Encarnacion Romero was one of about a hundred undocumented workers caught up in an immigration sweep in a poultry processing plant in Barry County, Missouri in May of 2007. She pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft, and according to court records, she was sentenced to and served two years in prison.
So far, her story is pretty mundane. It happens every day all over the country.
But Encarnacion Romero’s story is not at all mundane and something happened to her that does not happen on a regular basis. The fact that it happened once is unconscionable.
Encarnation Romero had a child, a baby who was less than a year old. At the time of her arrest, her son was in the care of relatives, but the relatives were blindsided by the arrest of the child’s mother and they were unprepared to raise him for her while she was in jail, and turned to another couple for help caring for the child. He spent weekends with his aunt and the weekdays with the couple she had turned to for help.
By the fall of 2007, that couple learned of another Carthage couple who wanted to adopt a child, and the boy was sent to them for a ten-day visitation period in October 2007, and they were granted custody after the visitation period went well.
That is when the process to sever Romero’s parental rights started, and Seth and Melinda Moser, the couple who had custody, started the adoption process. A lower-court judge stripped her rights in early 2008 and cleared the path for the adoption of the boy, citing as his reasoning the fact that Romero had not made any effort to visit him or contribute to his support…while she was in prison.
She has been fighting to get him back ever since she walked out of prison over a year ago.
The ACLU of eastern Missouri is representing her in her quest to be reunited with her child. Tony Rothert, the legal director of the eastern Missouri office said Thursday that the case showed a “wholesale disregard of the statutes that are intended to protect parental rights.” He argues that the lower court allowing the adoption of the child by the Mosers set a dangerous precedent. If anyone can take a child to adoption court and terminate a parents rights, “there would be nothing to prevent black-market sale of children.”
An appeals court saw it the same way Rothert and the ACLU does, and issued an order that the child be reunited with his mother.
The Moser’s then appealed. After all, he has been part of their family for three years and they love him and want to keep him. They aren’t bad people, they didn’t snatch the child or set a scheme in motion to steal him. They opened their home and their hearts and they have, by all accounts been wonderful parents to him.
Now his future rests with the Missouri Supreme Court, which agreed yesterday to take up the case.
I do not envy them. No matter what they decide, someone is going to be heartbroken and a child is going to be deprived of the love and support of one family or the other. If they rule for the adoptive parents they risk making Rothert’s fears a reality, and if they rule for Romero the risk is a chilling effect on adoptions in the state.
And all because a lower-court judge showed nothing but disregard – contempt even – for the statutes and rules that are intended to protect the rights of biological parents.
No matter how this ends, no one wins. Not the Mosers, not Romero and certainly not the child.