SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The Missouri Court of Appeals is expected to rule within two months whether a woman from Guatemala should regain custody of her biological child, or if the now 6-year-old boy should stay with a Missouri couple he has lived with since he was about 1 year old.
The child's mother, Encarnacion Bail Romero, asked the appeals court on Monday to overturn a ruling that terminated her parental rights and allowed a Carthage couple to adopt the boy. The couple is asking the court to uphold the earlier ruling that Bail Romero abandoned and neglected her child after she was caught and jailed after an immigration sweep at a Barry County poultry plant in 2007, The Joplin Globe reported.
Greene County Judge David Jones determined in July 2012 that Bail Romero had abandoned her son after she was detained on immigration violations in 2007 and later jailed on identity theft charges. The judge allowed the Carthage couple, Seth and Melinda Moser, to adopt the child.
The child started living with the Mosers in October 2007, and they were able to adopt the boy after a Jasper County court judge terminated Romero's parental rights in 2008. That judge ruled that the mother had not tried to maintain contact or provide for the child while in prison.
Romero's lawyers contend the adoption process was flawed and that Romero was not given sufficient legal representation before losing custody of her son, who is a U.S. citizen.
An appeals panel overturned the Jasper County decision, saying the lower court lacked authority to grant the adoption. The appellate court said state laws were intended "to prohibit the indiscriminate transfer of children, meaning that someone could not pass a child around like chattel."
The state Supreme Court then ruled in January 2011 that state adoption laws were not followed and ordered a new trial regarding Bail Romero's parental rights.
Then, in 2012, Jones again severed Bail Romero's parental rights and allowed the Mosers to adopt the child for a second time.
"The Supreme Court said the earlier ruling was a travesty, and we think that continues," Bail Romero's attorney, Curtis Woods, said during Monday's hearing. "The child was not eligible for adoption. That issue is still at the forefront, and it's one of fundamental liberty."
He said no evidence showed that Romero willfully abandoned the boy after her arrest and she made several telephone calls to ask about his welfare while she was in prison.
Many of Bail Romero's supporters, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, have contended that her parental rights were severed because she was in the country illegally.
However, attorney Richard Schnake, representing the Mosers, said recordings of phone calls made by the mother from jail showed that she asked about the child's welfare only twice and wanted to send him to Guatemala, where her two other children live, so she could stay in the U.S. and work.
Page 2 of 2 - The Supreme Court also noted in its ruling that Bail Romero has not seen her two other children, ages 8 and 14, in seven years, that she seldom sought available social services for her child, and that she made no arrangements for him in case she was jailed, even though she had been deported before.