What began as Erin Siegal’s 2009 Master’s project as a Fellow at the Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism evolved into a complex investigation of $30,000 U.S. dollars, four Guatemalan “orphans,” one nonprofit evangelical Christian adoption agency, a family-run child-trafficking ring, one infant cut from her unconscious mother’s womb, two tiny missing sisters, and a nine-member Tennessee family who believed wholeheartedly in Christian love and faith—until the dark side of international adoption shattered their trust. Siegal reveals the heart wrenching story of how one poor Guatemalan woman, Mildred Alvarado, ultimately reunited with her kidnapped daughters against all odds—and how the American housewife slated to adopt one of those children, Elizabeth Emanuel, accidentally became a reformer dedicated to an ethical adoption system.
FINDING FERNANDA sheds light on the highly politicized landscape of Guatemala’s adoption industry, a multi-million dollar trade that was both highly profitable and barely regulated. Children have been stolen, sold, and placed as orphans in corrupt international adoptions to well-intentioned Western parents ever since the industry began in the 1980s, yet the governments of Guatemala and the United States repeatedly proved unwilling and incapable of regulating the baby trade. Of the 100,000 children adopted into the United States between 2004 and 2008, over 20,000 were Guatemalan.
With help of documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests, leaked emails, and key sources inside both the Guatemalan and U.S. governments, Siegal’s research traces one compelling case of corruption in detail from start to finish. Along the way, the mechanisms surrounding “orphan laundering” are illuminated, including the roles of baby-finders, caretakers, judges, government officials, and more. This cadena perpetua, or perpetual chain, involves everyone from Guatemalan judges to U.S. embassy officials.
Provocative as it is captivating, FINDING FERNANDA an overdue, unprecedented look at how adoption corruption occurs-- and a poignant, riveting human story about the power of hope, faith, and determination.