Machado: Get Local Judges Out of Adoption of Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors

Upon arriving at the border, either alone or with their parents, children from abroad are placed in the care of the Office of Refugee Settlement. Until June 20 of this year, those minors who arrived with their parents were still marked by the government as “unaccompanied” because of the administration’s policy of separation at the border. Thus, the parents’ cases were put on a separate track, leaving the children. some as young as 2, alone as they went through the immigration system.

Of course, as many of the parents were deported – very few have a chance in hell without an attorney that they’re not entitled to – many kids were left behind. Separation at the docket is more accurate than separation at the border. What could compound this problem? State judges granting parental rights to foster parents stateside while not having a damn clue what’s going on with the biological ones:

Alexa’s case began in November 2015 under the Obama administration, years before Trump’s family-separation policy rolled out. Her 15-month separation from her mother exposes the fragile legal standing of children under the care of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement and a flawed, piecemeal system that can change the course of a child’s life.

It took 28 minutes for a judge in a rural courthouse near Lake Michigan to grant Alexa’s foster parents, Sherri and Kory Barr, temporary guardianship. Alexa’s mother and the little girl’s immigration attorney were not even notified about the proceedings.

Based on their experiences with Alexa, the Barrs had become convinced that Alexa’s mom was a bad mother and that the little girl would be abused if she were reunited with her.

“My wife and I are sick over this,” Kory Barr told the judge, who wished him good luck as he granted the foster parents’ request two days after Christmas.

“Based on their experiences with Alexa”? It’s understandable that the foster parents felt a protective instinct for the child, and that they wanted the best for her. But courts are where reason and logic experience are supposed to be paramount, where learned jurists use their expertise (or lack thereof, in a particular area of the law) to make a just determination, or decide that the subject matter is in the wrong place.

During an emergency hearing, Kory Barr pounded on the judge’s bench as he begged him to help them keep the girl in Michigan and insisted that child-welfare experts needed more time to investigate.

“Every day they are telling us this could happen very fast,” he said. “We have her bags packed.”

Judge Mark Feyen confessed he wasn’t familiar with the federal agencies involved, saying, “This is kind of hard to pin down exactly who the interested parties are.”

Responding to their concerns that Alexa’s life could be in danger, Feyen granted the Barrs temporary custody after their attorney, Joshua Mikrut, asserted he had a “loose understanding” that a prior order had been issued suspending Ramos’ parental rights, though he didn’t know where. The judge asked him to return with proof, and also scheduled a full guardianship hearing for a few weeks later.

“Every time I get one of these, I learn a little more,” the judge said.

The lawyer has a “loose understanding” of the immigration process, and the Judge is learning “a little more” as he goes. This is where it gets dangerous. It’s a toxic mix of incompetence and improvisation, and it involves people’s lives.  And where the hell is ORR in all this? Can’t it have an attorney appear in these courts on its behalf, if nothing else. to paint a clearer picture or wave the Supremacy Clause flag?

Even if the local judges wanted to find out what the hell is happening on the federal side, they’re not qualified to do so, and there are temporal and geographical constraints. There’s no online docket for deportation proceedings. Aside from being present during the deportation hearing (which they won’t be) and understanding the dynamics (which they can’t), the judge or his representative would have to go in person to the immigration court to request a physical copy of the file, which may take days to locate if the case is not pending or recently closed.  The file will rarely contain the deported parents’ contact information from abroad.

Only then will the Judge be able to find out: (i) the contact information for the attorney of record; (ii) if a deportation order for the parent, assuming one exists, is final and not pending appeal; and (iii) whether there were allegations of prior criminality in the charging document.  Even if there are charges of prior crimes, there’s too much background information missing to make a competent determination as to the parents’ criminality.

There’s a practical way for these parents to avoid this mess, even if they face deportation. The ORR can release unaccompanied minors to an “appropriate sponsor” in the U.S. once she comes forward and tells ORR that she will assume responsibility for the child. There are many parents from Central America who send their children with a group* to the border – a practice that’s dangerous, for obvious reasons – and they have a family contact in the States ready to come forward and ask for custody from ORR.

As for the local judges granting parental rights here when the parents exist elsewhere, there is a practical answer as well. Get out of the business of granting adoptions of children of deported parents when you have no competency to do so.

*The definition of “group” varies in reality, from criminality to familiarity.  Some pay coyotes to bring their kids to the border, while some children chug along Central America with their peers, until they reach the border and are processed by CBP or make the daring trek across the border.

19 thoughts on “Machado: Get Local Judges Out of Adoption of Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors

  1. B. McLeod

    So, people circumvent all legal formalities to bring children to a country where they aren’t citizens, have no right to counsel, and have no means to obtain counsel, and things go wrong. To quote that famous country philosopher Grandpa Jones, “Don’t do that.”

    Reply
          1. B. McLeod

            When the sun comes up in the morning, all our fates are uncertain. When we leave our door, our fates are uncertain. Laws and procedures will never change this. Like all people, children like to think they have a guarantee. Like all people, they do not.

            Reply
            1. Patrick Maupin

              Many things are becoming clear, including the necessity of the healing power of Peeps(tm) dioramas.

    1. Mario Machado

      People are going to do it anyways, whether they know the risks or not.

      Judges shouldn’t make things worse by getting involved in processes they know little, at best, about. Especially when it involves kids.

      Also, remember there will always be “criminals,” but that doesn’t mean it’s right for the government to cheat to convict or for Judges to give it a free pass when it does.

      Reply
    2. Nagita Karunaratne

      It looked like the Barr’s were trying to ‘Americanize’ Alexa and disenfranchise Ramos in the effort to take custody even though they signed documents promising not to and the judicial system helped. They put themselves above the welfare of the child and Ramos. You can add Grandpa Jones quote to the end of this comment as well.

      Reply
      1. Mario Machado

        Too many are focused on what the parents, biological or otherwise, should do.

        That’s irrelevant and tangential to the post. Focus on what happens stateside, where it eventually matters. Focus!!

        Reply
  2. D-Poll

    Surely being adopted by American citizens is better for the interests of the children than being returned to criminal parents?

    Reply
  3. Mario Machado

    Stop talking about the Barrs, and focus on the Judges. That’s the point of the post.

    Let’s assume two things: (i) people will cross, with their kids; (ii) some parents have a somewhat probable criminal background.

    How do you jump from that to adoption?

    Reply
    1. LocoYokel

      All children of convicted criminals should be taken from them and put up for adoption? Can’t let the filthy criminals keep raising their children to be criminals also can we? WE MUST BREAK THE CYCLE!!!11!!1

      Where do we draw the line misdemeanor, class A or B felony?

      Reply
        1. LocoYokel

          What? You didn’t see the all caps and punctuation? Sarcasm, although I will admit that, perhaps, a newcomer here might not recognize it.

          I’m just the comic relief.

          Reply

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