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Adopting Daniel: One family's struggle navigating Guatemala's adoption system

Guatemala was once the second-largest source of babies to the US. But in 2007, the system came to a halt while fake birth certificates and other dubious practices were investigated. Many families, including the Hookers from Tennessee, were left in limbo, wondering when they would be able to bring the child they loved home.

Image

Judy Russell, (l.), Jessica Hooker's mother poses for a family portrait with Jessica, (c.), Jessica's husband, Ryan Hooker, (r.), and their children; Ellyson and Daniel in Guatemala City on Sept. 6. Daniel was 18 months old when the Tennessee couple Ryan and Jessica Hooker began the process to adopt him in Guatemala. They just got him at age 6.

Moises Castillo/AP

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It should have been good news.

The US Embassy called to say the Guatemalan government would begin to authorize adoptions five years after a scandal froze the system that sent as many as 4,000 Guatemalan children a year to the United States.

Ryan "Bubba" Hooker and his wife, Jess, might finally be able to collect the little boy they wanted to adopt and bring him home.

But Hooker wasn't sure. This would be his 36th trip to Guatemala City. The 18-month-old toddler they had met in an orphanage was now a 6-year-old kindergartener. The couple had moved homes, passed up a job, spent untold amounts of money trying to adopt Daniel.

If all went well, they were told, they would be the first U.S. family to adopt under the Central American nation's new adoption laws.

At least, that's what they told him over the phone.

On Aug. 21, an anxious Bubba boarded the plane for Guatemala City. All he had to do was get an adoption certificate, a birth certificate and a passport, meet with the people at the US Embassy yet again, get an adoption visa, and then he and Jess could bring Daniel home.

Maybe this time it would work.

Jess and Bubba had been married less than a year when they decided to go to Guatemala on a mission trip in June 2007.

The day he met Daniel, Bubba had been working on the plumbing in the orphanage when he decided to take a break. He took a wander through the rooms and found the boy.

The child was just 18 months old but looked younger, sitting stranded in a walker. He was the youngest kid in the orphanage, the frailest, too, with his pigeon chest and little legs that turned out. Bubba knelt beside the little boy and they began to play. Before long Bubba was holding him, then he fed him. He forgot about the plumbing.

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