One family in Dalton, Ga. is fighting to be reunited after the mother and father were stripped of their parental rights. The juvenile court judge ruled that Ovidio and Domitina Mendez were unable to care adequately for their five children, all of whom have complicated medical needs, according to The Chattanooga Times Free Press. But advocates working on behalf of the Mendez family argue the parents’ inability to speak English and illegal immigration status were the deciding factors in the case.
The five Mendez children, aged three through seven, are currently living with a foster family who is trying to adopt them. All five children have disabilities and have been diagnosed with a possible mitochondrial disorder. The cost of caring for the children is high and the foster parents receive $90,000 per year to care for the children, The Times Free Press reports. Additionally, the children must be taken to dozens of doctor’s visits and therapy sessions each month.
Ovidio and Domitina Mendez moved to the United States from a village in Guatemala. Further complicating communication issues, the couple’s first language is Mam, not Spanish. They currently work in carpet factories although they are not authorized to be in the country. According to The Times Free Press, the Mendez’s attorney is working to help them change their immigration status because they have lived in the United States for more than 10 years and their children were born here.
Immigration status is not enough to terminate parental rights, the Times Free Press reports. But according to Bart Barnwell, the attorney who represented the children in court, cultural differences have been the major barrier for the parents.
Many Latinos, such as Ovidio and Domitina Mendez, are employed in Dalton's carpet factories. A Times Free Press story from June reported on roadblocks by Dalton police. Many in the community are concerned the police are targeting hispanics by placing the roadblocks near entrances to the carpet factories or in mostly Latino neighborhoods.
Bruce Kling, special assistant attorney general for Whitfield County Department of Family and Children's Services, said during closing arguments of the Mendez’s custody hearing that the children’s medical needs were the primary reason whey they were taken from their parents.
“We basically have two individuals with first- to second-grade educations,” he said. “And although they have the capacity to love and care for their children, they do not have the capacity to understand their immense medical needs to properly address them."
Ovidio Mendez did enroll in English classes at Dalton State Community College but he stopped going because of the cost and time commitment, The Times Free Press reports. Still, Spanish is a second language for the parents, making learning English even more difficult.
Marcia Zug, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, told The Times Free Press, “Many of the child welfare workers may think it's better for an American child to be raised in the U.S. by an American family. Given the anti-immigrant feeling in the country, people are more sympathetic to these arguments."
Photo: Flickr, Wagner Cassimiro