State Separates Mother and Child Over Language
Can the U.S. government take a woman's baby from her because she doesn't speak English? That's the latest question to arise in the hothouse debate over illegal immigration, as an undocumented woman from impoverished rural Mexico — who speaks only an obscure indigenous language — fights in a Mississippi court to regain custody of her infant daughter.
Cirila Baltazar Cruz comes from the mountainous southern state of Oaxaca, aof Mexico that makes look . To escape the in her village of 1,500 mostly Chatino Indians, Baltazar Cruz, 34, earlier this to the U.S., hoping to send money back to two children she'd left She found work at a Chinese restaurant on Mississippi's Gulf Coast.
But Baltazar Cruz speaks only Chatino, barely any Spanish and no English. Last November she went to Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula, Miss., where she lives, to give birth to a baby girl, Rubí. According to documents obtained by the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, the hospital called the state Department of Human Services, which ruled Baltazar Cruz an r in part because her lack of English " her unborn child in danger and(Read "Should a Muslim mother be caned for having a beer?")
Rubí was taken from Baltazar Cruz, who now faces (See the best and worst moms ever.). In May, a Jackson County, Miss., judge gave the infant to a couple (it is unclear if for care or purposes) who live in Ocean Springs. Cruz is challenging the in Jackson County Youth Court and hopes that if she is deported she can (She has not disclosed the father's identity.)
Baltazar Cruz's gag order. But Mary Bauer, the SPLC's legal director, says that on a general level, any notion that a mother can lose custody of a child because she doesn't speak a particular language "is a fundamentally outrageous violation of human rights." (Read "When Motherhood Gets You Jail Time.")has been taken up by the Mississippi Immigrants' Rights (MIRA) and the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, lawyers say they can't comment on its specifics because of a judge's
Before the gag order, advocates for Baltazar Cruz had charged that the problems sprang from faulty translation at Singing River. Baltazar Cruz arrived at the hospital after she flagged down a Pascagoula police officer on a city street. She was later joined there by a Chatino-speaking relative, according to MIRA; but the hospital his services and instead used a translator s, a Puerto Rican-American who spoke no Chatino and whose Spanish was significantly different from that spoken in Mexico.
According to the Clarion-Ledger, the state report portrayed Baltazar Cruz as bassinets, carrying their infants instead in rebozos, a type of sling.a prostitute, claiming she was "exchanging living arrangements for sex" in Pascagoula and planned to put the child up for adoption. Through her advocates (before the gag order), Baltazar Cruz denied those claims. Since "she has failed to learn the English language," the newspaper quotes the documents as saying, l" to give birth. The social services translator also reported that Baltazar Cruz had put Rubí in danger because she " ." But indigenous Oaxacan mothers traditionally breast feed their babies for a year and rarely use
MIRA has accused Singing River and Mississippi DHS of essentially "stealing" Rubi. Citing the gag order, DHS will not comment on Baltazar Cruz's case; but before the order, one official insisted to the Clarion-Ledger that " Singing River spokesman Richard Lucas calls the MIRA charge "preposterous" and, while noting that the non-profit hospital delivered Baltazar Cruz's baby free of charge, he insists it "did what any good hospital would have done given her unusual circumstances" by alerting DHS.
Still, despite DHS statements to the contrary, language seems a central issue in the state's case against Cruz. It wouldn't be the first time in the U.S. In 2004, a Tennessee judge ordered the child of a Mexican migrant mother who spoke only an indigenous tongue into foster care. (Another judge later returned the child to her family.) Last year, a California court took custody of the U.S.-born twin babies of another indigenous, undocumented migrant from Oaxaca. After she was deported, the Oaxaca state government's Institute for Attention to Migrants fought successfully to have the twins repatriated to her in Mexico this summer. In such cases, says the SPLC's Bauer, a lack of interpreters is a key factor. When a mother can't follow the proceedings, "she looks unresponsive, which is clearly not the case," she says. , "let alone when you're a migrant working long hours for low pay."
One of DHS's apparent fears is that an infant isn't safe in a home where the mother can only articulate a 911 call in a language spoken by some 50,000 Oaxacan Indians. Bauer points out that children have been raised safely in the U.S. by non-English-speaking parents for well over a century. If not, thousands of Italians and Russians would have had to leave their kids with foster care on Ellis Island. "Raising your child is one of the most fundamental liberties, and it can only be taken from you for the most serious concerns of endangerment," says Bauer. "
Rosalba Piña, a Chicago attorney who co-hosts a local radio program on immigration law, agrees. SheMississippi officials to those who fought to keep six-year-old Elián Gonzalez in the U.S. nine years ago because they argued his life would be better here than in Cuba with his father. "They're ignoring basic U.S. and international law," says Piña. "Unless there's some real to the child's life back in the home country, most judges " In the end, she notes, Rubí is a U.S. citizen who could return to this country as an adult.
The next court hearing in Baltazar Cruz's case isfor November. In the meantime, Mexican consular officials in the U.S. struck an agreement with Mississippi authorities this month to ensure that Mexico will be informed when like Baltazar Cruz become in cases like this. Says Daniel Hernandez Joseph, director of Mexico's program for protection of citizens abroad, " Baltazar Cruz now has to convince Mississippi judges that it should be their concern, too.