at the same clip. Both birth families and adoptive families are being torn apart by a fractured system that likely will not see complete reform for a number of years.

And yet amidst it all I am still provoked by the insinuation that adoptive parents are angered by the amount of money they paid for a “hassle-free adoption,” and are experiencing either delays or re-starts to their paperwork. Regardless of whether this is their intention, there really is no such thing as a hassle free adoption. I’m fascinated that there are these ideological fallacies of what adoption really is. One family was torn apart to start another-regardless of whether the birth family was conned or if they were economically unable to care for their child. There is nothing hassle free about that.

It’s a hard truth to swallow, and yet I understand why a-parents want this so-called “hassle free” adoption. Yet something doesn’t sit right for me in this statement…maybe it’s the fact that this alleged “hassle free” transaction is the same slogan for my Capital One credit card…

http://my.earthlink.net/article/int?guid=20080310/47d4c050_3421_1334520080310-487262854

Fraud Leaves Guatemalan Babies in Limbo
By JUAN CARLOS LLORCA (Associated Press Writer)
From Associated Press
March 10, 2008 6:49 PM EDT

GUATEMALA CITY – Luciany Ball’s adoption file says she was born 14
months ago by Caesarean section to a single mother who gave her up so
she could be raised by a loving family in a six-bedroom Indiana
farmhouse.

But now some of the documents appear to be fraudulent, part of a slew
of irregularities at the agency handling Luciany’s adoption that have
left dozens of babies in danger of being seized from their anguished
American adoptive parents. The probe also casts a cloud of
uncertainty over some 2,900 pending U.S. adoptions.

Prosecutors describe their probe of Casa Quivira – considered
Guatemala’s best adoption agency – as their first serious attempt to
investigate a $100 million industry that has made tiny Guatemala the
largest source of American babies after China.

The system has delivered 29,400 Guatemalan children into U.S. homes
since 1990 – so many that one in every 100 Guatemalan babies born
each year was growing up in an American home.

But after a monthslong investigation that began with the seizure of
46 babies from Casa Quivira last August, prosecutors say they found
fraud cloaking the true identities of at least nine children and that
half their birth mothers couldn’t be found at all.

The fraud points to much deeper problems with the flawed adoption
system that Guatemala replaced in January, and casts a cloud of
uncertainty over the backgrounds of thousands of children now growing
up in America, The Associated Press has learned.

After intense lobbying by U.S. parents, most of the 2,900 pending
U.S. adoptions will likely go forward, partly because Guatemala lacks
the resources to fully investigate them. Parents of the Casa Quivira
babies, however, are stuck in the very nightmare they tried to avoid
by spending at least $30,000 per child for hassle-free adoptions.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to give Luciany back,” said Mary Ball, the
child’s adoptive mother, her eyes welling up. “She’s our family.
She’s our daughter.”

Prosecutors say the problems at Casa Quivira include illegal payments
to at least one birth mother, stolen identities – including that of a
child stillborn 22 years ago – and a mentally ill birth mother who
was incapable of giving consent.

A Guatemalan judge was to decide Monday whether to pursue a trial
against Casa Quivira’s attorney and notary. Prosecutors also have
obtained an arrest warrant against the American owner, and they want
fresh DNA tests for all the babies, even those whose paperwork is
apparently in order.

“Their rights to an identity are violated because if their mothers
have no identity, neither do they,” prosecutor Jaime Tecu told the
judge.

Luciany’s story reveals some of the complexities of adoptions in the
poverty-ridden country.

Luciany was born on Jan. 4, 2007. Her birth mother shows up twice in
her village’s civil registry, with the same picture and fingerprints
but different names. One says she is Maria Natividad Hernandez, a
married woman. The other – created in her village the same day she
gave birth to Luciany in a hospital hours away – identifies her as
Orbelina Davila Paz, a single woman.

Prosecutors suspect she got a false I.D. so she and her husband could
give the baby up without going before a judge. They believe many of
the birth mothers with false identity documents were trying to get
around laws that require husbands and grandparents to renounce their
rights in court.

Luciany’s birth mother gave her to a network of notaries and
attorneys supplying babies to Casa Quivira, a spotless home in the
picturesque colonial city of Antigua. A few weeks later, Mary and
Michael Ball started adoption proceedings for Luciany.

Mary Ball, 39, has an adopted sister, and has wanted to adopt a child
since she was a little girl herself. She felt so strongly about
adoption that she discussed her plan with Michael even before getting
married.

She chose Casa Quivira because her best friend had adopted through
the same agency. The Balls did not want to adopt an American child
out of fear the birth mother would back out at the last minute.

“We didn’t want to grow attached to a child and have that child taken
away,” said Ball, who prosecutes sex crimes and child abuse in
Indiana.

They met Luciany when she was 4 months old and fell in love. She has
huge brown eyes and a ton of dark brown hair. Every month they
received new photos of her by e-mail. They spent more than $30,000 in
agency fees and travel costs.

The Balls were told that Luciany would be living in poverty if she
stayed in Guatemala. A visit by the AP to her birth mother’s home in
Santa Rosa de Lima confirmed the extended family lives in a tiny
one-room shack made of cinderblocks, with an open cooking area.
Barefoot children played on the dirt floor as sewage water ran past.

While waiting for Luciany, Mary Ball became pregnant herself with a
daughter, Isabella. She looked forward to the girls growing up
together, along with her 3-year-old son, Hadyn.

Then came the horrible day last August when Mary Ball received an
e-mail at work from Casa Quivira. Authorities had raided the agency,
seizing Luciany and 45 other babies.

Casa Quivira’s notary and attorney were arrested on charges of
illegally processing paperwork. Since then, prosecutors also have
built a case against the owner, Clifford Phillips of Deland, Fla.

Phillips, who owns the agency with his Guatemalan wife Sandra
Gonzalez, an attorney, has denied any responsibility for fraud. The
couple has handled hundreds of adoptions since it opened in 1996, and
outside adoption experts said their record was spotless.

Phillips told the AP he has been made the “whipping boy” for a system
in which corrupt officials have for years supplied and signed off on
adoption documents.

“I have nothing to do with documents. I don’t touch documents,”
Phillips said. “They want me to be responsible for making sure the
process is not fraudulent? I’m not equipped to do that. I have faith
that the Guatemalan attorneys did all they could to check it out.”

Defense lawyers for Casa Quivira’s attorney and notary, in turn,
blamed birth mothers and others for fraud, telling the judge at the
Monday hearing that they can’t be responsible for confirming that the
documents they present are legitimate.

But Solicitor General Mario Gordillo told the AP that somebody had to
have walked the women through the process of falsifying documents,
and that Phillips and his lawyer and notary must be held to account.

“These biological mothers many times can’t read nor write, much less
falsify IDs or birth certificates,” Gordillo said.

Thirty-six of the babies seized in the August raid are still being
held at Casa Quivira.

Ten more, including Luciany, are now in the United States, with
families in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts,
Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But their fate is uncertain.

Luciany finally arrived in Indiana in September, days before Mary
Ball gave birth to daughter Isabella. But their uncertainty continues.

If fraud is proven, whatever the reason, Guatemala would invalidate
the adoption and try to recover the child, even one that has already
become a U.S. citizen.

“We would have to do that, according to the law,” Gordillo said.

Custody disputes with Guatemala for babies already in the United
States would eventually land before a judge in the adoptive family’s
hometown, according to the U.S. Embassy. But if document fraud is
discovered for babies still in Guatemala, their cases will have to
start all over again. A false identity for whatever reason would be a
“strong indicator” that the child may not qualify for an immigrant
visa, said U.S. Consul John Lowell.

Guatemala, for its part, says it will give priority to U.S. parents
who have to restart their adoptions. But these cases will come under
the country’s new adoption law, which took effect Jan. 1, to comply
with an international treaty to prevent human trafficking. The law
puts adoptions before Guatemala’s notoriously sluggish courts and a
new National Adoptions Council, which still does not have an office,
a budget or a staff.

The result: U.S. parents could face a very long wait before they know
whether they will get their babies.

Mary Ball is ready to fight for Luciany, who has her own room in the
family’s home west of Indianapolis and a flood of toys from her two
doting grandmothers.

“I couldn’t give up without a fight because I love Luciany,” she
said. “I feel she’s going to have a great life with us.”

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6 Comments on “More Guatemalan Adoption Scandal

  1. “Their rights to an identity are violated because if their mothers
    have no identity, neither do they,” prosecutor Jaime Tecu told the
    judge.”

    If only America got it, in the way this judge appears too.

  2. There is talk in the adoptee community (of which I am a member) of a preference for guardianship over adoption because there is less of an emotional grip, or claim if you will.

    Please see Bastard Nation for US info, or a site called fassit for info from the UK.

    Seventeen out of twenty adoptees like to trace their roots with only one in twenty biological mothers turning the chance for the reunion down.

    I know that this comment is probably not what adopting familes want to hear but adoption is complex and sensitive issue from the child’s point of view, because we feel rejected by our birth mothers in our formative years, which hurts obviously, and often we reunite to discover that there was third party pressure on the birth mother when she was young, and thus lacking the wherewithall to refuse authoratative sorts of pressure prior to relinquishing us.

  3. Hi, I came across your blog today. I am an adoptive parent and co-owner of the blog “Adoption Under One Roof” (http://ouradopt.com/)

    I just wanted to clarify that you have your facts a little wrong. No new adoptions from Guatemala have been initiated since Dec. 31/07 and won’t be until the new system is set up – which may be never.

    When parents complain about the adoption process in Guatemala, it is because:
    1. It is a highly unpredictable system where cases are randomly held up or dismissed at the whim of a social worker in Family Court, a lawyer in the Secretary General’s Office, or someone in the U.S. Embassy. Each case is processed at a different pace and it is not only frustrating, but also frightening because you really just don’t know when the adoption will be completed, if at all.
    2. They want their child home with them. They want to love and parent them.

    Are there jerks out there who want “better service?” Probably, but I’d venture to say they are a small minority. Most of us just want to start parenting the child we fell in love with when we saw the first photo.

    Birth mothers in Guatemala, like all women in Guatemala, are treated like second class citizens. How tragic that they have to hide the fact that they are making an adoption plan for their child, or suffer being ostracized or worse, killed. This is what happened in the case of the little girl Luciany.

    Although you are staggered by the number of children adopted, you should be even more staggered by the fact that 5 children die every day from malnutrition. 80% of the children have stunted growth from malnutrition by the time they reach the age of five. 80% of indigent women are illiterate. I could go on and on and on.
    The birth rate in Guatemala is one of the highest in the world. With the endemic poverty in Guatemala, it is no wonder that mothers make the choice to place their child for adoption rather than watch them suffer and/or die in front of their eyes. And yes, of course there are other more personal reasons for placing a child for adoption.

    Come visit us at Adoption Under One Roof – we really are an inclusive website.

    Lisa S. lisas@ouradopt.com

  4. Thanks for all your comments. It’s great to see people having conversations that don’t always end in “@#%$@^%.”

    “1. It is a highly unpredictable system where cases are randomly held up or dismissed at the whim of a social worker in Family Court, a lawyer in the Secretary General’s Office, or someone in the U.S. Embassy. Each case is processed at a different pace and it is not only frustrating, but also frightening because you really just don’t know when the adoption will be completed, if at all.”

    This is exactly what I’m saying. There are no benchmarks in place, there is no institutionalized process for these adoptions. And similarly, various other intercountry adoptions vary quite a bit as well. It’s an understandably frustrating situation for the adoptive parent, but I would argue that it is just as hard if not harder for birth parents to make these decisions. Which is something you alluded to later. The system is not working for all parties involved clearly.

    “2. They want their child home with them. They want to love and parent them.

    Are there jerks out there who want “better service?” Probably, but I’d venture to say they are a small minority. Most of us just want to start parenting the child we fell in love with when we saw the first photo.”

    Most parents would like to see their children in a caring loving home. It’s no easy decision, and I know you know this because of what you have written below. Service, service…yes, it is sad, and unfortunately we are dealing with a business, and in countries such as the US where capitalism reigns supreme, any time there is money exchanged there is an expected value that many expect in return. But, (and this is just my opinion) but there really is no comparison between a birth parent’s love for a child and a prospective adoptive parent’s love for an adoptive child through photos. It is a love that becomes as the relationship develops. Comparing the two as equal is something that I believe is a common belief. Feel free to dispute this, but this is just my opinion. No harm intended.

    “Birth mothers in Guatemala, like all women in Guatemala, are treated like second class citizens. How tragic that they have to hide the fact that they are making an adoption plan for their child, or suffer being ostracized or worse, killed. This is what happened in the case of the little girl Luciany.

    Although you are staggered by the number of children adopted, you should be even more staggered by the fact that 5 children die every day from malnutrition. 80% of the children have stunted growth from malnutrition by the time they reach the age of five. 80% of indigent women are illiterate. I could go on and on and on.

    The birth rate in Guatemala is one of the highest in the world. With the endemic poverty in Guatemala, it is no wonder that mothers make the choice to place their child for adoption rather than watch them suffer and/or die in front of their eyes. And yes, of course there are other more personal reasons for placing a child for adoption.”

    I agree that these women and mothers ARE treated extremely poor. There are issues of socioeconomic status and of course the ability to physically and economically raise a child. Not to mention many other aspects such as wanting to provide the best you can for your child. But I am very very very careful in these sort of analyses. I agree your statistics on children who are malnutritioned and starving are incredibly horrendous. But I would be careful in assigning the same sort of analysis to the adoption of your children. There is a charity aspect to many adoptions which adoptive parents tend to overlook. I’m not saying this you in particular, but I’ve seen this before. And more often than not it becomes an issue of entitlement, and expected gratitude. Adoptees are not slaves, adoptees are not indentured servants who owe MORE than any other person to their adoptive parents. No doubt my situation in Korea would have been much different than here, and I am “thankful” that I have had the opportunities. HOWEVER, there is a thin line between acknowledging these privileges and feeling forever indebted for being “Saved” from poverty in a “Third World Country.”

    I appreciate your offer for your website, and I will take a look. But if you are insisting that my website is not “inclusive,” I hope you’ll understand the reason I start this blog in the first place. It is supposed to be a safe space for adoptees. It is also supposed to foster dialogue between various members within the adoption community. But, the PRIMARY goal of my blog is to be a safe space for adoptees to feel SAFE to express any feeling or opinion they may have without being dog-piled by adoptive parents. I’m not saying this is you either, but it is when adoptees aren’t comfortable stating their honest opinion that this space is not truly being inclusive.

    Thank you so much for your honesty and comments. Many adoptive parents who comment on my blog tend to be hostile, and I’m glad we’re able to discuss these issues together.

  5. Wow, talk about cultural genocide. I recently got into a big email debate with a Christian mother who adopted ethically (her words, not mine) from Guatemala. Because it wasn’t baby stealing – she met the mother, who 4 times gave up her motherhood privileges – she claims this makes it ethical. I think it’s okay to talk about ethics AND adoption, but ethical adoption itself is a conundrum of a phrase that I have a hard time swallowing.

  6. More and more these days, it seems the US is involved in adoption schemes bordering child trafficking. It does seem that there are a lot more child-less American couples today than few decades ago (maybe due to planning for family later or from societal stress, etc?) . It’s natural that they may want to adopt those “poor little children” from “less advantaged countries and/or families” since they can afford to give them more. Because of governmental red-tape and delays in adoption process within the US, international adoptions must seem attractive to some people.

    I think one thing a lot of adoptive parents may not realize is that in many instances here in the US (and I’m assuming as well abroad) the children who are “available” for adoption are put up for adoption against the natural mother’s will. In the US children’s services take away the babies from families and sometimes make them “available” for adoption. Many people do not realize that sometimes children are taken away by children’s services not because the motehr was abusive, but because she was too poor, homeless, or that she was not educated enough to understand the legal proceedings and lose the children to the court. Sometimes the mother’s are poor and homeless because they had suffered violence at the hands of their partners (baby’s father) and they were escaping violence with their children. It’s like in the case of foreign children, the mother’s may be signing legal paperwork not really understanding what they have done because of the language problem.

    I think the problem starts when certain middlemen who are only interested in money-making deceive and trick both the natural parents and the adoptive parents just to make a quick cash “deal” for their “services”. If the natural parent had never agreed to give up their babies in the first place, it should really be considered illegal child-trafficking regardless of what legitimate “paperwork” was signed by the parties.

    I personally know of a Japanese friend of mine who is still fighting in court to get her 6yr old daughter back from a Japanese-American couple who were caring for the child for 6 yrs. The Japanese-American couple had recently decided to adopt the child and cut off all of the natural mother’s rights to the child. My friend, due to her difficult situation in the past had asked this couple to care for her child in the US while she had to return to Japan with her older son. But she was in continuous phone contact with her daughter, came twice a year to visit, and was sending $1000 a month for the last 6 years to take care of her child until she can return and care for the child. When she informed the couple she was now ready to receive her child back, the Japanese-American couple went to the local family court to ask that all rights of the mother be terminated, and are now making allegations to the court that the mother had abandoned the child. The judge didn’t buy their story because my friend was able to produce her receipts for her support payments over the years, but it is a long-drawn court case with psychologists and everything. Now, the childless Japanese-American couple have been refusing to let my friend have normal contact with the child, forcing her to visit only under monitored supervision for 4 hrs a week, and refuse any phone contact with the child and alleging that the mother is mentally unstable and is a danger to the child.

    I can understand how the adoptive parents may feel dissappointed when the baby they believed were going to be theirs can’t come to them. Obviously, once you were told certain kids were “available” and you’ve already seen their pictures, bonded with them in some way, it will be difficult to separate. But these adoptive parents should also understand that if the children’s mother truly never intended for their children to be adopted, the child MUST be returned. After all, I still believe that children belong to their natural mothers first of all and that it is not just the natural mother’s right but also the children’s right to be able to grow up with their own natural mothers.

    Isn’t that why many adopted children still try to find their birth parents? We need to remember that the children has also formed a bond with their natural mothers before they were born up until the time they were adopted. We need to remember even little newborn babies are not dolls or toys and they have human feelings too.

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