GUATEMALA CITY – Forty-six children believed abducted or coerced from their parents were rescued from an adoption home catering to foreigners that is run by an American man and his Guatemalan wife, police said.
Guatemalan National Police spokesman Carlos Calju said the children, ranging in age from a few days to 3 years old, were found Saturday at the Casa Quivira children's home in Antigua, a colonial city popular among foreign tourists near Guatemala City.
"We searched the house after we got a tip from neighbors telling us that every day they would see foreigners pick up children there," Calju said.
Guatemala has been a popular source for adoption among Americans — U.S. parents adopted more than 4,000 babies from the country last year, second only to China. But the State Department said in March it no longer recommends adopting from Guatemala because women are frequently pressured to sell their babies and adoptive parents are often targeted by extortionists.
Calju said Casa Quivira is run by Clifford Phillips of Deland, Fla., and his Guatemalan wife and attorney, Sandra Gonzalez. He said Phillips was believed to be out of the country and would fly to Guatemala on Monday. Calju did not say whether Phillips would face possible legal action, and Gonzalez's whereabouts were not immediately clear.
The couple could not be reached for comment Sunday, and calls to the Casa Quivira Children's Fund in Deland went unanswered. No one responded to an e-mail sent to the children's home in Antigua seeking comment.
Authorities also said they arrested two lawyers who apparently processed the adoptions. Officials from the attorney general's office were taking care of the children at the home while police investigate, Calju said.
Attorney General Mario Gordillo said his office was trying to determine whether the children were stolen or obtained from their mothers under coercion. Most lacked the proper documents to be in the custody of someone other than their parents.
According to its Web site, Casa Quivira is a private, licensed adoption home that opened in 1996 and offers its services only to people whose household is inspected by "a licensed adoption agency or social worker and (who) meet the immigration requirements of their country."
It said 40 employees work to give the children "loving, private foster care ... as well as excellent daily medical attention."
Under Guatemalan law, unregulated notaries act as baby brokers who recruit birth mothers, handle all the paperwork and complete adoptions in less than half the time it can take in other countries. Casa Quivira says on its Web site it can complete adoptions six to eight months after a referral of a child is accepted.
Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala started requiring a second DNA test before granting adopted infants a visa. The second test is "to verify that the adopted child for whom an immigrant visa is being requested is the same child matched at the beginning of the adoption process with the birth parent," the embassy said.