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SOUTH JORDAN — A family in Utah is still waiting five years after learning they would get to adopt a little girl from Guatemala. About 200 U.S. families face similar adoption nightmares each year.
There was something about the brown eyed, black haired Guatemalan baby in a photograph that made Jeff and Jenna Denbleyker take a closer look.
"She caught our heart and we decided to start the process to adopt her," said Jeff Denbleyker.
The couple currently has six kids, and their youngest three daughters have been adopted from Guatemala. Ellie was adopted in 2004 and Chloe came home with the Denbleykers in 2008.
The couple started the adoption process for Chloe and Lauren around the same time in 2007. They made preparations to bring both girls home at the same time, but five years later, they are still waiting for Lauren.
The family communicate with Lauren twice a month via Webchat, and they have traveled to Guatemala several times to visit her.
"It's hard to see her grow up when we can't hold her," Jeff said. "We can't talk to her. We can't give her a hug or kiss goodnight."
It's hard to see her grow up when we can't hold her. We can't talk to her. We can't give her a hug or kiss goodnight.
–Jeff Denbleyker, adoptive father
The Guatemalan government changed its adoption laws in 2008 to overhaul corruption. Previously, the country sent roughly 4,000 adopted kids to U.S. families each year. The new law known as the "Hague Treaty" was devised to ensure transparency and child protection following a rash of baby-selling and kidnapping scandals in Guatemala. Critics say the guidelines have also been used by leading adopting nations, including the U.S., as a pretext for freezing adoptions from some countries that are out of compliance.
But the Denbleykers started their adoption of Lauren before that time. They've spent $25,000 hiring a private investigator and lawyers in Guatemala to help with the adoption process.
"The government has told us that there is no problem with our case," Jeff said. "It's an easy case. There's no problem with our paperwork. However, they do not move the case forward."
When the Denbleykers reached out to Utah congressional leaders, they were told that congress' hands were tied.
"We entered into a contract with them when we were approved by their government back in early 2008," Jenna said. "We went through their central authority and because of that our rights are being violated here."
On Saturday, the Denbleykers will celebrate Lauren's 5th birthday via Webchat. They are currently waiting for a court hearing on Oct. 4 to see if the Guatemalan government will finally allow them to bring Lauren home of it they will have to start the entire adoption process again under the new law.