‎”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

“Fernanda’s story carries us into the darkest regions of the human heart… Erin Siegal has written a saga of seduction and betrayal so sinister that anger pushes you from page to page. Rarely has an investigative reporter unveiled so compelling a narrative of motherhood–from Guatemala to Tennessee.” Wayne Barrett, author & investigative journalist

“Erin Siegal has woven a lively, well-researched, and cautionary tale that is a must-read…” Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, Author of New York Times best seller, Carved In Sand: When Attention Fails and Memory Fades in Midlife

“Siegal peels back layers of deception to reveal a twisting and engrossing saga of two deeply wronged mothers and the girl they both claimed. Her brave account is chilling, and should be required reading for policymakers and anyone who cares about children.” E. Benjamin Skinner, 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize winner and author of A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face With Modern Day Slavery


“Finding Fernanda” is an investigative work of nonfiction. It’s the 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.


Erin Siegal 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 currently an Ethics and Justice Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Reporting at Brandeis University. Finding Fernanda is Siegal’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.

  1. Erin,
    It IS an incredible story and the courage it took for you to tell it is just as astonishing to me. The greed and corruption in our world never ceases to amaze and disgust me, particularly surrounding the welfare of children. The thematic ribbon of Christianity and faith woven throughout the adoption agencies associated with these atrocities is horrific and sickening, although not altogether shocking in light of contemporary scenarios linked to the Catholic religion. More and more often it seems to serve as a facade for inappropriate, abominable individual and collective behavior.
    Plaudits for a story of distinction and truth that demands to be heard.

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