Yesterday, Andrea Poe of the Washington Times' Adoptive Family Forum allowed a waiting adoptive father from the Guatemala 900 group to tell his story in her column. Poe's previous editorial criticizing UNICEF's hidden opposition to international adoption spurred a deluge of criticism in the blogosphere from anti-adoption factions. We can expect the same folks to pick apart Anthony and Megan Gatto, who describe how they've been struggling since 2006 to finalize the adoption of their intended Guatemalan son, Anderson:
We travelled to Guatemala on March 4, 2007...to visit Anderson for the first time. We immediately bonded with him and felt like parents... The adoption was submitted to family court in Guatemala where it was determined in June 2007 that the mother relinquished the baby and that he was adoptable. During the week of June 16-23, 2007 we again visited Anderson for a week.
While we were in Guatemala, our attorney advised us of the “state of affairs” concerning adoptions in Guatemala. We were notified that at any time, the Guatemalan political system could vote on complying with the Hague Treaty as it relates to international adoptions.
In October 2007 Guatemala voted in favor of complying with The Hague Treaty but included no provision "grandfathering" all pending adoptions.
We appeared on the local news to bring attention to the issue. Despite the potential issues present in Guatemala, we again travelled to visit Anderson for the third time, December 7-15, 2007.
Due to the assistance of numerous members of the U.S. Congress, in February 2008, the Guatemalan government “officially” agreed to allow in-process adoptions to be exempt from the new laws. It should be noted that there was a significant amount of political turmoil in Guatemala at this time and as a result, the Guatemalan government during this four-month period was processing no adoptions.
Due to the uncertainty of the political climate, our file was not submitted for processing until March 10, 2008. During the last week in April 2008, President Colom dismissed the Attorney General of Guatemala. This also caused more delays since the Attorney General’s office processed adoptions.
On June 24, 2008, we were notified that Anderson’s “aunt” filed a petition in court to adopt him. Anderson’s mother told our attorney that she did not want Anderson to go with her sister. On July 1, 2008, we were asked by our Guatemalan attorney to write a letter to Anderson’s mother telling her how much Anderson means to us and provide photographs from our visits. We complied and were informed these were to be used at a hearing on July 17, 2008. Our attorney appealed the issue and it was brought before the Court of Appeals. After numerous postponements, a hearing date was set for March 17, 2009.
After eight months, our attorney asked if we still interested in adopting Anderson. We said yes. She informed us that the judge had not made his decision but the mother testified at the hearing that she wanted us to adopt Anderson, not her sister.
The birthmother went so far as to attend a formal deposition with the District Attorney, Attorney General and went on record stating she wants us to adopt her child, not her sister or other relatives.
On March 28, 2009, we were notified that the judge ruled in our favor and the adoption could continue. Despite the order form the Court of Appeals, the Guatemalan government refused to release our file for processing.
On May 30, 2009, we visited Anderson in Guatemala for the fourth time for 10 days.
We have been prohibited from visiting him since that time since the Guatemalan government raided the orphanage and took all the children in July 2009 into “protective custody.” The last we have seen or heard about Anderson was from a Guatemalan television station that showed footage of him being placed in a bus surrounded by Guatemalan Police holding machine guns.
This story left me feeling weak, for it echoes what I experienced in India in 2003, where dozens of children who were taken by force into "protective custody" have never been accounted for, and court orders to release children were unaccountably ignored by government officials.
Adoption critics will argue that Anderson should remain in Guatemala. They'll claim that his mother is being coerced into placing him with an American family, and that at the very least, he should be placed with his aunt. But what if Anderson's first mother genuinely wants the Gattos to raise her child? Don't her wishes matter? At the very least, can all the parties to the adoption debate agree that is unconscionable and repugnant for a government to take children by force and make them disappear?
My heart goes out to Anthony and Megan Gatto for having the courage to tell their story.