Colorlines reports on the surprising court victory of undocumented immigrant and father Filipe Montes:
Felipe Montes, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, moved to Sparta, N.C., in 2003 to work on Christmas tree farms. He married a local woman, Marie Montes, and they had two children. But in late 2010, Montes was deported from his home after racking up a series of fines for traffic violations, because as an undocumented immigrant he’s barred from obtaining a driver’s license. He left behind his two kids, Isaiah and Adrian, then 1 and 3, and his wife, who was pregnant at the time.
Just two months after he was detained, county child welfare officials removed the two toddlers and the newborn baby, Angel, from Marie Montes. The child welfare department said she could not care safely for the kids; she’s previously lost custody of four other children and has long struggled with drug use and mental health problems.
The children were quickly placed in foster care with couples who hoped to adopt them, and the Alleghany County Department of Social Services advocated Montes’s parental rights be terminated. Though Montes asked county child welfare officials to send his sons to him in Tamaulipas, Mexico, the agency refused, arguing that his home lacked running drinking water and was otherwise insufficient for young kids. […]
The Montes family’s saga has drawn such close scrutiny not because it is extraordinary, but because it is increasingly normal. […] A Colorlines.com investigation released a year ago estimated that there were least 5,000 kids in foster care whose parents were detained or deported. Existing government data first secured by Colorlines.com last year shows that in the six-month period between January and June 2011, the federal government deported 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen kids.
In any weighing of the pros and cons of our current immigration law, the “con” of breaking up families should weigh heavily against the status quo.
The Montes family had severe problems, but the laws only made those problems worse. Maybe the mother wouldn’t have been able to be a responsible parent even with her husband in country helping her. Maybe these kids would have seen their parents split up in any case, and maybe being in a separate household from their mother is the best thing for them. But I think it would have been better if the parents had been allowed to try to make it work.
These kids – who are, let’s not forget, American citizens – are going to be raised in what sounds like conditions of extreme poverty, in a country in which far fewer children get the opportunity to attend college. It sounds like they’ll have a loving extended family, and that counts for a lot – but is this really the best the US government could have done for these citizens? It’s not the choice Mr. Montes would have made for them – it’s clear he’d prefer to remain, and raise his kids, in the USA.
Separately, I thought this point about legal double-standards was interesting:
Child welfare law circulates between two legal standards. The first, called the fitness standard, asks whether a parent is able to take care of their kids and can provide a safe home. The second asks, what’s in the best interest of the children? Experts generally agree that courts can’t consider the second question until the first has been answered. In other words, as long as a mom or dad can care for their kid and has not harmed them, the family stays together.
But as I’ve reported previously, in a growing number of cases around the country that involve undocumented and deported parents, this legal order has been reversed, and child welfare departments, children’s advocates and courts have applied the best-interest standard without establishing a parent is unfit.