Politics & Government

Delays in adopting Guatemalan children lead to protest

When Rhonda Felgenhauer and her husband Phil decided to adopt a second baby in Guatemala, she never thought the process would take her to Washington, D.C. to protest what has became a torturous and expensive ordeal of securing the legal rights to their daughter, Julia.

"It's been an emotional roller coaster," said Felgenhauer, whose adoptive daughter remains in foster case in Guatemala. "It seems like they change the rules every day."

Felgenhauer was part of a group of about 100 parents who marched down Constitution Avenue on Wednesday to draw attention to the hundreds of cases that are stuck in legal limbo in the Central American nation. Their new non-governmental organization, Guatemala900 – for the estimated cases in limbo – criticizes the Guatemalan government for its lack of transparency and due process, and the U.S. government's inability to help push these cases forward.

"You can't make these children suffer because the system is corrupt," said Tracy Hoehn, one of the group's organizers who adopted two children from Guatemala.

For years, Guatemala's private system was one of the top destinations for American parents to adopt children due to its agility and proximity to the United States. But without serious government regulation and oversight, the system spawned a dirty underground: lawyers, middlemen, government officers and agencies charging exorbitant fees and extorting potential adoptive and adopting parents.

There were also allegations of baby theft, and some Guatemalan mothers have returned to their government in recent months to try to reclaim their children, some of whom they say are in the United States.

The so-called Hague Adoption Convention, an international agreement provides safeguards against these practices in intercountry adoption cases. But the cases in limbo began before either country signed the agreement, and Guatemala has not yet set up a new, centralized system that complies with Hague standards.

After some negotiations, Guatemala agreed to grandfather the cases into the old system. But facing political pressure at home to end the practice of intercountry adoption, Guatemalan authorities appear to be taking an unusually long time doing routine checks of DNA, interviews with the mothers and investigations into the mothers, agencies, and adoption agents.

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