Guatemala – Broken Promises, Unfulfilled Dreams

12 12 2011

This year has been another difficult one for the more than 300 children who are still trapped in the broken system that has halted intercountry adoptions in Guatemala. Only 32 adoptions of Guatemalan children by families in the United States were completed in the past year. Only 32 more children are now spending their holidays in the arms of their new loving family. Clearly, our work in Guatemala is far from done.

But the year has had some bright spots. This year Sen. Landrieu made two trips to Guatemala to advocate for children and potential adoptive families, and she continues to champion orphans across the globe. In October, released a documentary that focused on elimination of intercountry adoption in Guatemala in a way not often discussed in the media. The documentary can be viewed on our website.

Much like the scrutiny and attention by the international community exposed the corruption of the prior system, this same community must now refocus their attention to bring to light Guatemala’s ineffective implementation of the Hague Convention and its subsequent impact on institutionalized children and Guatemalan families.  Adoption reform in Guatemala has not resulted in the prosecution of criminals, nor has it served the best interest of children. What it has done is force thousands of children into orphanages, onto the streets, or even worse.

Joint Council needs your help to continue advocating for the ethical and legal finalization of all adoptions initiated prior to the closure of intercountry adoption in Guatemala, and for the formation of services that are desperately needed to ensure that children retain their right to a family.  Please help us in our efforts to call on all stakeholders who previously asked for reforms to move with speed in order to provide these much needed services.


Amercian University to host “Stolen Children: Illegal Practices in Intercountry Adoption”

1 04 2011

The UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic at Washington College of Law, American University is presenting Stolen Children: Illegal Practices in Inter-country Adoption and the Need for Reform on April 4, 2011 from 6:30 – 9:00 pm.

Joint Council’s Tom DiFilipo will participate as a panelist and will address both the role of social services in the prevention of abuse and abuse related consequences of adoption closures.

The event is open to the public and includes the following speakers.  We encourage all who are interested in protecting the rights of children and families to attend and participate in this robust discussion.

Keynote Presentation
Norma Cruz
Guatemalan human rights activist
President of the Fundacion Sobrevivientes (Survivors Foundation)

Panel Discussion
Tom DiFilipo
President & CEO
Joint Council on International Children’s Services

Karen Rotabi
Professor of Social Work
Virginia Commonwealth University

David Smolin
Cumberland School of Law

Alison Dilworth
Office of Children’s Issues
U.S. Department of State

No to corruption. Yes to families.

14 03 2011

by Rebecca Harris, Director of Programs & Services

The following as an excerpt from our newsletter, Mbali’s Message.  Sign up to receive it by clicking here.

Already in 2011 we’ve seen Ethiopia move to reduce intercountry adoptions by 90% and Kazakhstan officially suspend adoptions in anticipation of their ratification of the Hague Convention.  Haiti and Ukraine are on what we’ve termed our “high alert” list – countries that show indications of closing in the next 12-months. This is a scene we’ve seen play out over and over again, in country after country.  And every time a country has chosen to suspend or close intercountry adoptions, children suffer.  It’s a scene that is quite frankly, confusing, unneccessary, and very disturbing.
In allowing this to occur, we’ve failed the biological families who need preservation services, we’ve failed the children who legitimately need intercountry adoption and we’ve failed our global community.  I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of failure.  I’m tired of seeing children, like Addison, become “collateral damage” in the battle against abuse.  Allowing children to die needlessly and alone is simply unacceptable.

Over the last ten years we’ve fought the good fight.  But we’ve lost too many times.  And every time we lose, children lose.  This month we’ll release a report about the systematic elimination of intercountry adoption and the decrease in services to children.  And we’ll ask you to join us in changing the tide.  We’ll ask you to rally your friends and family to stand up and say “No” to corruption and “Yes” to families.  It’s not enough to just stop bad things from happening – we have to make good things happen too!

So, be on the look out over the next month – in your inbox and our website – I hope you’ll join me in standing up and demanding the fulfillment of every child’s right to a safe, permanent and loving family.  Join me in speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves.

The Answer for Jaime and Be The Answer for Gabriel

27 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign Click Here

The Adoption Story of Our Son Gabriel Robert

I was adopted and my husband and I have always felt the calling to adopt.  We chose to adopt from Guatemala because I speak Spanish and have spent time living and traveling in Latin America.  Our son Fernando Gabriel (who we would name Gabriel Robert) was born in August of 2006 and we received his referral in October 2006.  We fell in love immediately and prayed daily for our beautiful son.  In January, we learned that Gabriel had been hospitalized over Christmas, that he had a heart defect and possible neurological issues.  Our agency asked us if we wanted to continue with the adoption – to which we answered, “of course – he is our son!”  This was a difficult time of great concern and uncertainty and reliance on our Faith in God as we were here in Iowa and our son was thousands of miles away in Guatemala.  We were in communications with local pediatricians, a pediatric cardiologist, an international adoption doctor, and our adoption agency – trying desperately to ensure that Gabriel was receiving the care he needed until we were able to bring him home.  In February of 2007 he legally became our son and we made plans to travel to Guatemala to bring him home.  We were over the moon!   But we soon learned that God had other plans.  On March 5th, just two short days before we were to board the airplane, our precious son passed away.  Our hearts were broken – and have never been the same since.  Below is the post we wrote in our blog about the loss of our son.

3/6/2007 – Our Angel Gabriel is in Heaven

We received the very sad news that our baby Gabe became very ill on Sunday and was hospitalized.  His little heart wasn’t able to sustain his life any longer and he went to be in Jesus’ arms in Heaven at 11:50pm on Monday, March 5th. Our son fought very hard to be with us and we would have moved heaven and earth to bring him home, but it was God’s plan for Gabriel to be with Him in Heaven.   Although he didn’t officially become our son in the eyes of the law until February 22nd, he became our son in our hearts the day we accepted his referral on October 10, 2006.  Our love grew for him immensely over the past 5 months and our arms ached to hold him.  Gabriel is now in the arms of Jesus, and although we all miss him and will miss knowing him, we take comfort in the knowledge that he is truly home.  He has been adopted into God’s home and is with his Forever Father in heaven – free from pain, free from suffering, and free from worry and care of any kind. We thank God for Gabe’s wonderful foster mother and entire foster family who we learned were with him at the hospital.  If this was God’s time for Gabriel to return home to heaven, we are glad that he was able to be with and comforted by the only family he has known.

Gabriel’s final earthly resting place will be in his homeland of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala – where he lived with his foster family.  We have heard that the cemetery in Quetzaltenango (or ‘Xela’ – pronounced Shay-la) is very beautiful and is located on a hill overlooking the city.

We thank everyone for their constant prayers for baby Gabriel and our family.  Our very special little guy was so blessed to have an army of people loving him and praying him home.   In Gabriel’s memory, we ask that you please continue to pray for all of the little children in Guatemala and around the world who are waiting to be united with a loving family.  May God watch over them and keep them in his care just as he did for our baby Gabriel.

We say to Gabriel ‘Te amo y nos vemos en el cielo’ which means ‘We love you and we’ll see you in heaven’.

The Adoption Story of Our Son Jaime Gabriel

After the loss of our son Gabriel, we still felt a very strong calling to grow our family through adoption.  It was very clear to us that this is what Gabe would have wanted us to do and what God was calling us to do.  Our hearts were in Guatemala and we knew that the country was thinking about closing their doors to adoption, so if we were to try to bring our child home from there, we had to act immediately, not wait.  So while working through our grief, we also worked to start another adoption.  We had to begin the entire adoption process over again – new dossier, new paperwork, new finances, new everything – but God gave us the strength and we were undeterred.  In April of 2007, we received the referral of our son Jaime Fernando (whom we named Jaime Gabriel).   The story of his name still gives us goosebumps – it’s definitely

a ‘God Thing’.  The name Jaime means “he who takes the place of” so his name literally means “he who takes the place of Fernando” (our son Gabriel’s birthname was Fernando Gabriel).  Jaime will never take the place of Gabriel.  Both of our children hold a unique and special place in our hearts.  But Jaime gave us hope for the future and we know that God has wonderful plans for this very loving little boy!  Jaime came home to us forever in October of 2007 and has blessed our lives in more ways than we can possibly count.   And three months later on January 19, 2008, our family was doubly-blessed by the birth of our biological son Carson Alexander.  (Please do not use our story to tell other families – “see, if you adopt, you’ll become pregnant!”  Yes, it can happen, but it is not common and infertility was not the reason we chose to adopt.)  All three of our sons are the most beautiful blessings to us and our family.  And Jaime and Carson bring unbelievable joy to our home each and every day.  They love each other dearly, along with the normal fighting that brothers do.  And they know that they have a brother Gabe who is in heaven.  When asked if they have a brother, they’ll proudly point to his picture among our family photos on our mantel and say, “that’s our baby Gabe!”   And one night when I was tucking our 3-year-old Jaime in to bed, he looked me squarely in the eyes and said, “Mommy, there are babies who do not have Mommies.  You are a Mommy – you can help them?”  So, God, are you planting another seed of adoption in our hearts?

Be The Answer For Children like Gabriel and Jaime all around the world by becoming a fan of the Families For Orphans Coalition Facebook Page. Once you’ve become a fan- Invite 5 of your friends to be a fan as well!

The Answer for Manuel

9 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

We set out for an older toddler boy. Boys often are forgotten, many people thinking girls are easier.  With two birth-daughters we knew that this wasn’t true.  The thought of a forgotten or neglected boy needing a stable, loving family drew us to our decision.

Manuel is a total teddy bear, charming, smart and loving.  He came home to us at age 5 with scars, parasites, and tuberculosis.  He had size 4 clothing even though he was 5 years old.  Despite this he still had a bright smile and a loving lasting hug that everyone enjoyed, this was the start on our adventure into older toddler adoption.

Our road trip into parenting Manuel began wit stabilizing his health.  Reports from Guatemala showed Manuel needing food, he was behind developmentally; he was clumsy, and his verbal skills needed some help.  Once home it was the quest to encourage eating when hungry and getting used to food at regular times.  Treating his ailments fell into the mix with pre-school to work on manners.  Manuel had an instinct to leave us when he pleased, in crowds or our front yard.  Sad to ween this independence, we taught him its best to be with Mommy and Daddy and that with us there’s always food and love and no need to ask for it from others.

Manuel suffered constantly with flu and colds that had me worried that he’d never actually attend a full month at school!  Our physician came to explain that Manuel needed time to build up his immunity.  That malnutrition is not overcome with just eating but our endeavor would take several years because malnutrition is at the cellular level and we had a long way to go to build up our sons system.

After being home for two years did we realize his vision was poor, another possible effect of malnutrition?  Manuelito had double vision and was legally blind but we hadn’t realized it.  It was hard not to feel guilty, our eye doctor reassured us that many families don’t realize their kids have a vision problem until there is a problem in learning at school.  Manuel is now in cool Spiderman spectacles with the double vision corrected he’s on his way to correctable vision.

None of these setback’s have been easy but somehow we find our way to brush ourselves off and continue on loving and caring for our son and try not to be bitter about these struggles.

With all that I have learned about malnutrition my thoughts wander back to Guatemala and all of the children who won’t receive the love and care that they deserve.  I think what if Manuel was still there, would he be begging on the street? Would he be alive? It hasn’t been easy with Manuel, I won’t sugar coat adoption or parenting.  Bringing Manuel home has taught me more about the human condition that I could ever know by any other fashion.  Whether he knows it or not he’s made my heart grow wider and stronger, he’s made me a more accepting person, and to Manuel I am forever grateful to have him be my son.

This was The Answer for Manuel, Be The Answer for another child by visiting the Guatemala900 website and signing up to receive updates on the children waiting in Guatemala and what you can do to help.

Be The Answer for Vivian

9 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

When Vivian was referred to us in November of 2007, my husband, Craig, our 2 ½ year old son, Mark, and I moved ourselves down to Guatemala to be with her.  After adopting Mark in 2005 (he came home at 5 months old), we were determined that if we adopted again, we would be there to love and bond with our child from the beginning.  When we came to pick her up from the Hogar, I could not believe how tiny she was.  She was 2 months old and weighed 5 pounds.  We later found out that she was born 2 months pre-maturely and weighed only 3 pounds when she was born.  My heart felt for her like a huge opening velvety rose that just wanted to wrap around her with love, security and nourishment.  I put her on my chest and, seriously, barely put her down for the next 7 months.  We made a huge bed that the 4 of us slept in together at night and spent our days playing, walking, cooking and visiting with friends.  The three of us doted on Vivian and enjoyed watching her grow from a tiny, sickly infant to a robust and rather chunky, spirited and happy baby.  Life was great.  Seven months had past and we felt close to finishing the adoption when we were told there was one last hurdle to go through- the government was now requiring an interview with the birthmother to determine that she did indeed wish to relinquish her baby.  We knew Vivian’s birthmother and knew this interview would be easy.  We were excited at the prospect that the case would be finalized shortly after that.

The interview came and Vivian’s birthmother traveled the 12 long hours by bus to appear at the Attorney General’s office in Guatemala City.  The interview lasted 4 hours.  She was made to hold Vivian the whole time without food or fresh diapers for her.  After two hours, the attorneys were told to leave and she was left alone with no representation and no translator (she does not speak Spanish).  As we later found happened to many birthmothers, she was pressured (by a cleaning women working there who spoke her language) to say she wanted to take Vivian back.  When she adamantly said she did not want to, they told her that she must have been offered money for her child.  In the end, they took Vivian and remanded her to a Catholic Children’s Home in Guatemala City.  She was placed under “protective custody” and not allowed visitors, even us, her only family.  For the first week, I traveled everyday from Antigua to Guatemala City to beg the nuns to see her only for a minute, to make sure she was okay.  They had to refuse as they were now under court order.  The story is endless about how we spent the next 4 months meeting, writing, and petitioning to free her or at least see her.  I spent every single day hard at it- the Guatemalan courts, the District Attorney, the Attorney General.  I interviewed 5 lawyers looking for someone that could help us.  I finally hired a legal team that eventually encouraged me to come back to the States- it was going to be a long battle.

Our case was with the District Attorney for over a year.  After interviewing the family of the birthmother (trying to get them to take Vivian), the hospitals in which she was born, the delivering doctor, the pediatrician and the anesthesiologist, all charges were dropped.  Over the last three years, the birthmother has had to make her long journey to Guatemala City 15 times to testify that she wishes to have Vivian adopted by us.

Vivian’s birthmother later had another baby for whom she could not care for either.  With adoption now an unavailable choice, the baby stayed with her and died of malnutrition.

Unfortunately, Vivian is not alone.  There are over 400 children caught in her same situation. For two years, these children, including my little Vivian, have not known the love of a family.  For two years I have only held Vivian in my heart, never in my arms…

I am sad, I am mad and my love for Vivian has transformed from a sweet, velvety, enveloping rose to the fiery, drum-pounding heart of a mother lion that will not stop until her baby is safely with her again.  And to the U.S. government, UNICEF and others who supported the closure of adoption, I simply ask – Vivian does no have her family of birth nor her adoptive family, how does that serve “the best interest” of Vivian?

Be The Answer for Vivian  by visiting the Guatemala900 website and signing up to receive updates on the children waiting in Guatemala and what you can do to help.

Dept of State Announcement: Guatemala

30 08 2010

The Dept of State, Office of Children’s Issues has issued the following announcement regarding Guatemala.  This announcement can also be viewed on their website at  Any further information obtained by Joint Council will be posted as soon as it is available.

Guatemala Update

August 27, 2010

Casa Quivira

Our records show adoption petitions are still pending for about 8 of the original 46 children who were taken into custody from Casa Quivira.  In several of the cases, the Solicitor General’s Office (PGN) has identified irregularities and these cases must be processed as abandonment cases through the National Council for Adoptions (CNA).  The Guatemalan government has agreed that these cases (if all requirements have been complied with) can be processed as transition cases and will not have to wait for the new Hague procedures to be implemented. 

Semillas de Amor

In early August, the court in Chimaltenango separated five of the Semillas de Amor cases, allowing them to proceed.  Some of those children already have visas and will hopefully be able to depart soon.  Several of the five cases have been sent to the PGN for final adjudication.  We are awaiting additional information on these cases.

Santa Lucia de las Flores

The Embassy learned in 2009 that Asociacion Santa Lucia de las Flores Silvestres had been under investigation by the
Guatemalan Attorney General’s office since 2008.  The Embassy has been in contact with some of the prospective adoptive parents.  We understand there were at least five children indentified for adoption by American citizens being cared for at this home.  It is our understanding that many of the children taken from this orphanage are now living in various hogares until a judge decides on their cases.  The investigation is still underway.

Asociación Primavera

On August 13, 2009, the Embassy learned about an action by Guatemalan authorities involving 17 children from the Hogar Asociación Primavera, 16 of whom had been matched with U.S. adoptive families.  We have since learned that the children were transferred to various hogares in Guatemala City.  A police investigation continues.  The judge in Esquintla who
approved many of the abandonment cases from Hogar Primavera, was recently stripped of his immunity and could now face criminal charges.

On December 16, 2009, the Guatemalan press reported that Susana Maria Luarca Saracho, a facilitator of international
adoptions for Asociación Primavera, was arrested by the Ministerio Publico on charges of irregular adoptions.  She was later released on Q50,000 bail (just over $6,000) and is under house arrest while the investigation continues.

As reported in the press, a lawyer linked to various illegal adoption cases, Alma Beatriz Valle Flores de Mejia, was charged in Guatemala on April 22, 2010 with human trafficking and using false documents, among other charges.  Valle de Mejia was implicated in 158 cases of irregular adoptions in 2008 as part of her involvement with Asociación Primavera.  According to the charges, she formed part of a network engaged in illegal adoptions.  This network included attorney Susana Luarca Sara­cho mentioned above.

Press reports state that Valle de Mejia was deported from the United States on April 22, 2010 after she was captured in Texas for remaining in the United States illegally after her visa expired.

Rosalinda Rivera’s Hogar

On May 6, 2008, an action was taken against a hogar on 11 Avenida 7-51, Zona 11, Quinta Samayoa, Guatemala City. 
Rosalinda Rivera was apprehended at this location and 9 infants were removed from her custody.  Ms. Rivera did not provide the necessary paperwork to prove this was an authorized home.  The children are all living in other hogares awaiting a
decision on their case.

Embassy and USCIS consultations with the Government of Guatemala

The following are brief updates on issues or related developments on pending adoption cases that are not under investigation or in the courts:

  • Consular officers and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers in Guatemala City are in regular contact with Guatemalan officials about the current situation and to look for approaches that could streamline the process, coordinate the flow of information to adoptive families, and permit all adoptions to move forward.  In some instances, the Ambassador has been directly involved in discussions with Guatemalan officials on the adoption situation in Guatemala.  Senior State Department officials also regularly raise adoption issues with their Guatemalan counterparts.
  • In light of allegations regarding the integrity of Guatemala’s former adoption process, Guatemalan Government
    authorities are making a concerted effort to confirm all aspects of every case.  Because of the large number of
    investigations, progress overall continues to be extremely slow.
  • The Consular Section continues to process visa applications as soon as the files are complete. The Department of State reminds prospective adoptive parents of the worldwide DNA testing procedures.  All second DNA tests for adoptions must be scheduled with the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section.  Information is available from the Consular Section at: or

Publication of adoption law regulations

The National Council for Adoptions (CNA) was confirmed as the lead agency for adoptions of Guatemalan children for both domestic and foreign adoptive parents.  New procedures implementing the December 2007 adoption law were published by the CNA in the official newspaper in Guatemala and went into effect on July 13, 2010.

Under these rules, Guatemalan parents will be the first to be considered for adoption and foreigners will be considered
subsequently.  According to the new regulations, a multidisciplinary team composed of psychologists, medical doctors,
lawyers and social workers will determine whether a child can be adopted and then will evaluate the prospective adoptive
parents to make a decision on whether to allow the adoption of that child.

Reminder – CNA rules and procedures for Guatemala adoptions

Adopting parents are reminded that CNA issued a statement last year telling parents they should not hire private attorneys or notaries to process their adoptions.  This announcement applies only to cases that the CNA is processing at this time, i.e.,
pre-Convention abandonment cases or others that cannot be processed by the PGN.

Special Advisor for International Children’s Issues Appointed

On July 1, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the appointment of Ambassador Susan S. Jacobs as the Special Advisor to the Office of Children’s Issues.  This new foreign policy position will address intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.  In her new role, Special Advisor Jacobs will actively engage with foreign
government officials to protect the welfare and interests of children.  Ambassador Jacobs plans to go to Guatemala in the coming months and will meet and advocate on behalf of all adopting parents whose cases were properly registered and are pending.

Special Advisor Jacobs has recently served as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular
Affairs.  She is a former Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and her Foreign Service career has included tours in Caracas, Tel Aviv, New Delhi, Bucharest, and San Salvador.

Members of Congress ask Guatemala’s President to expedite adoptions

U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and 75 other Members of Congress signed a letter that was sent to the President of Guatemala, Alvaro Colom, and other key Guatemalan officials, asking them to facilitate the adoptions of approximately 400 cases.  The letter discusses the fact that these cases have been pending since at least the 2007 adoption system reform was
enacted and the continued concern that these cases have been inexplicably delayed.

The letter asks President Colom to create a transparent system to protect the children, birth parents, and adopting parents.

Survey of Pending Adoption Cases


Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), the Congressional Coalition on Adoptions Institute (CCAI) and the Guatemala 900 group are conducting a survey on behalf of the U.S. Congress and the Guatemalan Embassy to ensure that they have up-to-date case information on behalf of all families with pending Guatemalan adoption cases.  If you have not already responded to the survey, you may do so at:

 USCIS Updates

As of June 30, 2010, USCIS Guatemala City had 396 active cases.  (Note: This total may include cases in which the petitioner has subsequently decided to abandon the case but did not inform USCIS.)  Of these cases:

355 are pre-approved and pending action by the Government of Guatemala

33 are pending U.S. petitioner action

4 cases are pending USCIS or other U.S. Government action

4 cases were transferred to Consular Section to schedule the final appointment
USCIS Field Office Guatemala City reminds prospective adoptive parents of the procedures for the 1st DNA test required in relinquishment cases.  All 1st DNA appointments must be scheduled by USCIS.  For more information or to schedule an ap­pointment for DNA collection, please contact USCIS at:

In response to frequent questions regarding transition cases in Guatemala, USCIS developed an InfoSheet entitled Keeping Required USCIS Documents Valid for Transition Cases.  Please note this InfoSheet is only applicable to intercountry adoption cases in Guatemala as outlined in the document.

2 1/2 Years and Still Waiting

11 05 2010

For the past 2.5 years, over 400 children have needlessly languished in orphanages or temporary foster care in Guatemala.   This past Thursday, the Guatemala 900, Joint Council and 31 families, brought the plight of these children to the Members of the U.S. Congress, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, the Guatemalan Embassy and members of the press.

Representing The Children

During a 3-hour Congressional briefing, families who already adopted stood along side of those who continue their struggle to give over 400 Guatemalan children a loving, permanent and safe family.

After a 45 minute presentation on their 3-year struggle, family after family stood, demanded, asked, implored and even begged for the U.S. government to effectively work with the Guatemalan government to end the needless suffering of children.  The families presented specific requests of the U.S. government all of which reflected a request for the U.S. to use the same level of influence that was used by the U.S. in securing passage of the Guatemalan adoption law in 2007. Read the rest of this entry »

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