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Encarnación Bail Romero’s Story Is a Harrowing Reminder of the Stakes for Separated Migrant Families


Christian, from Honduras, recounts being separated from his child at the border during a news conference at the Annunciation House, in El Paso, Texas, on June 25, 2018.

Photo: Matt York/AP

Tuesday was the deadline that a federal court set for the Trump administration to reunify the migrant families whose children under the age of 5 who were forcefully separated from their parents. The children were ripped away from their parents and then shipped out all over the country with strangers for no reason other than cruel and unusual punishment.

Of course, that deadline wasn’t met — the Trump administration told the court it had only reunified 38 of 102 of these kids with their families. And of course, the Trump administration is not really bothered by this failure. The entire ordeal was designed to strike fear into immigrants of color who may dare attempt to enter this country.

The numbers released by the Justice Department on Monday show that, of the 102 children, many of them simply cannot be unified with their parents before the deadline.


Because many of these little kids have been farmed off to nearly 20 different states and their parents have already been deported. The Trump administration admitted yesterday that it has already deported nine parents of the 102 youngest children. If these numbers hold up for all age groups, with about 3,000 children now in custody, we could reasonably conclude that 250 of them now being housed with complete strangers have parents who’ve already been deported.

How in the hell are those deported parents supposed to reconnect with their children?

The Trump administration said that other children under the age of 5 who’ve been separated from their parents are unlikely to be unified with them. Four of those parents are in local jails, where reunification is not possible. Eight are in federal criminal custody, where reunification is not possible.

And then the unthinkable: The Trump administration admitted yesterday that it doesn’t even have any information on the parents of one of the young children who has been separated. How old is that child? How did this happen? Is this child related to a family whose records were already destroyed by the government?

I know that we are frequently overwhelmed with bad news in the Trump era, but this isn’t simply bad news — it is a human rights catastrophe. And it was completely avoidable.

Of the 102 youngest children we have the most basic data for, we now know that it will be outrageously difficult to reunify at least 22 of them.

What will eventually happen to these children? It’s tough to say with the family separation crisis still ongoing, but there’s a case from five years ago that we should all be aware of.

Know this name: Encarnación Bail Romero.

Attorney Curtis Woods, left, clutches his client, Encarnación Bail Romero, in July 2012, minutes after a Greene County judge in Springfield, Mo., terminated her parental rights to the son she last held five years ago.

Photo: Tammy Ljungblad/The Kansas City Star via AP

There’s no evidence that the Trump administration is farming separated children out for adoption. And yet, in recent history, there has been an example of an immigrant mother getting caught up in immigration enforcement — and having her child put up for adoption as a result. That is exactly what happened to Bail Romero.

Some of the same foster care groups that are housing these migrant children are also large adoption agencies. While foster care providers have made clear that separated migrant children will not be put up for adoption, stories like that of Bail Romero underline the seriousness of migrant families’ fears and should serve as a warning to all of us.

In 2007, Bail Romero, a Guatemalan immigrant, was arrested in Missouri during an immigration raid. Her young son, Carlos, was just 11 months old and put in the care of family and friends — until a judge decided to take the child into government custody and put him up for adoption.

What happened next is completely unimaginable. As a father of five myself, I have to fight back the tears as I think about what this government did to Bail Romero.

The family whose home the government placed Carlos in changed his name to Jamison Moser, then fought for Bail Romero to never see him again. And won.

The courts declared that when Bail Romero was jailed for an immigration violation, she abandoned Carlos and forfeited her parental rights. She even lost her rights to see Carlos. For years on end, Bail Romero fought to regain custody of Carlos but was denied at almost every turn. When she finally appealed to the Supreme Court, they refused to even hear her case.

Carlos, now called Jamison Moser, lives with his adoptive white parents in rural Missouri.

Bail Romero was working as a migrant farmer in Missouri. She was providing for her family. But even if she wasn’t, poverty and unemployment are not legitimate excuses to basically kidnap someone’s child, rename them, and terminate the rights of the birth parents.

While the threat of adoption for separated children isn’t immediate, it would be naive for us to assume that many of the thousands of migrant children forcefully separated from their parents are not at risk of being put on the same path as Encarnación Bail Romero and Carlos.

Top photo: Christian, from Honduras, recounts his separation from his child at the border during a news conference at the Annunciation House, in El Paso, Texas, on June 25, 2018.

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