For the first time, the public is given access to revealing information written in cables about international adoption that traveled between the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala and U.S. Department of State from 1987 until 2010. These cables document the ambiguous moral and legal terrain that United States officials navigated amid their awareness of rising levels of fraud, corruption and criminality practiced by those involved at many levels with adoption in Guatemala. Obtained and published by journalist, author and ...
For the first time, the public is given access to revealing information written in cables about international adoption that traveled between the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala and U.S. Department of State from 1987 until 2010. These cables document the ambiguous moral and legal terrain that United States officials navigated amid their awareness of rising levels of fraud, corruption and criminality practiced by those involved at many levels with adoption in Guatemala. Obtained and published by journalist, author and Schuster Fellow Erin Siegal, these previously unreleased messages demonstrate that U.S. officials had knowledge of criminals activities associated with the thriving international adoption market at the same time they confronted escalating pressures and demands by American adoptive families for faster and better “customer service.”
Journalist Erin Siegal, who is the author of Finding Fernanda: Two Mothers, One Child, and a Cross-Border Search for Truth, combed through these cables, which due to delays in the State Department’s response to her 30 FOIA requests (filed between 2008 and 2010) were not given to her until her book was written. Siegal decided to share these raw-source documents in a 718-page e-book so other journalists, policy makers, adoptive families and adoption advocates have access to this valuable information. Select cables are available in a pdf download.
Siegal’s investigative stories, her book, and now this e-book are valuable elements of the Schuster Institute’s groundbreaking and on-going project on Fraud & Corruption in International Adoption.
What follows are key findings that Siegal unearthed as she studied these cables with the eyes of an investigative journalist well prepared to understand their context and historic significance:
• These government documents reveal —for the first time — conclusive evidence that as far back at the 1980’s United States officials with the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala communicated to the State Department their knowledge that Guatemalan children were being bought, sold, and kidnapped for adoption by American families.
• Revealed in these cables is the evolution of systemic corruption in international adoption between Guatemala and the United States. It becomes clear in these documents that U.S. government official knew about illegal practices in obtaining and processing “orphans” before Guatemalan adoption grew to become a multi-million dollar industry. Yet, U.S. government officials failed to inform Americans about the depth and scope of the problem.
• The cables detail knowledge by U.S. government officials of adoption-related crimes that occurred with impunity during from 1987 to 2010. These include:
• There were birth mothers who met “violent” and “untimely” (their words) deaths after refusing to surrender their children, crimes that embassy official acknowledged in these cables.
• The cables point to instances of visa fraud that transpired after American adoptive families brought Guatemalan children to the United States. Information found in these documents raises concern about the legitimacy of visas issued to children adopted from Guatemala. In the past decade, American families have adopted more than 30,000 Guatemalan children.
• The cables describe various schemes used by adoption facilitators and lawyers to separate Guatemalan children from their parents for the benefit of American clients.
• In their entirety, the cables demonstrate the high level of awareness U.S. officials had of adoption-related criminal complaints that were “lost” or “misplaced” (their words) by corrupt Guatemalan authorities who held positions in various key institutions, including the Guatemalan Solicitor General's Office (PGN), which the U.S. Embassy continue to rely on to approve the legitimacy of adoption cases.
• A common thread woven throughout these cables are the recurring concerns that the cables’ authors raise about United States' culpability and “moral and legal” (their words) liability related to “aiding and abetting child trafficking” in adoption.
• The cables outline a history of conflict and struggle between the U.S. Embassy Guatemala and State Department officials in Washington, D.C. State Department sometimes failed to respond to serious concerns and, at times, stonewalled efforts meant to provide greater safeguards against child trafficking in adoption.
A current Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, Erin Siegal was a 2008-2009 Fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is a recipient of the 2010 IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors) Freelance Fellowship Award for her work around adoption fraud between Guatemala and the United States.
Since 2005, Siegal has worked as a photojournalist. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Time magazine, Rolling Stone, and many other magazines and newspapers. Her clients include Reuters, Human Rights Campaign, the New York Times, the Urban Justice Center, RollingStone.com, the United Nations, and many more. She is currently based in México.