Stolen Babies? Immigrant Mother Loses Four Kids

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'I Don't Think There's Any Salvaging This Case'

Since then, she has been living outside Guadalajara, Mexico, with her sister, working nights on a factory assembly line making cell phones. She sleeps a few hours each morning in a borrowed bed and then waits by the phone in the corner.

She has to be there, she says, in case her lawyer calls.

Long after her deportation, Reyes Jimenez continued to fight two cases in the United States -- one in immigration court and another in family court.

Reyes Jimenez's three daughters are U.S. citizens. Reyes Jimenez and her attorneys spent two years trying to convince an immigration judge that she qualified for a visa on account of the harm that would be done to her three U.S. citizen children if she were to be deported. They lost -- twice.

That case is now being appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but there is no trial date in sight and little chance of success, explained Nina Rabin, an attorney with the University of Arizona's Immigration Law and Policy Program who represents Reyes Jimenez.

"I don't think there's any salvaging this case," Rabin said.

"But, meanwhile, all of this took time," she said -- time during which the child welfare system had to make decisions about the children.

There are strict time-lines in place to ensure that children in foster care are placed in permanent homes sooner rather than later, said Rabin. If Reyes Jimenez hadn't been kept in detention for two years, Rabin believes, she would have had a much better chance of keeping her kids.

Rabin released a report last year titled "Disappearing Parents" that focuses on Amelia Reyes Jimenez's case. It details the way in which parents like Amelia can slip through the cracks between two huge bureaucracies: the child welfare system and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

There are no policies in place, she says, to coordinate between the two systems. Caseworkers don't know how to find a parent in detention. Parents in detention are rarely released to attend family court hearings. They would be better off in jail, according to Rabin, where caseworkers know how to find you, jail personnel know where to send you and parents can meet the strict time-lines laid out by the family court.

In order to be reunified with their children, most parents will be given a plan to follow. They need to attend parenting classes, court hearings and show an effort to be part of their children's lives to prove they are fit parents.

But the family court in Reyes Jimenez's case listed in the record that "no services [were] available, due to mother's incarceration," according to Rabin. In detention, she had no way of meeting any of the court's usual requirements, so the court didn't give her any to meet. And, soon enough, it was too late.

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"It really puts parents in this terrible position of having to make a choice," said Rabin. "Do I fight my deportation and risk the clock ticking and facing termination of parental rights? Or do I take the deportation and try to fight from Mexico, or wherever I'm from, to get my child back?"

An Arizona court terminated Reyes Jimenez's parental rights in late 2011. The most recent publicly available information indicates that the children, who now no longer speak Spanish, are in foster homes and are in the process of being adopted. But Reyes Jimenez says she is determined to see her children again, to be their mother again.

"I'm not going to be satisfied until I'm back with them," she said.

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