A Market for Children: Adoption Fraud in Guatemala
by Ariel Gould
Erin Siegal, Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, recently donated one bankers-size box of documents about US citizens’ adoptions of Guatemalan children and adoption fraud to the National Security Archive.
These documents are the result of over thirty FOIA requests Ms. Siegal filed with the Department of State, Customs and Border Patrol, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the CIA. The requests asked for information as far back as 1980 and cover a variety of topics, ranging from information on the Casa Quivira issue (in which 46 babies were seized from a Guatemalan adoption agency due to accusations of adoption fraud), to US embassy communications regarding Celebrate Children International (a US organization imputed to have acted in violation of conditions the Hague Convention set regarding the adoptability of children).
Of particular interest in the declassified documents is information on the extent of adoption fraud in Guatemala, what the United States knew about it, and the US’s attempts to combat the problem. According to Department of State cables dating back as far as 1987, adoption fraud in Guatemala had been a lucrative business for some time. Lawyers in the country turned huge profits arranging the international adoptions of kidnapped children, women were paid to masquerade as mothers abandoning their “children” so that the children could be put up for adoption, and by March 2010, 29,400 Guatemalan children had found their way into American homes. That meant that one in every one hundred babies born in Guatemala was growing up in the US, and the adoption industry in Guatemala had become a $100 million industry.
The documents also contain information on the involvement of US-based organizations in the problem. Certain US adoption agencies with operations or relationships in Guatemala became involved in the scandal, including International Adoption Resources, which was implicated in smuggling Guatemalan children out of the country, after three mothers came forward and attested to selling their children for 750 dollars apiece.
Some documents of note in the files include:
- A 9 August 2005 cable discussing a major Guatemalan newspaper’s critique of the adoption system in Guatemala, including the means of adoption fraud and abusing the system (see image)
- A 5 November 1996 cable discussing the increase in the number of cases using impostor mothers as a means of perpetrating adoption fraud
- Emails dating from March to May 2008 discussing fraud in DNA testing, including a prospective adoptive family’s insight on their case
- A 16 December 1991 cable discussing the role of Guatemalan attorneys in the adoption problem in Guatemala
- A 21 July 2004 cable discussing a Florida-based organization called Adoption Resources, Inc, which the Florida State’s Attorney concluded was “apparently working through an internationally-known child smuggler, [in an attempt] to process Guatemalan children for international adoption”
For more information on the documents or the story behind Erin Siegal’s investigation, you can read her book Finding Fernanda: Two Mothers, One Child, and a Cross-Border Search for Truth and her published volume of more than 700 pages of US Embassy documents relating to adoptions in Guatemala: The U.S. Embassy Cables: Adoption Fraud in Guatemala: 1987–2010. Further information on this topic and Erin Seigal’s two publications are available on the Brandeis University website.