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Americans are illegally buying Mexican children for adoption;NEWLN:One woman's story

By ANNIE O'CONNOR

MEXICO CITY -- Like many Americans who come to Mexico desperate for children, the highly educated Chicago native never dreamed that getting her illegally adopted Mexican baby into the United States would be so difficult.

Susan Cook, not her real name, said finding her Mexican baby was only the first hurdle. Now she must smuggle her across the border -- a felony in Mexico -- without being detected by American authorities.

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There already is a State Department alert for Miss Cook, drawn up by American Embassy officials in Mexico City after she tried to get a passport for the three-month old baby by claiming she was the biological mother.

'I never knew this would be so hard. If I had known what I would have to go through to get Mary Anne, I may have tried to adopt her legally,' said Miss Cook, 40, who earned a doctorate in communications from Stanford University.

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But she is not the first foreigner to go the illegal route.

Angel Soreano, head of the Health Ministry orphanage, estimated that 90 percent of the approximately 12,000 babies annually reported orphaned or deserted in Mexico never make it to orphanages, as required by law.

Soreano said the government does not know what happens to the roughly 10,800 missing babies.

'There is considerable trafficking in Mexican children, especially in Tijuana or any of the border cities, where some bums will go so far as to kidnap the light-skinned children that Americans like,' said Victor Montalvo, spokesman for the Association of Family Lawyers.

Montalvo, a specialist in the area, said Mexico's adoption laws were partially to blame.

Foreigners must have immigration status -- requiring five years' residence in Mexico -- before they can apply. Even then, it is 'basically impossible' for foreigners, Montalvo said.

American Embassy officials say illegal adoptions are a 'worldwide problem,' but that Mexico's proximity and rural poverty make it the first choice for childless Americans.

'They have a false concept of what Mexico is like. They think it is such a poor country that they can come and buy anything, even children, as if they were handicrafts,' Norma Diaz Pelayo told a Mexico City newspaper in 1981. She is a former agent for Mexico City's now-defunct Prosecuting Attorney for the Defense of Minors and the Family.

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That year, the Mexican government mounted a massive crackdown to prevent the smuggling of Mexican babies, but officials say trafficking still goes on.

American Embassy officials warn an adoptive parent's problems will not end once the baby enters the United States.

A foreign infant may reach adulthood, culturally and linguistically an American. When he or she applies for citizenship, however, this person will be in the same position as any illegal alien, and may even face deportation to a country he does not remember.

'These people are in limbo,' an embassy official said, 'For the sake of the child's future, parents should go the legal route.'

Miss Cook, a former researcher for the Mexican government, pretended to be conducting a study in the maternity ward of a hospital in Nezahuacoyotl, one of Mexico City's poorest neighborhoods, to find an unwanted baby.

Finally, a friend located a pregnant Oaxacan Mixtec Indian woman whose father had threatened to kill her if she bore an illegitimate baby. Miss Cook paid $500 for the baby, plus prenatal care and birth charges, and took Mary Anne home shortly after her birth Sept. 20.

Miss Cook's troubles began when her frightened doctor admitted to an American Embassy official that the dark-skinned Indian baby was not hers.

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An Embassy official said that while they might check any case for a variety of reasons, racial diferences between the child and parents were a common one.

'If two parents come in with an Indian baby and they're obviously of North American origin, it's just common sense,' the Embassy official said.

Now, Miss Cook says, she will pay a Mexican couple to take the baby across the border, or pay a Tijuana judge to draw up false immigration papers for the child.

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