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Felipe Bautista Montes Is Another Clear Example of the US Immigration System Tearing Families Apart

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Last week, ICE agents granted a man deported two years ago a rare request:  a 90-day humanitarian parole back into the US so that he could attend a custody hearing for his three US citizen children.

Felipe Bautista Montes arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina last Wednesday, 21 months after ICE detained and deported him for traffic violations, causing a chain reaction that split his family apart.  In Montes’ absence, a court decided that his wife could not care for her children alone, and put the three of them in two different foster homes.  Montes then fought to have all the children sent to live with him in Mexico, but the child welfare department chose to keep them with non-relatives in North Carolina.

The humanitarian parole Montes applied for to return to the US is sometimes granted to people in emergency situations, like foreign nationals who need US-based medical care or children orphaned by international disasters.  But it is so rarely granted to immigrants who have already been deported that officials at the Mexican consulate could not cite another example of someone else who has been allowed back.  It took national attention and a Presente.org petition with 21,000 signatures, but Montes has been allowed back in for 90 days. His custody hearing is this Thursday.

In the meantime, all he wants to do is see his kids.  He has not seen his two older boys since he was deported, and his third child had not yet been born when he was forced to leave.  “I’ve never met the baby,” Montes told Colorlines, “but I love him.”

Unfortunately, stories like this, where immigrant parents are torn from their children, are not rare.  In 2007, undocumented mother Encarnacion Bail Romero was arrested for using false papers to acquire a job in a poultry processing plant in Missouri, along with 125 other workers. She was charged with federal aggravated identity theft and was sentenced to two years in prison, followed by immediate deportation.

Imprisoned and unable to care for her then-6-month-old son, Carlos, she left him in the care of her sister. Despite this, a judge concluded that Romero had “abandoned” her son and terminated her parental rights, and Carlos was adopted by Seth and Melinda Moser, a Missouri couple whom Romero had never met. She was never alerted of the possibility that her son might be put up for adoption while she was in custody.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Many people swept up on immigration charges face similar problems. A study by the Applied Research Center, which studies the intersection of immigration enforcement and the child welfare system, found that 5,000 children in more than 20 states were put in foster care after their parents were detained or deported by immigration authorities. Experts say parents who are detained or face immigration-related prosecutions often face obstacles communicating with family courts or accessing foster care systems, making it difficult to keep track of their children or assert their rights.

Tearing families apart isn’t in anyone’s interest. A new proposal in Congress, the Help Separated Families Act of 2012 written by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., would make it far more difficult for state and local agencies to use immigration status to terminate parental rights. The bill would also eliminate rules that prevent undocumented relatives from being awarded temporary custody while a parent’s immigration case is being resolved, or jail time served.

Romero is out of prison now, and a judge has ruled that she is to return to Guatemala without her son. Carlos, now renamed Jamison, is now 5 years old and doesn’t speak Spanish.  While legal options may remain, a broken immigration system has forced Romero to spend years without his son–just as Felipe Bautista Montes may be forced to spend years without his children.

It’s a reality that more politicians may want to think about the next time they dismiss the political viability of immigration reform.