How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Missouri adoption ruling illustrates how easily deportees can lose their kids

Photo by jrodmanjr/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The proponents of measures aimed at keeping the children of deportees with their families now have a sad development to point to in the case of Guatemalan immigrant Encarnacion Bail Romero, her 5-year-old son, and the Missouri couple that took the boy in while she languished in custody and eventually moved to adopt him.

A judge in Missouri ruled this week that the couple, Seth and Melinda Moser, may proceed with the adoption of Romero's son and that Romero has no parental rights because she "abandoned" him. It's the lower court's second such ruling; a similar ruling in 2008 was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which called the decision then to terminate Romero's parental rights a "travesty of justice" and kicked the case back to the lower court for a new trial.

The resolution this week is one of those worst-case scenarios that can befall immigrant families in which one or both parents faces deportation. Romero, who is undocumented, was picked up during a 2007 immigration sweep at the poultry plant where she worked. At the time, Bush administration officials were charging immigrants arrested during some of these these operations with additional violations like identify theft, for using falsified papers to obtain work. Romero was sentenced to two years in prison for identity theft, to be later deported.


In California, an attempt to keep some deportees' children out of foster care

Photo by Roger's Wife/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A post last month described some of the scenarios that can befall the U.S.-born children of immigrants who land in deportation proceedings, some better than others. Sometimes, deported parents opt to take their children with them when they leave. Other children remain here with relatives.

But when relatives can’t be located, or the parents are shuffled off quickly into the immigrant detention system, sometimes there's nowhere for the kids to go. In these cases, it's surprisingly easy for these immigrants to lose their parental rights. Parents in detention are hard pressed to meet the requirements established by child welfare agencies, such as attending case meetings or court proceedings related to the children, and often fail to meet the strict timelines set. If they don't meet the terms, their parental rights can be terminated.


What about the kids? What can happen when parents are deported

Photo by jrodmanjr/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Several years ago in San Diego, I met a family of three children whose parents had been deported after losing their bid to become legal residents. The kids had, technically, been left in the care of a relative who lived nearby. In reality, they were pretty much on their own, with the eldest, a girl of 16, stepping in as surrogate parent to her siblings, 13 and 9.

This is not an uncommon scenario after the foreign-born parents of U.S. citizen children are deported. Sometimes the parents opt to take their kids with them. Others remain in the U.S. with relatives when other family members can be located, though as with the three kids in San Diego, this works out to varying degrees. But when relatives can't be located or the parents are shuffled off quickly, sometimes into the labyrinthine detention system, there's nowhere for the kids to go.