Irish couples 'had adoption papers'
The Irish couples ensnared in an apparent illegal adoption ring in western Mexico thought they were involved in a legal process and are devastated by allegations organisers were trafficking in children, the families said.
"All the families have valid declarations to adopt from Mexico as issued by the Adoption Authority of Ireland," they said in a statement read over the phone by their lawyer in Mexico, Carlos Montoya.
Prosecutors in Mexico contend the traffickers tricked destitute young Mexican women trying to earn more for their children and childless Irish couples desperate to become parents.
For 15-year-old Karla Zepeda, the story began in August when a woman came to her dusty neighbourhood of breeze block homes and dirt roads looking for babies to photograph for an anti-abortion ad campaign. Karla said the woman, Guadalupe Bosquez, asked to use her nine-month-old daughter Camila in a two-week photo shoot for 755 US dollars, a small fortune for a teen mother who earns 180 US dollars a month at a sandwich stand and shares a cramped, one-story house with her disabled mother, stepfather, and three brothers.
Ms Bosquez later returned with another woman, Silvia Soto, and gave her half the money as they picked the child up. She got the rest two weeks later when they brought Camila home. Before long, the message spread to her neighbours. Seven other women, most between the ages of 15 and 22, agreed to let their babies be part of the ad campaign.
Some already had several children. Some were single mothers. Two of them didn't know how to read or write. Five of them said they did not even have birth certificates for their babies when they came across Ms Bosquez and Ms Soto. One said she needed money to pay for her child's medical care. All deny agreeing to give their children up for adoption.
But instead of just posing for photographs, Jalisco state investigators said Camila and other babies were left for weeks at a time in the care of Irish couples who had come to Mexico thinking they were adopting the children.
Camila and nine other children have been turned over to state officials who suspect they were being groomed for illegal adoptions. And authorities hint that far more children could be involved: Lead investigator Blanca Barron told reporters the ring may have been operating for 20 years, though she gave no details. Prosecutors also say four of the children show signs of sexual abuse, though they did not say how or by whom.
Nine people have been detained, including Ms Bosquez and Ms Soto, but no one has yet been charged. At least 15 Irish citizens have been questioned, the Jalisco state attorney general's office said, but officials have not released their names and their lawyer says all have returned to Ireland after spending weeks or months in Ajijic, a town of cobblestone streets and gated communities 37 miles away, trying to meet requirements for adopting a child. None was detained.
In their statement, the Irish couples said they would not comment further because of the ongoing investigation.