Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Department of State and Guatemalan adoption’

“About” 14 adoption cases pending

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Intercountry adoptions by US citizens are down to the lowest level since 1982, to 6,441 total, reports the Associated Press. No real news there. But here’s an update on the cases still pending in Guatemala: “[Trish Maskew of the State Department] said Guatemalan and U.S. officials were trying to complete the last batch of adoption cases — about 14 — that were pending when adoptions from Guatemala were suspended in 2007….Maskew said it was unclear when Guatemala would be ready to start processing new foreign adoption cases.” An excerpt:

The department’s report for the 2014 fiscal year shows 6,441 adoptions from abroad, down from 7,094 in 2013 and about 74 percent below the high of 22,884 in 2004. The number has fallen every year since then — a trend that has dismayed many adoption advocates in the U.S.

Trish Maskew, chief of the State Department’s Adoption Division, said it was difficult to predict when the number of foreign adoptions might start to rise again after so many years of decline.

“We’re trying to identify places where there’s potential, and work with them to see if we can improve the process,” Maskew said. “It would be great to be as powerful as some people think we are.”

As usual, China accounted for the most children adopted in the U.S., but its total of 2,040 was down more than 10 percent from 2013 and far below the peak of 7,903 in 2005. Since then, China has expanded its domestic adoption program and sought to curtail the rate of child abandonment.

Ethiopia was second at 716, a sharp drop over a two-year period from 1,568 adoptions in 2012. Ethiopian authorities have been trying to place more abandoned children with relatives or foster families, and have intensified scrutiny of orphanages to ensure that children placed for adoption are not part of any improper scheme.

The next three countries on the list showed increases — 521 children adopted from Ukraine, up from 438 in 2013; 464 adopted from Haiti, up from 388; and 370 from South Korea, up from 138.

Russia had been No. 3 on the list in 2012, with 748 of its children adopted by Americans, but that number dropped to 250 for 2013 and to just two in 2014 as an adoption ban imposed by Russia took effect. The ban served as retaliation for a U.S. law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators.

The last time there were fewer foreign adoptions to the U.S. overall was in 1982, when, according to U.S. immigration figures, there were 5,749 adoptions from abroad.

Read more at http://www.wral.com/foreign-adoptions-by-americans-reach-lowest-mark-since-1982/14551901/#esdpOf3lYUHlwJDx.99

 

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Book review: “The U.S. Embassy Cables: Adoption Fraud in Guatemala 1987-2010″ by Erin Siegal

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

 As an adoptive mother to two children born in Guatemala, as well as the author of a memoir about Guatemalan adoption, I read every book, article, and blog post I can find on the subject. No single piece of writing has fascinated me more than The U.S. Embassy Cables: Adoption Fraud in Guatemala 1987-2010, by investigative reporter Erin Siegal. The publication isn’t a book in the traditional sense, but a 717-page compilation of “cables” (pre-internet communications), memos, and emails, generated by officials in the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City and the U.S. Department of State (DOS). Siegal obtained the material from DOS after filing 30 Freedom of Information Act requests between November 2008 and 2010.

The book’s unconventional format takes some getting used to, but that’s precisely what makes it so compelling: the reader feels he is privy to something secret and private, a communication never intended to be revealed. Those readers who stick with the challenge are rewarded with a deeper understanding of one particular aspect of adoption between Guatemala and the United States—fraud–as it was reported via the keyboards of U.S. government officials.

Adoption between Guatemala and the United States was shut down in December 2007, due to allegations of corruption. The thousands of Embassy cables regarding corruption—what it entailed, how much there was, and who knew about it and when—both enlighten and disturb.

Concerns about falsified documents are stated as early as August 1987, as demonstrated by this memo generated by officials in the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City: “[T]he ability of persons involved in child trafficking to proceed as if the adoption were completely legal is facilitated by the ease with which Guatemalan documents can be falsified.” (13) And from July 1993: “Just because the civil documents and identity cards presented are genuine, does not mean that the information contained in them is correct. Guatemalan civil documents, particularly birth certificates, containing false information are easily obtainable for a small fee.” (126)

A memo from 1989 sounded this alarm: “Attorneys who do adoptions in Guatemala receive fees that are astronomical by local standards. One adoption attorney regularly charges the adoptive parents 12,000 dollars, plus 150 dollars per month for childcare… (Most heads of family in Guatemala make less than 150 dollars per month… Judges of the family courts make about 500 dollars per month, and social workers make about 200 dollars.) The incentives for fraud are very strong…(34).”

Indeed, for some unscrupulous attorneys, the incentives were irresistible, as demonstrated by this 1991 memo: “Since we began routine interviewing of birth mothers one year ago, we have detected cases of baby selling (for very modest sums), imposter mothers, presentation of false birth certificates, children not meeting the legal definition of orphan and deception of birth mothers as to the legal consequences of adoption by local attorneys. We detect this type of obvious irregularity in about 5 percent of the cases presented.” (93)

No follow-up memo is published to interpret this data, so readers are left to wonder if “obvious irregularity in about 5 percent of the cases” is expected and normal, or considered off-the-charts. Nor do we learn if this number remains constant or changes over time. In any case, a quick mathematical calculation determines that this note was written 21 years ago, 16 years before any concerted efforts were made to reform the system.

With memo after memo detailing questionable paperwork coupled with more and more money, readers may dread turning the page, fearing the situation will turn violent. And then it does. This communication dates from September 1998: “Post was contacted by Guatemalan national, [blank], who claimed that his daughter was given up for adoption to an American couple without his knowledge and consent… Mr. [blank] was murdered shortly after he was interviewed by a consular officer regarding the case.” (377)

Even DNA tests, which the Embassy instituted on a wide scale in 1998 after repeated requests to DOS, were not failsafe. Memos state that a DNA match between relinquishing mother and her child did not discount coercion of the mother. Moreover, adoption attorneys, facilitators, and other interested parties were often present when doctors took DNA samples, nullifying the sample’s integrity.

The adoption story told by The Embassy Cables cannot be regarded as complete or balanced because the subject is too complex to be summarized by 717 pages of memos that lack interpretation, reflection, or context. Nevertheless, as a historical record of the U.S. government’s statements and actions regarding adoption as it was practiced between 1987 and 2010, The Embassy Cables makes a singular contribution.

The Embassy Cables: Adoption Fraud in Guatemala 1987-2010 is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and independent bookstores. Some readers report that the downloaded version requires a magnifying glass to read. For more information, visit Erin Siegal’s website, erinsiegal.com.

This review was cross-posted at Adoption Under One Roof.

Image Credit: Cathexis Press

 

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International adoption article in Slate

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

I was shocked to discover reference to my “excellent” book in What Stolen Children Mean for Adoption by KJ Dell Antonia in the August 5, 2011 edition of Slate. From the third paragraph:

Every single adoption is its own story, with its own tragedies and triumphs, and every adoption has to be handled individually. That’s not a view that’s going to make adoption any cheaper, or faster, or easier. But better to move closer to a system of one adoption at a time, as Ethiopia is doing, than risk either more corruption or an end to international adoption. Because for every story like that of Yang Ling, stolen in China at 9 months old, there are untold happy endings…  There’s Jessica O’Dwyer, whose excellent book, Mamalita, chronicles her experiences within the corrupt Guatemalan system as an adoptive parent. She moved to Guatemala for months to care for the child she planned to adopt and worked her way out from under a corrupt lawyer and facilitator to eventually locate her daughter’s birth mother herself and hear her story before the adoption was finalized.

I’m thrilled by the mention, because Dell Antonia’s article is one of the few I’ve ever read that discusses adoption’s real and challenging complexities. The final paragraph says it all:

Every single adopted child has a different and complicated story of heartbreak and joy and tears and sorrow. Every single one has a birthmother with another story, and an adoptive family with another story. When it comes to adoption, particularly international adoption, many people (like a number of the commenters on this morning’s New York Times piece), want to reduce those stories into generalizations and policies, when we should be trying to do just the opposite, and make sure that all of those stories have a place to be told. When we try instead to create rules that cover everyone, we tend to put in place systems that are even more easily corruptible than individuals. The easy answer to the “question” of ethical international adoption? It’s always got to be hard.

Amen, KJ Dell Antonia.

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Office of Children’s Issues delivers “Letter of understanding” to CNA

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

This notice from the U.S. State Department represents a positive step forward for the waiting families of the Guatemala900  and those of us who care about them.

Notice: Guatemala listserv update June 13, 2011

Letter of understanding delivered

The Office of Children’s Issues announces that it has delivered a letter of understanding to the CNA [Consejo Nacional de Adopciones, the office that processes adoptions in Guatemala] that confirms the U.S. Government’s role in the CNA’s proposed framework for processing its transition cases to conclusion. We await the CNA’s response and will provide updates as they become available.

On June 2, 2011, the State Department posted a summary of the April 14, 2011 meeting in Washington, DC that included representatives of both countries who are involved in resolving the pending cases. You can read that notice here.

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Conference call on Guatemalan adoption, 3/31/11

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

I just hung up the phone from the U.S. State Department conference call on the status of Guatemalan adoption and I’m in awe of the composure of the other people who were on the line. Not the State Department employees, who are doing their best and are trained to remain composed. But the parents who have been waiting for their children for more than three years–the group known as the Guatemala900. How did those mothers and fathers not shriek with outraged fury–My child is growing up in an orphanage without me! My kid needs a loving family! Does anyone care about the fate of our children?

I’m afraid that’s what I might have done.

The first thing we were told was that the call was “off-the-record” for journalists. I doubt anyone considers my blog “journalism,” but in case they do, I’ll respect that caveat. Besides, there is little new to report since the 12/21/10 conference call. Guatemalan working groups continue to review cases. The universe of cases seems to remain around 385. The ones in PGN are staying in PGN; the ones in CNA aren’t moving from there, either. The pace is still slow. Excruciatingly so. Six cases per week, on average. At that rate, we’re looking at another year and a half to two years, minimum, for large-scale resolution.

I understand how important it is to remain positive. But the more I read articles, books, and other blogs about international adoption, the more I realize that emotion, and not reason, often seems to drive the decision-making process.  Take adoption from Ethiopia. Recently, the government there announced that due to “irregularities”–real or perceived–only five cases a day would be processed. A spate of blog posts followed, pro and con, including an excellent overview at Creating a Family. In the Comments section, “abiye” wrote this: 

“Most Ethiopians are not happy in what’s going on in the Adoption dram[a]. Ethiopians, particularly in Addis Ababa, get angry seeing white people coming into their country and leave with a child – as if that child is a pet. This is/was a talk of the town for last few years & the government knows it that at any time the anger can reach a boiling point.”

I posted in response: 

“As an adoptive mother to two children from Guatemala, I admit there are problems in the system that must be fixed. However… From my observation, some of the controversy around international adoption stems from th[e] anger [abiye describes]. If that’s the case, perhaps no level of reform will ever be perceived as satisfactory.” 

In a February 17  blog post, I wrote about the Kyrgyzstan 65, a group of adoptive parents in the U.S. whose pending adoptions have been hung up for years.  Yesterday, March 30, an article titled Bishkek Lawmakers Reluctant to Lift International Adoption Freeze appeared on Eurasianet.org.  

In 2008, responding to local rumors that foreigners were adopting babies to harvest their organs, the Kyrgyz government imposed a moratorium on international adoptions. Since then, American families… have been waiting to bring home 65 children whose adoptions were in progress when the freeze was announced. According to the Ministry of Social Protection, 30 of the 65 orphans have special health conditions and need regular treatment that is difficult to find in Kyrgyzstan. Two have died. Families in Kyrgyzstan have adopted only four.

Could it be that, around the world, unreasonable delays are happening because, bottom line, some people really don’t want these adoptions to be resolved? That, for reasons of their own, a nation would prefer their children live in orphanages than go to the United States? Recently, I was asked to participate on a panel about adoption from Guatemala. In preparation, the question arose about domestic adoption in Guatemala–that is, Guatemalan families adopting children who are not blood relations. How many such adoptions have occurred, now that adoptions are closed to outsiders? If an answer exists, none of us could find it, including a Guatemalan national with close ties to adoption. “Domestic adoption first” is held up as a solution, the better way to provide permanent families for children who need them. Wonderful. But in the three years since the December 2007 shutdown, few, if any, families in Guatemala have stepped up to adopt orphans.

Meanwhile, the families on the phone line today continue to wait.

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U.S. State Department notice on pending adoptions in Guatemala

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

The U.S. State Department has issued a notice about Ambassador Susan Jacobs’ December 2010 meetings in Guatemala with President Colom and other officials involved with intercountry adoption. The notice is dated February 3, 2011. As someone who has navigated the Guatemalan adoption process, I believe the most telling statement regarding the meetings is this:

The Office of Children’s Issues (CI) was encouraged by the positive reception on the recent trip, but the process for resolving the final grandfathered caseload remains complex.  Pending Guatemalan investigations and court processes must still be resolved, on which a strict timeline cannot be imposed. 

In other words, resolution will not be easy, and it is not going to happen overnight. But here’s the good news:

  • The Guatemalan government is holding frequent working group meetings to evaluate pending cases and make decisions regarding next steps.
  • The U.S. Embassy is checking in frequently with the working group to monitor its progress.
  • Why is this news good? Because Americans citizens with pending adoptions need advocacy in-country, on the ground. The U.S. government has  promised to check in “frequently.” Great news. Let’s hope the State Department holds to this promise.   

    Another important point as posted previously on this blog:

    On December 20, 2010 Ambassador Jacobs and Alison Dilworth hosted a conference call for prospective adoptive parents to report on their December trip.  During the call they asked that all adopting parents with grandfathered cases send their case information to AskCI@state.gov to be sure their cases are included on the master list that CI and the Embassy are compiling.  This information was also solicited on the adoptions website.

    In response to this request CI has received 63 responses from adopting parents.  As a reminder, in order to be considered grandfathered, the case must meet both U.S. and Guatemalan requirements. 

    If you know someone with a pending case, urge them to send an email to AskCI@state.gov. This is critical in order for the State Department to get a handle on the “universe of cases.”

    Finally, this:

    The Guatemalan working group met on January 21, 2011 and will meet weekly.  The institutions that participated in this first meeting were the PGN, CNA, MP, and CICIG.  The Embassy communicates with each of the institutions that participates in the working group on a regular basis.

    From my reading, these weekly Guatemalan working group meetings are the crucial conduit through which the pending cases will be resolved. May they stay focused on the task at hand.

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    US State Dept. hosts Monday conference call about status of Guatemalan adoption

    Friday, December 17th, 2010

    Like many adoptive parents to children born in Guatemala, I am eager for resolution of the hundreds of adoption cases pending since the shutdown of adoptions from Guatemala in December 2007. This group of waiting families is known as the Guatemala900. Some light may be shed on this issue during a conference call hosted by the U.S. Department of State on Monday, December 20, 2010 @ 10:00 am – 11:00 am (EDT).

    The State Department’s press release is reprinted below. Click here to read this and other press releases posted on the State Department’s website.

    The U.S. Department of State Office of Children’s Issues Adoptions Division would like to invite prospective adoptive parents, adoption service providers, and adoption stakeholders with an interest in Guatemala adoptions to a teleconference with the Office of Children’s issues to discuss the status of intercountry adoption processing in Guatemala. 

    The focus of the call will be primarily to provide an updated outlook for resolution of the many remaining “grandfathered” cases involving U.S. citizens.   This update will include information from Ambassador Susan Jacob’s December trip to Guatemala in which she and Adoption Division Chief Alison Dilworth met with high level government officials and non-governmental adoption stakeholders to discuss the status of “grandfathered” cases still pending in Guatemala.

    Please join us for this call to learn more about adoption processing in Guatemala.

    To join the call

    If you are calling from within the United States, please dial: 1-888-363-4749
    If you are calling from outside the United States, please dial: 1-215-446-3662
    The passcode for all callers is: 6276702

    http://adoption.state.gov/news/guatemala.html

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