October 25, 2014

Mexican immigrant gets baby back from state

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – A Mexican immigrant walked out of the Gartin Justice Building on Friday holding the daughter who had been taken from her by state officials in 2008, when advocates say she was accused of being an unfit mother because she doesn’t speak English.

Cirila Balthazar Cruz and her 1-year-old child, Ruby, were surrounded by Southern Poverty Law Center officials as they left. None of them would discuss details of the case, citing the confidentiality of Youth Court proceedings.

Because the records in the case are sealed, it is unclear what reason the state used to take custody of the child. However, immigrant advocates have said the child was taken because Cruz was an illegal immigrant and did not speak English.

“This is a very happy day for us,” SPLC legal director Mary Bauer told The Associated Press. “That is her baby.”

Friday’s proceeding before Special Judge Billy Bridges may not be the end of the case, which has led to a memorandum of understanding between Mississippi and the Mexican government and drawn the attention of immigration advocates nationwide.

“This is a fight that we are willing to take on beyond today, but we are absolutely not permitted to talk to you and no one thinks that’s a shame more than we do,” said Bauer. “This is certainly not the end of that.”

The main issue appears to be whether Mississippi acted appropriately when it took custody of Ruby.

When Cruz showed up at Singing River Hospital in Jackson County to give birth in November 2008, she didn’t speak English or Spanish. The only language she knew was Chatino, a dialect indigenous to Oaxaca in rural Mexico.

Cruz was interviewed by an interpreter at the hospital who spoke Spanish, but not Chatino. The Mississippi Department of Human Services was contacted and the agency took custody of the newborn after determining Cruz lacked the means to take care of the child.

Pascagoula Police Capt. Shannon Broom had said Cruz was walking to the hospital and appeared to be in distress when officers saw her. Broom said Cruz was living in an apartment on Orchard Road in Pascagoula.

“Shortly after getting her to the hospital, she gives birth to a little baby girl. That was the end of our involvement with the lady,” Broom said.

After the state took custody of the baby, the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance charged that no effort had been made by the state or the hospital to locate a Chatino-speaking interpreter for Cruz. MIRA located an interpreter for Cruz, who was living illegally in the United States, in early 2009.

DHS spokeswoman Julia Bryan did not immediately respond Friday to questions about the case.

The memorandum of understanding signed in August required Mississippi to inform the Mexican Consulate in New Orleans of any similar cases. A news release from Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs said Cruz’ situation was “a clear case of discrimination and violation of the most basic human rights of a Mexican citizen.”

The Mexican government, which praised the court decision Friday, said Balthazar and her daughter would return to Oaxaca accompanied by a Mexican consulate official.

Immigration advocates had been watching the case.

The Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities, which has offices in California, had sent a letter last year to Jackson County Youth Court Judge Sharon Sigalas urging her to consider the case’s “cultural and social factors.”

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