UPDATE [4:00 p.m. EST]
Arguments in the case over Felipe Montes’s parental rights came to a close today. Judge Michael Duncan told parties in the Alleghany County courthouse in Sparta, NC that he will reach a decision on the widely reported case next week.
His decision will determine the fates of Felipe Montes, who was deported two years ago for driving violations, and of his three children, who are currently in foster care.
The hearing, which ended this afternoon, was dominated by the children’s legal advocate who previously argued that Montes’s three children should be adopted. In court today, the advocate recommended instead that the children remain with their foster families but in a guardianship arrangement rather than through adoption. This would allow Montes some maintain some contact with the boys even if they stay in the United States.
Montes’s attorney pushed back, maintaining that her client’s parental rights should remain fully intact, and that the children should be reunified with him, whether he’s in the United States or Mexico. The decision is now firmly in the Judge’s hands.
“It’s been a lengthy trial, it’s been emotional, it’s been complicated, at times it’s been frustrating,” Judge Duncan said in closing.
Ultimately, “this case is all about three children,” he added. “This case will have long lasting, far reaching effects on these children and I do not take that lightly.”
A final ruling is expected on November 27th.
Testimony in Felipe Montes’s protracted legal case for his parental rights is expected to come to a close today. A final decision in the closely watched case is near.
Montes, a deported father who was allowed to return to the country on a rare humanitarian permit from the government, took the stand yesterday in Alleghany County, North Carolina to ask the judge to reunite the family.
“Why do I fight?” he said yesterday, in response to a question from his attorney, Donna Shumate. “Because I did not abandon my children. I got taken away from them. I got deported.”
The hearing yesterday was dominated by an aggressive line of questions from Louise Paglen, the children’s court appointed attorney advocate, and testimony from Jennifer Robinson, a volunteer Guardian ad Litem. Together they are tasked with representing the children’s best interests.
Paglen and Robinson, who at times appeared to act equally as representatives of the foster families who sat in benches behind them and as advocates for the children, argued that Montes was a neglectful parent before he was deported and that he could not provide for them in Mexico.
As the hearing drew to a close, Paglen suggested that Montes’s immigration history was evidence of criminal proclivity. In a series of questions about how Montes could guarantee he’d adhere to the judge’s conditions if the boys were sent to Mexico, she suggested Montes’s undocumented status made him untrustworthy.
“So your testimony is that you are going to follow the rule of law?” she asked.
“But you didn’t follow the rules when you decided to follow the country illegally,” she added.
“The truth,” she said, “is that you pick and choose which laws you will follow.”
The legal advocate’s position stood in contrast to the Alleghany County Department of Social Services’s position. After advocating for over a year to terminate Montes’s parental rights, a county social worker said on the stand that the county now supports reuniting the family.
Santiago Reales, a caseworker for the county who assumed responsibility for the case in August, said on the stand that the county’s position had evolved.
“The plan has changed to reunification,” Reales said in court.
Mr. Montes, an undocumented immigrant, was deported for driving violations in late 2010 and his three young children were placed in foster care in Alleghany County, North Carolina. The child welfare department initially refused to consider reuniting the children with their father in Mexico, arguing that the kids, now two, three and five-years-old, would fare better if adopted by foster families.
The change aligns with the demand of a campaign launched in February by the Latino advocacy group Presente.org. After Colorlines.com broke Montes’s story in February, Presente.org launched a petition calling on Alleghany County to reunite the boys with their father. More than 20,000 people signed. Though the child welfare department did not immediately change its position, it now has.
Testimony is expected to conclude today and Judge Michael Duncan will then be tasked with deciding the Montes family’s fate.