A Guatemalan mother jailed on immigration charges neglected her infant child while she was behind bars, and her parental rights should be terminated, a Missouri judge ruled on Wednesday.
The decision paves the way for the boy, now 5, to remain adopted by the Carthage, Mo., couple who have cared for him and who changed his name to Jamison.
At the center of the case are immigration policies and practices that often make it difficult for children to reunify with parents. The case has garnered international attention and criticism by U.S. civil rights and immigration groups, as well as the Guatemala government.
The outcome of the case reinforces an "inappropriate belief that status has any role on whether a parent is fit to be a parent," said Emily Butera, senior program officer for the detention and asylum program at the Women's Refugee Commission.
There's already a "palpable fear" in the immigration community because of two federal initiatives. The first is Secure Communities, a program designed to identify undocumented immigrants in jails who are deportable; the second is 287 (g), which allows local law enforcement agents to enforce immigration laws.
"Yesterday's case reinforced that that fear is substantiated," Butera said.
A 2011 study by the Applied Research Center found that at least 5,100 children in 22 states were in foster care after their parents had been detained or deported. Arresting immigration officers often refuse to allow parents to make child-care arrangements for their children, according to the report.
In the next five years, 15,000 more children could be in the same predicament, according to the Applied Research Center.
The complicated story involving the mother, Encarnacion Bail Romero, and the family, Seth and Melinda Moser, caught the eye of ABC's Nightline, which aired a segment in February.
In May 2007, Romero first came to the attention of immigration officials during a raid at a poultry processing plant. Romero, who used false Social Security identification and false documents to get the job, was charged with aggravated identity theft. She was sentenced to two years in prison, and was to be deported after serving her term. Her son, who was named Carlos at birth, initially stayed with family members. When the family could no longer care for the boy, they turned him over to a family from a Hispanic church.
At one point, a parent educator showed up in jail to ask Romero to sign her consent to have her son adopted, which she refused to do. She instead asked that her son be placed in foster care until she was released.
When "Carlos's uncle went to pick him up from the "˜babysitter,' he was told that marshals had taken Carlos way. When Ms. Romero learned Carlos was missing, she tried to contact the aide and the sitters, but they did not answer her calls," according to the Women's Refugee Commission.
The boy, in the meantime, was given to a couple interested in adopting him. Romero's attorney has said she was given paperwork on her case in English, and she speaks only Spanish. The Mosers eventually adopted the child in 2008.
Lawyers for the couple said Romero was not writing letters to the boy or making attempts to get him back. Her parental rights should be terminated, the couple's attorney argued, because she abandoned the child, not because of her immigration status, according to The Kansas City Star.
The mother entered the U.S. in 2006 when she was pregnant. She was living in poor conditions, sometimes sleeping on the floor with her infant child and feeding him whole milk instead of baby formula, according to court documents. According to a Guatemalan newspaper, Romero has two other children in her home country.
This article is part of our Next America: Communities project, which is supported by a grant from Emerson Collective.