Undocumented Parents’ Child Custody Rights
The Missouri Supreme Court will soon decide whether an undocumented Guatemalan mother will be allowed to keep her 4-year-old son who was taken from her and put in the hands of an adoptive white couple in Missouri. At issue is whether undocumented immigrants have the same legal rights as U.S. citizens when it comes to child custody.
Encarnación Bail Romero was caught up in a 2007 immigration raid at a Missouri poultry processing plant where she worked. Romero left her infant son with family members who later passed the child on to a pastor. It was then arranged that Seth and Melinda Moser would care for the baby. A few months later, Romero learned her son was adopted by them. An appeals court has already ruled that the adoption should be voided. That ruling was appealed by the Mosers to the state Supreme Court where they find themselves today.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri maintains that Bail Romero was denied proper legal representation. Her attorney was hired by the Mosers to represent her during court proceedings intended to terminate her parental rights and approve the adoption — a clear conflict of interest. Meanwhile, Rick Schnake, the Mosers’ attorney, has indicated that even if the adoption was illegal, Romero abandoned her son. Schnake notes that the child has lived with the Mosers for nearly three years and only speaks English. According to him, he “would be better off” staying with them.
But Bail Romero’s new attorney, Chris Huck, noted, “Best interest also includes the presumption that you preserve the natural parent-child relationship. If you’re gonna break that bond, if you’re gonna sever that tie and if you’re gonna take away that fundamental right, then you have to do it in compliance with the statutory procedures.” Schnake also doesn’t mention that the Mosers had been previously denied an application to become foster parents, in part because of Mr. Moser’s criminal record and a history of abuse on Mrs. Moser’s side of the family. Bail Romero, meanwhile, was imprisoned under a law that was later found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
However, the case is much more complicated than that. The New York Times reported that, “It is unclear how many children share Carlos’s [Bail Romero's son] predicament. But lawyers and advocates for immigrants say that cases like his are popping up across the country as crackdowns against illegal immigrants thrust local courts into transnational custody battles and leave thousands of children in limbo.” How the Court rules could set a dangerous precedent and essentially render undocumented immigrant parents powerless when it comes to the custody of their U.S. citizen children.
Ultimately, the only thing more messed up than changing the Constitution to deny the American-born children of undocumented immigrants citizenship is deporting their parents, snagging the U.S. citizen kids, and giving them to an American couple. “Children of undocumented immigrants should not be given an adoption without their consent, should not be given an adoption just because they are here illegally. That is no grounds for taking a child away from his or her mother,” affirmed the Guatemalan Ambassador Francisco Villagran de Leon.
Andrea Christina Nill
Reposted with permission from The Wonk Room.