For nine years, Felipe Montes lived and worked in North Carolina. He married a U.S. citizen, and he and his wife have three sons. But after immigration officials deported Montes, an undocumented immigrant, in late 2010, he will likely never see his children again because officials in North Carolina are planning to terminate his parental rights.
Following his deportation, his pregnant wife Marie had trouble keeping her family afloat without Montes’ help. Two weeks after Montes was sent back to Mexico, the Allegheny County child welfare department put their children in foster care. A judge has already terminated his wife’s parental rights, so his children will be placed into adoption proceedings if Montes’ rights are terminated as well, Colorlines reports:
[N]ext week, on February 21, the county’s Department of Social Services plans to ask a judge to cease all efforts to reunify the family and put the children into adoption proceedings with foster families. Though Felipe Montes was his children’s primary caregiver before he was deported and has not been charged with neglect, the child welfare department nonetheless believes that his children, who have now been in foster care for over a year, are better off in the care of strangers than in Mexico with their father.
For Montes, this feels tantamount to kidnapping.
“I cannot find the words to tell you how important my kids are to me. I would do anything for them,” he told Colorlines.com, speaking on his cell phone in Mexico while on a break from his job at a farm. “In this world there are many injustices. At the very least, I would like them to send my kids to Mexico.”
His wife agrees that if the children cannot be with her, then they should live with their father in Mexico. “If they can’t be with me, I want them to be with him,” Marie said. “Nobody is a better father than he is.”
But Allegheny County officials did not approve Montes’ house in Mexico, where he lives with his uncle, as a home for the children. Court documents show that officials ruled it would be a bad environment because the family hauls in water and the floor is cement, but the home study that the Mexican consulate sent to the child welfare department said the home conditions are good. And because he “has not made an [sic] progress toward trying to obtain a temporary VISA or become legal to come back to the United States to visit or get his children,” they say Montes is not a fit parent.
Donna Shumate, Montes’ attorney in North Carolina, said child welfare officials simply refuse to place American kids in Mexico. “It’s not really subtle at all,” Shumate said. “They’ve pretty much said that they won’t place American kids there. He is a good father and the fact that he may be living in different standards now because he’s in Mexico should not prevent children from reunifying with their father.”
Montes’ tragic story is another illustration of how the deportation of nonviolent immigrants tears apart families and strains public resources when children are separated from their parents and placed in foster care. A new report last year reported that at least 5,100 American children had been stranded in the foster care system after their parents were deported or detained. The Department of Homeland Security had announced that it would suspend deportation proceedings against many undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety, but its policy has been applied unevenly. As a result, thousands of families like Montes and his children continue to be separated, potentially forever.