In a highly unusual decision, the federal immigration enforcement agency, ICE, has granted a deported father temporary permission to enter the U.S. so that he can attend a court hearing regarding on his parental rights and the custody of his three young children. Yesterday, Felipe Bautista Montes walked out of the airport in Charlotte, N.C., and made his way to Sparta, the town where he lived for nearly a decade with his wife, Marie Montes, where his kids were born, and where the children now live in foster homes.

Montes was deported from his home nearly two years ago following repeated stops for driving without a license. After his deportation, Marie Montes, fell on hard times, struggling with mental health and addiction issues, and the local child welfare department removed the children from her custody, placing them in foster care.

Montes wants his children to be reunified with him in Mexico, where he’s lived since he was deported. But the Alleghany County child welfare department argues that the U.S. citizen children will be better off in the U.S., in the custody of non-relatives.

Following national and international media attention and the collection of over 20,000 signatures on a petition calling for the family’s reunification, the Mexican Consulate in North Carolina hired a private law firm to apply to ICE for what’s called Humanitarian Parole, or permission to enter the United States. Last week, the Mr. Montes received a call telling him that he’d been granted permission to attend his custody hearing.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” Montes told yesterday, shortly after his arrival in the U.S. “I didn’t really believe it until I got here.” Montes, who has been forced by ICE to wear an electronic ankle bracelet that tracks his movement, is required at intervals to check in with an ICE official in North Carolina.

ICE has rarely granted a permission like this one. A spokesperson wrote in an email to, “Under the authority of the Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, ICE provides temporary parole on rare occasions involving urgent humanitarian or public interest needs. Each circumstance is considered on a case-by-case basis.”

“This is the first time in my 11 years here that we’ve been successful in bringing someone back on humanitarian parole through the same agency that deported them,” said Carlos Flores, the consul general of the Mexican Consulate for the Carolinas. “We’ve gotten people here for short periods who just need to come into the country, but never someone who’s been deported.”

Ann Robertson, the attorney hired by the consulate to apply for the parole, was happily surprised by ICE’s decision. She says she doubts the parole would have been granted without the widespread attention from advocates and the press.

“This case had lots of attention,” said Robertson, of the flurry of nationwide media coverage after broke Montes’ story in February. “The whole country is watching it.”

Montes does not know when he will be allowed to see his children. For now, he waits for his hearing. “I want to make sure I do everything right here. My babies are the most important thing to me.”

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