A few days ago, the judge of a juvenile dependency court in the State of Missouri decided to terminate the parental rights of an undocumented woman over her son, who is now 5 years old. The judge declared that Encarnación Romero, a Guatemalan immigrant, committed “abandonment, and neglect” and determined that she was an “unfit parent,” even though the Supreme Court of Missouri had earlier found that her rights had been violated/
Romero was arrested on May 22, 2007 in an immigration raid at the poultry processing plant where she was working. At the time, her son was less than a year old. Romero was still in custody when the first judge in Jasper County found that she had “abandoned” her son due to failure to visit or maintain contact with him.
This is not the first such case in the turbulent history of mass deportations of recent years in the United States. Studies by specialists have revealed that there is no consistency or coordination between the various federal, state and local agencies to ensure that parents arrested for not having papers can make decisions or even stay in contact with the children left behind. One estimate indicates that some 5000 children have been placed in foster care for this reason.
This is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed. In the United States 5 million children, most of whom are citizens, have at least one undocumented parent. Continued family separations have an impact that goes beyond the obvious and affect society as a whole. Another outcome, in practice, is that of penalizing undocumented status with the loss of a child, and penalizing the child, who is innocent, with the loss of a father or mother. Such a penalty is excessive and illegal.
Certain bills have already been introduced in the United States Congress to solve the problem, but the process is still incipient. One bill in particular, introduced by Congresswomen Lucille Roybal Allard of Los Angeles, offers concrete, positive solutions. Under her bill, the respective authorities would be directly obligated to make every possible effort to contact the parents in order to have the child’s custody temporarily transferred to guardians or relatives, regardless of their legal status.
We believe that these and other similar avenues need to be supported and explored. The current system is totally unacceptable and inhumane.