Delayed Justice For Detained Guatemalan Mother Stripped Of Parental Rights

This guest post is by Michelle Brané, Director of the Detention and Asylum Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. Founded in 1989, the Women’s Refugee Commission advocates vigorously for laws, policies and programs to improve the lives and protect the rights of refugee and internally displaced women, children and young people, including those seeking asylum—bringing about lasting, measurable change.

Brané was just named one of Women’s eNews’ “21 Leaders for the 21st Century.”

In 2007, Encarnación Bail Romero, a young woman from Guatemala, was arrested and detained during an immigration raid at the Missouri poultry processing plant where she worked. The fact that Encarnación was a mother with a baby at home did not matter. She was detained without the opportunity to make care arrangements for her son, Carlos—a U.S. citizen—who was just six months old. While in detention, Encarnación was not allowed to participate in her custody case and consequently, her parental rights were terminated. Carlos was adopted by a couple soon after.

Last week, the Missouri Supreme Court decided to send Encarnación Bail Romero’s case back to the lower court for yet another hearing. When I heard this, I couldn’t help but welcome the news with mixed feelings. The fact that the court acknowledged that proper procedures were not followed is a relief; however, the court’s failure to reunite a mother and son and delay justice is a travesty. Encarnación’s son has been with his adoptive parents for over two years now, and has come to know them as his only parents. The more time that is spent in this limbo with a mother separated from her child the more harm is done.

I first met Encarnación in 2009, several years after she was arrested during an immigration raid at the poultry processing plant. When I spoke with Encarnación I was struck most by not only her heartache, but also by the incredible strength she has carried in her fight to reunite with her son. As a mother of two young children myself, hearing stories like Encarnación’s makes my heart stop. What would it feel like to not know if my children were safe, to have them think that I did not want them because I was locked in detention and unable to care for them?

Encarnación told me that while she was in detention, Carlos had a series of caretakers. He was first at her brother’s home and then with her sister before being cared for by a local couple who offered to babysit. She was approached and asked to allow her son to be adopted but she refused, asking instead that her son be placed in foster care until she could care for him herself.

Encarnación was then swept up in a series of events that ultimately led to the unjust termination of her parental rights. She was given information about her custody case in English—a language she does not understand. Her lawyer was hired by her son’s future adoptive parents, demonstrating a clear conflict of interest. And, despite Encarnación’s clear desire to be reunited with her son, a court found her to have abandoned him. Her parental rights were terminated, and Carlos was adopted. Encarnación’s case is complicated, involving the failures of multiple systems, but had Encarnación’s right to due process been upheld, none of this would have happened. She would have been able to present her case in court, and Carlos would still be with her.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy in this story is that many other families are suffering this same fate—a fate that could be avoided. Both Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and family courts have the legal obligation to ensure detainees are able to participate in all aspects of their custody and immigration cases. ICE has the authority to release parents from detention so that they can continue to care for their children while undergoing immigration proceedings. And should the outcome of their immigration case order them deported, mothers and fathers have the right—and must be given the opportunity—to either take their children with them or leave them behind in a safe situation.

Releasing parents from detention does not mean weakening immigration enforcement or letting undocumented migrants go free. Parents in immigration custody have an incentive to appear for their hearings and comply with court orders, simply because they do not want to lose their families. And for those who need some sort of supervision, ICE has access to cost-effective alternatives to traditional immigration detention that can be used to ensure parents appear at custody proceedings. It is critical that these alternatives be used in order to protect children from becoming unnecessary collateral damage.

Five million children in the United States have at least one undocumented parent and three million of these children are U.S. citizens. ICE’s failure to utilize these options has the potential to create a generation of lost children who are needlessly denied a relationship with their detained or deported parents. These children are far more likely to live in poverty, struggle in school and face unemployment and homelessness.

The court in Encarnación’s case has recognized the damage done by failing to uphold the 14th amendment, the constitutional right that ensures all persons—including undocumented immigrants—are entitled to due process and equal protection under the law. Encarnación’s case has shown that where due process rights are denied, families suffer. As a nation that prides itself on valuing the sanctity of family unity, we must uphold our commitment to the bond between parent and child, regardless of immigration status. 


Photo courtesy of Women's Refugee Commission


Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

This is just awful. I can't imagine the anxiety that mother is going through, and all because immigration officials did wrong. And as pointed out, the two or three year old child, doesn't understand any of this, and will go through hell leaving his adoptive parents (who, it appears, scammed the system, by hiring the mother's lawyer). And really, all because undocumented workers aren't treated as real people, expendable. Just awful.

Mahesh S.
Mahesh S7 years ago


Lionel Mann
Lionel Mann7 years ago

A typical case of U.S. "justice". Seventy years ago we saw it in Nazi Germany. Sieg Heil, Master Race!

Vicky H.
Past Member 7 years ago

This is a sad story.

Lyn Redbird
Lyn henry7 years ago

Too many what "ifs" here. Such misjustice. I am saddened for her and Carlos.

Nikolas Karman
Nikolas K7 years ago

The history of America was founded on christian people who murdered the Redman because he helped them to survive and live in America. Why ? because he saw in the Redman a spiritual being who had morals , integrity and love, filled with compassion, attributes that the Christian whites had long ago rejected especially when they embarked on their crusades. So what happens to people like this poor woman is no different to what happens when dealing with so called Christian white America. Nothing will change until White America learns to live by the 7 lores of the universe starting with unconditional love of themselves to show forgiveness and compassion to others. America like all countries belongs to humanity as a whole not to individuals who think they own something they never created .

JW H.7 years ago

Annmari -
1st - people can be illegal
2nd - the US takes care of so many refugees that this is not an argument
3rd - which rights does a law breaking illegal alien have?
4th - good luck with the interpreter thing in another country
5th - as the greatest country on earth the US is a dream come true country - just ask the many who continue to sacrifice to come here. We are so great they even try to sneak in!

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin7 years ago

There's no real difference beteen the refugees of the 1800s and the ones that enter the country today. Except maybe that people now get more help with English and civics classes.
So, all of you that somehow feels anti-immigrant, please consider what built this country! Working together to help people survive in their home countries and to help those that can't is a way better solution than to build barriers along the boarder, have people shot while trying to enter US or have them murdered by the lowlifes that promise to bring them here but instead rob and kill.

I'm finished. For now.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin7 years ago

First of all: No human can be illegal. Only their ACTIONS can. Everyone understands now?
Secondly: United States does NOT take care of the whole world! A small city in Sweden, with only about 80,000 people, have taken care of more refugees from Iraq than US and GB combined!
Thirdly: Encarnación Bail Romero was robbed by the Government or at least they facilitaed the abduction of her son by not giving her the rights she was and is entitled to.
Forth: If I come to a democratic country where I do not understand the language, an interpreter is used so I can fully comprehend what is happening and why.
Fifth: US paint itself as a in advertising and promoting itself globally. How come anyone is so surpised that people try and get to this Dreamland?
Sixth: Between 1850 and 1920 more than 1 million people left Sweden, migrated to other countries to make a better life for themselves and their families. A majority settled in the US. Millions other came from all over the world to try and find something better than starvation and political or religious opression and they have all assimilated into the American society. A majority of the Swedes, kept their traditions, tried to keep the language alive but at the same time learned everything they needed to know about their new country. They took part in building cities, railroads, enlisted as soldiers and participated in elections, etc.

Teddie S.
Teddie S7 years ago

This whole situation just stinks.
CPS gets a lot of money for taking away parental rights and for adopting the child out.
The attorney probably made a lot of money and probably still is by fighting for the adopted parents right to keep this child.
I think these so-called parents rights should be terminated immediately, CPS knows how to do that.
This woman should be given visitation rights while she is fighting for her son, so that he can get to know her, and then it won't be so traumatic for this child when he is given back to his mother.