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Encarnación Romero and the stealing of undocumented immigrants’ kids

Tonight’s brief post is another of these, ‘look over here where someone else has written something terribly important, I want you to read it’ posts.

See Taking Babies from Undocumented Immigrants.

I’m pointing at Jill’s post over on Feministe rather than the raw articles she links as I think her analysis is important, but be sure to read both.

Her piece starts here:

Encarnación Romero was an undocumented immigrant working at a poultry plant in Missouri when she was arrested in 2007 during a raid by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She was jailed for two years for federal identity theft, because she used a fake name and Social Security number when applying for her job (those charges, notably, would not stick if they were filed today — the Supreme Court rejected the use of identity theft prosecutions in simple immigration cases like this one). In prison and unable to care for her infant son herself, Romero did what many parents would have done (and what my own parents certainly would have done): She asked her sister to look after the baby, Carlitos, until she could come home. The sister was already overwhelmed with her own three children, and sought help through her church. An acquaintance took Carlitos to the home of the church’s minister, and the minister and his wife contacted another couple who were looking to adopt.

Romero’s parental rights were then terminated, and Carlitos was adopted by Seth and Melinda Moser.

Unsurprisingly, Romero did not have adequate legal representation, and does not speak English. Lawyers for the Mosers, who adopted Carlitos, say that Romero abandoned her child, and “She went by different aliases, and therefore all the correspondence that the court sent her, and that I sent her, even that her attorney sent her, all came back refused.” Romero’s attorneys, though, say that while she did seek employment under an assumed name, she gave ICE officers her real name shortly after being arrested. The fact that she was booked under a false name doesn’t mean that she abandoned her child — it means that there was a clerical error (and possibly that there wasn’t proper translation, and that she didn’t have a lawyer).

The case has all the usual hallmarks from there.

  • Romero’s lawyer was hired by the Mosers.
  • the lack of language skills being used as an argument against restoring the child to Romero (mind you, the fact that adoptive couples going to China and picking up a kid and then forcing the kid to learn English, but first going through a period of being unable to communicate with the child they adopted is viewed as ‘cute’, and ‘necessary to the process’ not some reason to prevent them from having the child).
  • the usual “possession is 9/10 of the law” and “finders keepers” type arguments.

Jill manages to articulate the fundamental truth of the matter, there are winners and losers in this, and the ‘winners’ as always, are not the the undocumented immigrant, nor the child.

A lot of the commentary on this story says it’s a “tragedy for all involved” and that we’re all hoping for “the best outcome for everyone.” Except, well, no. It is a tragedy for all involved, but it’s more of a tragedy for the woman who had her baby taken from her and for the baby who was taken than for the couple who knew that parental rights hadn’t properly been terminated, but apparently thought that their desire for a child trumped another woman’s rights to raise the child she carried, birthed, loved and raised for his first six months of life.

Money, power, and adopter status trumps human and parental rights quite consistently.

The consequences in cases like this do not fall evenly. A mother’s “tragedy” results in direct personal gain to the Mosers.

Jill pulls her punches a bit in the piece, hedging and giving some benefit of the doubt to the Mosers:

I don’t want to impute too many motives on the Mosers, because who knows what the whole story is from their perspective.

But for those of us in this field, who have seen cases like this again and again and again, this is simply adoption business as usual.

This being the industry’s “national adoption month,” (supposedly at least) focused upon foster adoptions,  it’s long past time everyone put down the pom poms and began to question how those terminations of parental rights came to be in the first place.

By focusing on foster adoption merely as something that takes place in the space between foster care or state “in loco parentis” and adoption, far too many conveniently sidestep all the pertinent details of how kids came under state custody and the state’s ability to redistribute in the first place, in other words, that line of rationalization erases Families and Mothers.

Encarnación Romero’s case is one of many ways kids are made available to the adoption system.

I recently wrote about the role of the hideous “Adoption and Safe Families Act” and it’s mandatory trigger dates in relation to termination of parental rights.

More recently, adding new pressures on those in the system and parental rights (as well as siblings ability to remain together etc. ) has been the addition of laws like the “Adoption and Safe Families Act” that went into effect in 1997. It has been widely criticized both within the Bastard community and by those who advocate on behalf of parents ability to retain their parental rights.

It has had numerous effects upon children in foster care, not the least of which being the setting of time frames for almost mandatory terminations of parental rights, (thereby increasing the number of children made available to the adoption process.)

In that post, I spoke specifically to how parents entering prison can lead to the loss of their parental rights:

See this article, A Tangle of Problems Links Prison, Foster Care as but one of many examples criticizing the effects of the law on some of the most vulnerable of parents in terms of defending and retaining their parental rights:

“The hurdles facing imprisoned parents grew higher in the late 1990s with the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act. If a child has spent 15 of the previous 22 months in foster care, the law requires that child welfare authorities file for termination of the birth parent’s rights. The aim is to set a time period so the child can find “permanency” instead of foster care — generally, either reunification with the birth parent or adoption by another family.

Though child welfare agencies can make limited exceptions to the timetable based on family circumstances, the law has tightened pressure on parents to defend their custodial rights. Meanwhile, state policies make no specific exemptions for incarcerated parents, whose sentences typically exceed the time line. According to research led by Columbia University law professor Philip Genty, in the years following the act’s passage — 1997 to 2002 — termination proceedings for incarcerated parents more than doubled.”

Romero’s case must be viewed within that broader context.

Parents in prison (or even military service) and charges of having “abandoned” a child must be understood as the crowbars they are, tools that serve to sever parental rights even when the parent has no means by which to fight back.

Couple this with the federal financial incentives states now have for doing so, and outcomes like this become an inevitable by product of the system.

That’s the meta-picture and systemic adoption problems at the heart of this.

But as always, it comes back to all the old prejudices and assumptions as well.

  • who in American society is viewed as a “legitimate” parent?
  • who is considered “brown” and who is considered “white”?
  • who has money and who is not merely poor but economically vulnerable to manipulation and coercion?
  • who is considered “legitimately” American, and who is undocumented?
  • The role religion plays in all of it, including this case, and who has privilege and lack thereof in relation to such.


When children are collected from undocumented immigrants you almost need a new adoption category as this is neither precisely akin to domestic adoptions not inter-country adoptions. These form some third classification whereby people who were previously the “other country” come to the adopters.

Child collection for purposes of adoption injustices like this inevitably play out against the broader fabric of race, class, and societal power and lack thereof.

These cases are never apart from the cultural assumptions that form the backdrop adoption itself plays out against.

In light of such the “winners” naturally, have become little more than a foregone conclusion.

Giving any benefit of the doubt when states are literally being paid to do this shifts the burden of evidence towards forcing individual women to prove the existence of the system by which they are strip mined for the children.

The burden should be on the state and the adopters in light of the system, to prove they aren’t.

(That is my Feminist stance on the matter.)

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