Last, year, the custody battle over Carlos landed in the Missouri Supreme Court, where judges called it "a travesty of justice." The court reversed the decision to terminate Bail Romero's rights as a parent and sent the case back to the original court for a retrial, which is set for Feb. 28.
Some who push for tougher enforcement of immigration laws say the parents in such cases are to blame. "When parents break the law, they undertake a certain amount of risk that there are going to be consequences," said Daniel Stein of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
"Anyone can feel for the torment that this poor woman is going through, recognizing that she doesn't have the educational and the language capabilities to fully defend and vindicate her rights," said Stein.
"Nevertheless, she knew she came to this country illegally, she knew she broke the law," he told ABC News.
Bail Romero cries and clutches a tiny passport photo of her son as she talks about him. It's the only picture she has of him. She knows that the two no longer speak the same language and that he won't recognize her when he sees her, but she has faith that she will see her son again soon.
"I know he needs me," she said. "He needs me a lot because I'm the mother of Carlitos."
The Mosers argue that it is better for Carlos to stay with them, not in Guatemala with his mother after her impending deportation.
"In terms of best interest, I mean, that almost goes without saying," the Mosers' attorney, Joseph Hensley, told the court in 2008, according to a brief filed by Bail Romero's attorneys. "[This] child is an American citizen. The mother is a Guatemalan citizen, and she will be returning to Guatemala. ... I think the best interest standard always weighs very, very, heavily in favor of my clients."
Bail Romero says she's thankful to the Mosers for taking care of her son, "but, as Carlitos' mother, I need him to be with me," she said, "because I'm his real mother."
This is the first story in a series from the Brian Ross Investigative Unit's 2011 Carnegie Fellows, five student journalists who initiated and led a reporting project on the impact of the federal government's enforcement of immigration law. The journalists are Lauren Gilger, Charles Gorra, Josh Haskell, Robin Respaut, and Selly Thiam.