Motherhood, race, and immigration status

Some of you may have seen this piece in the New York Times yesterday, telling the story of Encarnación Bail Romero, a Guatemalan woman who had the custody rights to her son, Carlos, removed by Judge David C. Dally of Circuit Court in Jasper County.

The reason: abandonment.

The catch (from hell): Ms. Bail had been detained in an immigration raid at a poultry processing plant Carthage, MO two years ago and has been in jail ever since, awaiting to be deported when her time in jail is over.

Carlos was given to a couple, about which the Judge said:

"the couple made a comfortable living, had rearranged their lives and work schedules to provide Carlos a stable home, and had support from their extended family. By contrast, Judge Dally said, Ms. Bail had little to offer."

“The only certainties in the biological mother’s future,” he wrote, “is that she will remain incarcerated until next year, and that she will be deported thereafter.”

I find these news extremely saddening, not to mention unjust and cruel. Ms. Bail was consulted about the possibility of the adoption, which she rejected, requesting that his son would be put in foster care. Moreover, the communications were not sent to her in Spanish, and no legal help was provided to her to defend her custodial right.

There is SO much that is wrong with this measure (which is only one in several other cases, as the article in question, as well as this other article make clear), but let’s just start with the fact that the judge seems to think that undocumented immigrants are not entitled to the right to a family, and the state does not have the obligation to do what’s possible to maintain families together:

“Her lifestyle, that of smuggling herself into the country illegally and committing crimes in this country, is not a lifestyle that can provide stability for a child,” the judge wrote in his decision. “A child cannot be educated in this way, always in hiding or on the run.”

Being an undocumented immigrant is not a crime, and the only reason why Ms. Bail was in detention was that she was charged with using false identification. This maneouver, also used in the high-profile Iowa raid, is used to make imigrants into criminals and ease their deportation procedures, even when the identity theft law was enacted to prevent fraudulent transactions in the name of a person from whom the identity had been stolen. This is not the case for immigrants, who are often provided with the fake identification by their employers, and they simply use them to be able to work.

A second issue that transpires in this ruling, although it’s never explicitly acknowledged, is the narrative of motherhood, in which poor, non-white women are deemed inherently incapable of responsible motherhood, and the state seems to think it’s entitled to intervene in their reproductive and family decisions to a greater extent.

There are many more issues that I could list on this post, but suffice it to say that I hope the Obama administration works toward a change that exceeds policy, and addresses the culture of hatred and de-humanization that accompanies our immigration debates.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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