Guatemala adoption fraud affects U.S. adoptions

>GUATEMALA CITY (AP) – 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 said he would announce Tuesday 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.