Global Politics

Court considers fate of adopted Guatemalan boy

This month, the fate of a US-born son of a Guatemalan immigrant will be decided by the Missouri Supreme Court, who was detained in a raid at poultry processing plant in 2007. Reporter Sylvia Maria Gross has more.

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The Missouri Supreme Court is considering a case that involves an illegal Guatemalan immigrant and her US-born son.

The court's ruling � whatever it is � will break some hearts.

Encarnacion Bail Romero was arrested in a raid at a poultry plant in Missouri. She went to jail for using fake papers to get the job. Meanwhile, her baby boy was adopted.

Now, the mother is being told she'll have to return to Guatemala without her son, who she hasn't seen since the day of the raid three. Carlos was seven months old at the time.

Bail Romero said she hadn't taken pictures of the boy before being arrested.

�When I got out of jail, my sister had a photo of him and said, look, here's a picture of your son � he's beautiful.�

Bail Romero served two years in prison for identity theft, because she had used a false social security number to get a job. While she was serving time, her son was being taken care of by family members and their friends. One acquaintance knew of a couple, Seth and Melinda Moser, who were interested in adopting, and arranged for Carlos to spend time with them. The Moser's attorney Rick Schnake said that Carlos flourished under their care, and soon became part of the family. They eventually adopted him.

�They're his mommy and daddy, and he's their little boy. He speaks English, not Spanish, and he's a typical little four-year-old boy.�

Meanwhile, Bail Romero was in jail, and she had no idea where her son was.

�I kept asking for help because I wanted to know about my son,� she said, �where he was, if he was alive, how he was.�

Eventually, Bail Romero received some papers about the adoption, which a fellow prisoner translated for her. She wrote back, saying she did not want her son adopted. But a circuit court judge decided that Carlos would be better off with the Mosers. The judge wrote, �Bail Romero's lifestyle, that of smuggling herself into the country illegally and committing crimes in this country, is not a lifestyle that can provide stability for a child.�

When Bail Romero was released in 2009, the Guatemalan embassy helped her find lawyers to try and reverse the adoption. The case was heard before the Missouri Supreme Court in November. Guatemalan ambassador Francisco Villagran de Leon made a statement after the hearing.

�Children of undocumented immigrants should not be given in adoption just because they are here illegally.�

Immigrant advocates are saying that this story is not an isolated case. Five-point-five million children in the United States have at least one undocumented parent, and from 1998 to 2007, 108,000 deported parents left children behind. Michelle Brane, of the Women's Refugee Commission, said each time she's visited a detention center she's heard troubling stories from mothers.

�They brought up to us the fact that many of them did not know where their children were, how to contact their children, or were concerned that they had hearings or cases in family court that they were unable to attend.�

Brane said because immigration officials and child welfare workers don't communicate well, it can appear that immigrant parents are abandoning their children.

And when immigrants face deportation, she said, the logistics of taking their American-born children with them can be next to impossible. �You can't get a passport for your child. You may have difficulty getting documentation, or even making the arrangements for an airplane ticket or meeting at the airport to coordinate the actual travel.�

Brane is advocating for a bill currently in Congress, which would require Immigration and Customs Enforcement to better facilitate parents' interaction with their children. It would also require that I.C.E. work better with state child welfare agencies. I.C.E. officials have said they're already making policies more family-friendly.

But that's small comfort to Encarnacion Bail Romero. She has a temporary visa to stay in the country until the case is resolved, which could happen any time this month.

Bail Romero said her deportation is imminent. �I know they're going to send me to Guatemala. But I want to go with my son, not by myself.�

And of course Carlos' adoptive family is hoping that he'll spend Christmas in Missouri.