Judge Who Took Immigrant’s Baby Said Lack of English Would Cause ‘Developmental’ Problems

Written by Nicole Flatow

Cirila Baltazar Cruz gave birth to a healthy girl in November 2008. But she was discharged from the Pascagoula, Miss., hospital without her baby, after social services officials who didn’t speak her language claimed she traded sex for housing, was undocumented, and concluded she intended to give her child away.

After the state health department filed a “report of suspected abuse and neglect,” officials temporarily gave Baltazar Cruz’s baby to a couple who wanted to adopt a child, but were not licensed as foster parents, according to court documents. And at a court hearing that followed, Judge Sharon Sigalas agreed with the couple’s argument that the baby would have “developmental” problems because she would not communicate with the baby in English.

Baltazar Cruz is a member of the indigenous Chatino group in Oaxaca, Mexico, and her primary language is an indigenous language known as Chatino. She knows limited Spanish and almost no English. While she was at the hospital, her Chatino-speaking cousin tried to tell officials that she is actually employed at a Chinese restaurant, and did not in fact “admit” to allegations that she was involved in the sex trade. But a social services representatives who did not know her language nonetheless excluded her cousin from discussions between them.

In a proceeding that provided no translator to Baltazar Cruz, Youth Court Judge Sigalas concluded the young baby was “neglected,” and declined Baltazar Cruz’s request to even see her daughter. Baltazar Cruz was without her daughter for almost a year, and the court nearly terminated her parental rights.

It was only after a federal investigation of the case was initiated that the judge, prosecutor, and guardian ad litem all recused themselves from the case, claiming a new conflict of interest. The judge who replaced Sigalas granted Baltazar Cruz custody.

A federal judge ruled Friday that these officials could not now claim immunity from constitutional allegations against them, concluding, “This case is riddled with contradicting stories and potential indicia of misconduct.”

“At the time [case worker] Hayes allegedly seized R.J.M.B., the child was only a few days old, hospital records revealed that Baltazar Cruz and R.J.M.B. were bonding well, and Hayes’ own Investigation Report on November 18, 2008, denied that Baltazar Cruz was abusing her child, failing to protect her child, or placing the child in danger of physical harm,” wrote U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate.

The ruling means that these officials cannot hide behind government immunity, and will likely have to, at the very least, defend the allegations against them in the lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Sharon Steinmann via Southern Poverty Law Center


Donna F.
Donna F3 years ago

wow! this is thoroughly disgusting! I'm so glad the mother got justice. hope she sues the heck out of them.

sue higgins
sue higgins3 years ago

have i just read that a mother has had her baby taken away from her because she could'nt speak english ?.....well i just hope that she learns several words real quick like .......i'm gonna sued the f...... lot of you and get my baby back ! and we will all fight for her to do just that !......this is unbelievable and i can't help think that she was set up fot that baby to be adopted / taken !

Karen R.
Karen Ryan3 years ago

How could anyone involved in this case think they were doing the right thing? I hope she can sue for a large enough amount of money to motivate everyone to make darn sure this never happens to anyone else.

Mary Deforest
Mary Deforest3 years ago

My German grandmother never could count or do math in English. She spoke 3 languages-German, Sioux, and English. Frontier times. She was delighted to meet a German-American cowboy that spoke the same 3 languages.

Rose Becke3 years ago


Robin Pasholk
Robin Pasholk3 years ago

Hey! My great-grandparents came here from Poland not speaking English, and no one tried to take Grandpa away from them after he was born in America, despite the fact that he grew up speaking Polish before he learned English! This case was mishandled on so many counts by so many people who should have known better--and that probably includes some descended from other immigrants who came here not speaking English!

Robert Hardy
Robert Hardy3 years ago

GOOD! I hope they pay a price for this horrible treatment of a mother.

Miranda Lyon
Miranda Lyon3 years ago

How many children of immigrant families where the parents and grandparents did not speak English well have, throughout the history of the United States, grown up to be productive decent English-speaking citizens? I would imagine the number to be countless, and to include ancestors or present members of the families of many Care2 members as well.

Karen H.
Karen H3 years ago

Wow, the GOP will stop at nothing, won't it? Let's not allow birth control, let's not allow abortion, let's ignore the law and not provide an interpreter, let's steal babies from women who don't meet our standards...
Would these guys take away the baby of a mute mother because there might be "developmental problems" when she can't talk verbally to her child? Shameful!

Catriona Macfarlane