19 Sep 2013

The Author

Author of the award-winning book Finding Fernanda. Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Redux Pictures photographer. Read more here.

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What happened to Maria Fernanda?

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Finding Fernanda” is a book of investigative journalism. It’s the shocking story of $30,000 U.S. dollars, four Guatemalan “orphans,” one nonprofit evangelical Christian adoption agency, a family-run child-trafficking ring, one infant cut from her unconscious mother’s womb, two tiny missing sisters, and a nine-member Tennessee family who believed wholeheartedly in Christian love and faith—until the dark side of international adoption shattered their blind trust.

It’s also the story of how one poor Guatemalan woman, Mildred Alvarado, reunited with her kidnapped daughters against all odds—and how the trusting American housewife slated to adopt one of those children, Elizabeth Emanuel, accidentally became a reformer dedicated to an ethical adoption system.

The book unfolds amid the highly politicized landscape of Guatemala’s adoption industry, a multi-million dollar trade that was both highly profitable and barely regulated. Children have been stolen, sold, and placed as orphans in corrupt international adoptions to well-intentioned Western parents ever since the industry began in the 1980s, during the country’s civil war. Both the governments of Guatemala and the United States repeatedly proved unwilling and incapable of regulating the baby trade. Until now, no book has tackled the pervasive human rights violations in international adoption in detail— abuses that continue today in countries around the world that send children abroad in adoption.

With help from documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests, leaked emails, and key sources inside both the Guatemalan and U.S. governments, Finding Fernanda traces one compelling case of corruption in detail from start to finish. Along the way, the mechanisms surrounding “orphan laundering” are illuminated, including the roles of baby-finders, caretakers, judges, and government officials, and more. This cadena perpetua, or perpetual chain, involves everyone from Guatemalan judges to U.S. embassy officials.

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‎”Finding Fernanda may be the most illuminating book about abuses in international adoptions yet written. This is not just fearless public service journalism, but also a moving, acute, gracefully-written work of story-telling. Erin Siegal is an extraordinary young journalist.” —Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name and The Art of Political Murder

Erin Siegal McIntyre is an investigative journalist and photographer. Her writing and photography have been published in such publications as the New York Times,Time magazine, Newsweek, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, and more. She has collaborated on projects with NGOs such as the Urban Justice Center, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations. She is a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Reporting at Brandeis University. Finding Fernanda is Siegal McIntyre’s first book. In April 2012, the Overseas Press Club recognized the title with the Robert Spiers Benjamin Award Citation for Best Reporting on Latin America.

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