The government has the right to prosecute undocumented immigrants and to deport them, too. But should it also be able to take their children and put them up for adoption without adhering to the same rigorous standards that apply to citizens?
That's the question at the heart of a Missouri dispute involving a boy who goes by two names, Carlitos and Jamison. His name shifts, depending on which of his two mothers is discussing the boy with the beatific smile.
The birth mother, Encarnacion Bail Romero, was an undocumented worker at a chicken processing plant when she was caught in an immigration raid in May 2007. Carlitos, then an infant, was passed to Romero's family members for care. But by September, a clergy couple with no legal authority were involved, suggesting that the boy be adopted by yet another couple the mother had never met. Legal custody of her son was granted to the couple in October 2007. Only a month after that did Romero even get the courtesy of a court-appointed attorney.
And yet, Carlitos/Jamison was clearly a child in need. Court records asserted he was malnourished and developmentally delayed. So when Romero was arrested, the boy's already tenuous home life worsened. He first stayed with an uncle and his family, and then with an aunt. Neither could provide for him and care for their own children and work.
Court papers assert Romero made no attempts to check on her son's welfare. Despite her inability to speak or read English, she did manage to get one statement onto notebook paper asserting she didn't want her son to be adopted, preferring foster care until she could reunite with him upon her release and deportation. A circuit court determined Romero had "abandoned" the boy, noting the mother's "lifestyle of smuggling herself into a country illegally and committing crimes in this country is not a lifestyle that can provide any stability for a child."
Did the judge mean that statement to be used later in other cases as a standard for taking the children of other immigrants found out of compliance with immigration visas and policies? Her crimes were not violent, but using a false identity to work, presumably to provide for her son.
Rather than making insinuations about "lifestyle," why not just say she doesn't have the right to raise her son because she's poor and undocumented. Poor immigrants from Guatemala are the type of people who work in poultry plants. Poverty and dire working conditions don't always stop people from having children. They never have. And this case, while extreme, is not unique. Other illegal immigrants have also had to battle to recover their U.S.-born children as they faced deportation.
The Missouri Supreme Court interceded in January, unanimously ordering a new trial to determine parental rights. It opined: "Every member of this court agrees that this case is a travesty in its egregious procedural errors, its long duration, and its impact on mother, adoptive parents, and, most importantly, child."
Carlitos/Jamison will either be taken from the Missouri couple who adopted him, raising him for the past two years as their adored son. Or he will be denied to his biological mother, a Guatemalan who never gave her consent to his adoption and was greatly hampered in her ability to fight for him after she was arrested.
Osceola, Mo., where Romero was jailed, is known for the vast acreage of a nearby Boy Scout camp. And Carthage, where the adoptive parents Seth and Melinda Moser live, is home to the cherubic Precious Moments gift line. Neither town is a metropolis where people can get lost and amid the bureaucracies and bustle of life. People got involved with Carlitos/Jamison because they cared.
Months will pass before this story is resolved. The little boy will likely remember his adoptive parents, their home, the grandmother that cares for him while his mother works part-time. And yet he will also know he was virtually stolen from his biological mother.
Children are precious, no matter where or to whom they are born.
And a country's laws ought to respect that treasure. A mark of our humanity is that when children are in danger, people go to extreme measures to ensure their safety. Sometimes, they go too far.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.