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art by Favianna Rodriguez

Art by Favianna Rodriguez

“ You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. ” – César Chávez, UFW

Victory in Montes Parental Rights Case in North Carolina

Deported father Felipe Montes reunited with his children on trial basis

Nov. 28, 2012

Berkeley, CA – A judge has ruled in favor of restoring parental rights to father Felipe Montes after more than 20,000 Presente.org members demanded that the local child welfare department in North Carolina move to reunify Felipe Montes with his children.

“The court cannot find that the father is unfit,” County Judge Michael Duncan said from the bench in the Alleghany County courtroom shortly after noon. “The permanency plan is reunification with the father.”

Felipe Montes will first be reunited with his children on a trial basis from Dec. 7 until Feb. 19, after which Felipe will be granted full rights to his children.

“Hopefully this is the beginning of the end of thousands of children being legally stripped of their right to be with their parents just because of their immigration status,” said Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of Presente.org. “We will continue to do everything we can to make sure our unjust immigration system does not tear Felipe apart from his three U.S. citizen children.”

Felipe Montes, the sole breadwinner of his family, was detained for traffic violations and deported nearly two years ago. The local child welfare department in North Carolina removed his children from his wife’s charge, as she was unable to care for them alone. Allegheny County’s Division of Social Services (DSS) in North Carolina asked a judge to let them terminate Montes’ parental rights and put his children up for adoption. The three Montes children, all U.S. citizens, have been in foster care for almost two years.

Following the breaking of Felipe’s story by Colorlines.com, the petitions gather by Presente.org help garner national attention for Felipe’s story and led to the exceedingly rare step of ICE allowing Felipe back into the country on humanitarian parole. Last week, in court, the Allegheny County Division of Social Services publicly reversed its position that Felipe’s parental rights be terminated, the central demand of the Presente.org petition.

“I am happy, but I am waiting. I have learned to be patient. I have fought for two years to get my children back. I can fight for another couple months,” Felipe told Presente.org.

Louise Paglen, the children’s court appointed attorney advocate, tried but failed to portray
Felipe Montes as unfit. Montes faced a system that is often biased against undocumented parents and parents that are poor and working class. Their lack of economic means is interpreted in many ways as a risk for "neglect" and inferior caregiving. This case is important because it gives hope for more parents to fight for their children and regain their parental rights.

And it sets precedent for courts to look at the bigger picture beyond the current "best interest" bias which deems that children will be better off adopted or in the care of other people rather than reunited with their undocumented, often poor or deported parents.

In Montes' case, the local child welfare department in Allegheny also recommended reunification. Felipe Montes said during the trial: “I did not abandon my children. I got taken away from them. I got deported.”

Cases like Felipe’s are evidence of an outrageous assault on the rights of children and parents. And it’s something that thousands of parents experience when their families are shattered due to detention and/or deportation. According to a recent report from the Applied Research Center, there are over 5,000 children currently in foster care who had their parents deported. In the next five years, another 15,000 could be separated from their parents forever unless we do something to change that.