' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Deported Parents May Lose their Children to Adoption. Who's surprised? We are not.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Deported Parents May Lose their Children to Adoption. Who's surprised? We are not.

In the last couple of days, a heart-wrenching story about a little girl named Alexa who had been separated from her mother by U.S. immigration authorities at the border crossing into Texas has popped up. She was just two--28 months old--at the time she and her mother were separated; the mother says she was forced to sign away her rights to her daughter. More than a year would pass before Alexa was reunited with her mother. Adoption came into the picture--of course--through the notorious Bethany Christian Services who, not surprisingly, placed her with a couple who ultimately wanted to adopt Alexa.

This sounds like the same old story we've written about before: Separate a child from his or her mother, find a willing couple, and soon enough, the couple wants to keep the child permanently. It's an  old story.

In this case, the girl's natural mother, Araceli Ramos Bonilla, was back in El Salvador without her daughter within ten weeks of arriving at the
Texas border. She says an immigration agent forced her to sign a paper that allowed her daughter to be adopted; he told her she was a criminal in El Salvador, and Alexa was pried from her arms on the spot. Three days later, government records show, Alexa was listed as an "unaccompanied minor." A two-year-old who made the perilous journey from El Salvador alone? No bother, that's what some bureaucrat factotum checked off.

Initially, the girl was placed with a Spanish-speaking family in San Antonio; but months later she was transferred to Bethany in Michigan, who placed her with Kory and Sherri Barr of Grand Rapids, where Bethany is headquartered. The Barrs were members of the Christian Reform Church that is associated with Bethany, and they had fostered two Salvadorian sisters a few years earlier.

Though the Barrs had agreed in writing to not seek to adopt Alexa, they changed their minds. The girl was sent to "play therapy," and they became convinced that she had been abused by her mother, a charge that had been brought by her abusive husband, and Alexa's father, back in El Salvador. But that charge had been disputed by the man's own mother and dropped; yet the system never took that into account. Border agent says: You're a criminal, you have to go home, sign here and we'll take your daughter. Ramos Bonilla was seeking asylum from her husband, who had repeatedly hit her. A dent in the center of her forehead from one his beatings is a reminder of his violent temper.

While the federal system never would have allowed this adoption to move forward, it is individual state courts that control adoption, not the federal government. And in Michigan, and especially in Grand Rapids, Bethany holds a lot of sway. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and family members have sent more than $3.1 million to its coffers; a relative has worked for Bethany; another is on the board. Judges in the area, as well as local legislators, favor Bethany. Incidentally, the agency has used its considerable clout and money to keep the system of confidential intermediaries in Michigan in place, and not allow adoptees the full and clear right to their original birth certificates.

Nor surprisingly, their involvement in getting Alexa returned to her natural mother was non-existent, as they bought into the Barrs version of what was "best" for the girl. Months went by. Kory Barr pounded the judge's desk at one hearing, insisting the girl was being returned to her "abuser" if her mother got her back. An evaluator visited Ramos Bonilla several times, as well as her employer and family, and found no evidence of abuse.

Yet without a lawyer in Michigan, Ramos Bonilla might never have gotten Alexa back if she had not been inventive enough to weaponize the internet to make her case:  Around the time of the Michigan hearing, she posted a series of desperate videos speaking directly to the Barrs, to her daughter, to anyone who would listen. Hundreds of outraged comments on the videos followed, and the commotion eventually reached the Salvadoran government. Finally the Barrs gave up a month after the Justice Department--at the behest of the Salvadorian government--stepped in.

 By the time Alexa was returned to her mother in El Salvador, 15 months had gone by. She lost her Spanish and spoke only English; she barely recognized her mother. Where were her blonde, blue-eyes sisters? Where was Mama Foster, Papa Foster, which is what she called the Barrs.

That was in February of 2017. Alexa has since regained her Spanish tongue, and has bonded with her mother and brothers. She winds her arms around her mother's neck and waist; she whispers in her mothers' ear. The story has come to light now because two AP reporters, Garance Burke in Grand Rapids and Martha Mendoza in El Salvador, wrote about it a few days ago, from which much of this information is taken.

"Children traumatically separated from their parents are more likely to suffer from emotional problems through their lives, according to decades of scientific research," the pair wrote in their story that has been widely reprinted. "And some more recent studies have found that separation can damage a child's memory."

Does any of the data about child separation reach anybody at Bethany, in the White House, Donald Trump? In Missouri, an American couple managed to adopt a boy who had been living with his Guatemalan mother when she was picked up in a raid at a chicken processing plant, a story we followed. She continued a seven-year-legal battle to get back her son, but to no avail. In Nebraska, another Guatemalan mother did win her fight and got her kids back, but it took five years and more than a million in donated legal fees. Recently in New York, a judge held a hearing for a two-year-old, who was supposed to answer questions about her status; she did have a family back in Honduras--her paternal grandparents--who wanted her. Her maternal grandmother had brought her to America for a better life, but was separated from the girl, and then detained while the child ended up ultimately in New York. Fortunately that girl is going back to her paternal grandparents in Honduras.

The best guestimate as to how many children are in detention or in foster care while their parents were deported without them is 300. But no one really knows for sure. What we do know is that this policy of separating families and children is barbaric. It is something the Nazis did in their quest to create a pure Aryan society. We in America were supposed to be better than that. Trump has shown us that we are not.

It might be wiser to be less political at First Mother Forum, but I cannot help myself when mothers and fathers are ripped apart, when such punishing policies have become the law of our land, when I see on television when I can stand it people celebrating the man who has done this to our country. The midterm election is 26 days away. Make your voice heard. --lorraine dusky
Deported Parents May Lose Kids to Adoption
Migrant Children in Search of Justice: A 2-Year-Old’s Day in Immigration Court
Also from FMF

Guatemalan mother loses son to American couple

An immigrant fights for her son, illegally adopted

Kidnapped in Guatemala, 'adopted' in America

Lucky Girl
By Mei-Ling Hopgood
“With concise, truth-seeking deftness of a seasoned journalist, Mei-Ling delves into the political, cultural and financial reasoning behind her Chinese birth parents' decision to put her up for adoption. . . Cut with historical detail and touching accounts of Mei-Ling's "real" family, the Hopgoods, Lucky Girl is a refreshingly upbeat take on dealing with the pressures and expectations of family, while remaining true to oneself. Simple, to the point and uncluttered of the everyday minutiae, Mei-Ling Hopgood nails the concept of becoming one's own.”―Detroit Metro Times


  1. I often ponder what it would take to stop the adoption crime going on. It is so heart-rending to read about people being unjustly treated and frustrating that society not only allows this to go on but treats the perpetrators as if they are saints taking on poor supposedly unwanted children. My conclusion is that it would take MONEY, lots and lots of money, somebody or more than one somebody who sees the truth and wants to give a lot of money to fight this. Short of that, I don't know.

  2. Yes money is exactly what it would take. One reason the gay rights movement has been so successful is that wealthy gays got behind it. Money allows advocates to hire lobbyists and use top notch PR firms to change the narrative. There are wealthy first parents but none have stepped forward. Advocates cannot even get wealthy prominent adoptees to get behind open records which is less controversial.

  3. As for opening records, we need lots of angry people demanding their rights. It is not enough to ask politely because the legislators politely then say: What about the birth mother's right to stay anonymous?

    That's bogus, but that is how it goes. I always thought a break-in where the records are kept, maybe arrests, etc., would wake highlight the basic injustice of closed adoptions. I think changing the system in a place like New York takes more than money, it takes bodies. Lots of them. And people totally fed up and willing to shout down the nay-sayers.



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