Court initiates termination of deported mother's parental rights as she seeks custody of son in Ann Arbor
Editor’s note: The names of the family members involved in this case have been omitted to protect their identities.
A deported mother fighting to be reunited with her 12-year-old son in Ann Arbor was dealt a setback on Thursday during a review hearing in Washtenaw County Trial Court.
The mother, who recently was deported to Mexico for being in the U.S. illegally, was on the line communicating through an interpreter as Court Referee Molly Schikora made the decision to have the Department of Human Services initiate termination proceedings regarding her parental rights.
After hearing testimony from caseworkers and attorneys for both the mother and father, both of whom are living in Mexico but are separated, Schikora said it seems evident the mother has neglected her son for some time and that hasn't changed since she was deported.
Chris Asadian | AnnArbor.com
Laura Sanders, one of the co-founders of WICIR, said if the court goes ahead with terminating the mother's parental rights, that essentially leaves the boy without a family.
Schikora called the 12-year-old boy "a child who is suffering." He has been living in foster care for more than two years after reportedly being abused by his father here in Washtenaw County.
The father was arrested and deported after the alleged abuse, and the mother, who stepped forward to claim custody of her son, was placed in a federal detainment facility in Texas and remained there until being deported recently.
Though both of the boy's parents are now in Mexico and are not United States citizens, the boy is a U.S. citizen by virtue of being born here.
He lives with a foster family that does not plan to adopt him, but he has been visiting with his aunt in Ann Arbor on weekends. The boy has a handful of relatives in the area who want to take him into their homes, but they were told they can't because of their immigration status.
The mother now is fighting to have her son reunified with her in Mexico because she cannot legally re-enter the United States.
Sanders said the mother has sent cards and emails to her son and has stayed in touch with her lawyer and the Mexican consulate, so she doesn't see how the mother has been neglectful.
"She still wants a reunification with her son," Sanders said. "She has shown a consistent interest in reunification with her son."
Wendy Kent, a foster care services specialist with Washtenaw County DHS, appeared in court on Thursday to petition to change the goal of the case from reunification to termination of the mother's parental rights. Schikora agreed and now DHS must come back with a termination petition.
It was revealed during testimony that the boy might have an adult brother living in California, but it's unclear yet whether that might be a viable placement option.
Kent provided an update of her latest visit with the boy, who remains in therapy. She said he's doing relatively well but still is showing behavioral problems, including stealing money from his aunt.
Kent said the boy declined an offer to write to his mother. She said the boy has indicated before that he wanted to be with relatives and family, and then other times he has changed his mind.
Assistant Public Defender Joy Gaines appeared on behalf of the boy, who was not present. Gaines said when she last spoke with the boy he indicated he did not want to live with his mother and that he was hesitant to leave the United States to live in Mexico.
Sanders said two years of separation has fostered ambivalence and fear in the boy, which is why she thinks he's hesitant to go live with his mother in Mexico.
"This has been a long case," said the mother's lawyer, Marsha Kraycir, who advocated for the placement of the boy with his mother on Thursday.
Kraycir said the mother has secured employment and is living in a safe home back in Mexico and wants custody of her son.
"That's what she's always wanted from the get-go," she said, adding the mother has no communication with the father at this point.
The father's lawyer, Margo Edwards, said the father is adamantly opposed to the termination of his parental rights.
WICIR invited Ana Reyes, the Mexican consul in Detroit, to Thursday's hearing. Reyes said Mexican human services workers are willing to assist the mother with satisfactorily completing a DHS service plan meeting all the requirements necessary to gain custody of her son.
That could include further study to determine she has a secure job and lives in a safe home. The mother already completed parenting classes while awaiting deportation.
Reyes talked briefly with Kent after Thursday's hearing and said she's still hopeful reunification with the mother can be facilitated.
Sanders, a social worker, will take part in an afternoon panel discussion on Sept. 28 with Lourdes Salazar, a longtime Ann Arbor resident and a mother of three who faces deportation.
They plan to talk about the clashing agendas of child welfare and immigration policy. The discussion will be part of the day-long Fauri Memorial Lecture Series on child welfare, from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, 1080 S. University Ave.