The difficulties surrounding deportation and child custody

Without a doubt, one of the most discussed — and hotly debated — political issues here in the United States is immigration. In fact, it has taken center stage in many local and state elections, and promises to emerge as a prominent topic in the not-too-distant presidential debates. One of the more interesting elements of the immigration debate, however, is that it can be subdivided into a wide array of discussions covering everything from employment and education to detention policies and even child custody.

Regarding this last point — child custody — there is growing concern among legal advocates that those immigrants who are detained by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) and ultimately deported to their native countries are being denied the right to make the necessary arrangements for their U.S.-born children.

Specifically, once they are in custody, these parents are denied access to phones, attorneys and family court hearings, and are left completely in the dark. Even worse, when they are deported, they generally cannot regain admission to the U.S. to see their kids/participate in legal hearings and may lose custody.

Consider a recent report by the Applied Research Center, which determined that roughly 1,500 children in 22 U.S. states were placed in foster care following the detention or deportation of their parents.

“Once parents are deported, they’re considered fallen off the face of the earth,” said Seth Wessler, one of the primary authors of the report. “Family reunifications tend to go out the door.”

To illustrate, consider the case of 32-year-old Felipe M., a Mexican citizen who was married to a U.S. citizen with whom he had three young children.

Felipe M. ran afoul of the law back in 2007 when the state of North Carolina passed a law requiring a valid Social Security number in order to secure a driver’s license. Consequently, he lacked a driver’s license but needed to drive to work.

He ultimately opted to drive to work out of necessity but received multiple tickets — over 24 — from local law enforcement for driving without insurance, and driving with an expired driver’s license and registration.

Felipe M. was detained by ICE officials following a meeting with his probation officer and deported soon thereafter.

“They took me away and didn’t let me say goodbye to my wife or to my kids,” he said. “They didn’t give me the opportunity to say anything or make any arrangements.”

While ICE is legally permitted to release undocumented immigrants for humanitarian reasons — including when a person is the primary caregiver of minors — agency officials did not do so here. In fact, they simply assumed that Felipe M.’s wife would take care of the children.

Unknown to them, however, Felipe M.’s wife suffers from a debilitating mental illness and is unable to care for the kids on her own. In fact, the kids were all placed in foster care only two weeks after he was deported.

Now, child welfare officials in North Carolina are seeking to strip Felipe M. of his parental rights, a potential precursor to putting the three children up for adoption.

“I have always taken care of my children, I have always loved them,” he said. “And now, the social services people want to take away my rights and give my children away to strangers.”

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for April 5.

Stay tuned for updates from our Ft. Worth family law blog …

To learn more about child custody, visitation or parental rights, contact an experienced and skilled legal professional.

This post is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.


Fox News Latino, “Deportation often means losing custody of US-born children” March 12, 2012