Not home for the holidays: A story of adoption in Guatemala

An American family celebrates their fourth Christmas without their son as his adoption remains in limbo Photo: Anthony Gatto

NEW YORK —  Anthony Gatto, an attorney, and his wife Megan live outside Albany, New York.  They have been waiting to finalize the adoption of their son Anderson since he was born in October of 2006.  More than four years later, they continue to fight to gain custody of their little boy. 

They are one of the nearly 1,000 American families who have children stranded in Guatemala due to bureaucratic snafus, inter-country glitches and adoption laws that shift like sand beneath their feet.

Megan and Anthony congressional briefing May 2010

Megan and Anthony congressional briefing May 2010

Below is their story in Anthony’s own words, about the continued journey to bring Anderson home and reunite their family.

My wife and I met in August 2000 and were married in April 2004.  We are unable to have children due to my wife having a long five- year battle with endometriosis that resulted in a full hysterectomy in August of 2004 (four months after we were married).  We discussed the possibility of adopting a baby and both of us were open to the idea.   I was adopted as an infant.

In August of 2006, we were entering into an adoption of a 5-year-old boy from Guatemala.  After two weeks, we lost the referral due to a paperwork error. 

On October 19, 2006, we were notified that a baby boy was born on October 1, 2006 and we were “matched” with him.  We were asked what name we wanted for him and we chose Anderson.  His birth certificate reflected the name we chose.

We were told that the mother did not want the child and was adamant about giving him up for adoption. 

We travelled to Guatemala on March 4, 2007 for one week to visit Anderson for the first time.  We immediately bonded with him and felt like parents for the first time.  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. 

Anthony Gatto’s first day with Anderson/Photo: Anthony Gatto

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. 

Now, after over three and one half years, the adoption process in Guatemala has ground to a halt. 

As of this date, we have spent in excess of $60,000 for the adoption.  Initially, the adoption should have cost less than $30,000.  We have spent an additional $35,000 for his care ($500/month to the orphanage), attorney’s fees, and additional items that have resulted from the delays. 

This has forced us to drain our retirement accounts and expend what monies we have been saving.  The reality for us is that if we do not complete this adoption, we do not possess the financial resources to adopt another child.  This is our only hope to become parents.

Last May, we attended a Congressional Briefing on the issue that was attended by staff people from over twenty members of Congress.  We are part of a group of parents waiting to adopt children from Guatemala since the new law passed in 2007.  The group is called Guatemala 900 (www.Guatemala900.org). We currently have over 20 Senators (including New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand) and 10 Representatives (including Rep. Scott Murphy) fighting for the 400 families who have been waiting since January 2008 to adopt a child from Guatemala with stories similar to ours. 

All of these children have been in orphanages for over 2 1/2 years.  These children do not know the joy of a loving family and unless something is done, they will spend the rest of their lives in an orphanage.

We miss him so much and would do anything to be his parents.  We have had his nursery fully furnished for almost three years and it only serves as a reminder that we must continue to fight for him because he is our son.  Every day we look down the hall at his room.  His crib is still assembled even though he’s too old and too big to fit in a crib. 

We refuse to take it down until we get him home.  Each year for his birthday and Christmas we buy him presents and wrap them for him when he gets home.  My wife and I celebrate his birthday each years and his closet is now full of presents, waiting for him.

We need to bring national attention to this matter in order to bring all of these children home. 

 


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Andrea Poe is an inveterate traveler, who writes frequently about travel for national and international publications.  She loves turning up unique finds in unexpected corners, and discovering local secrets that the guidebooks leave out. 

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