Meridian Star

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March 12, 2014

Immigrant sues over lost custody of child in Miss.

JACKSON — A federal judge says a Mexican woman can proceed with a lawsuit against Mississippi's welfare agency and others accusing them of trying to wrest away a newborn girl she delivered while in the U.S. illegally.

No trial date has been set for the lawsuit, which the Southern Poverty law Center filed on behalf of Cirila Baltazar Cruz in 2010.

The SPLC said Cruz — who spoke no English and little Spanish— delivered her baby in November 2008 at Mississippi's Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula. Two days after the birth, the infant was taken from Cruz when the Mississippi Department of Human Services deemed the woman unfit, according to the lawsuit.

Cruz — who also could not read or write — had been interviewed by a hospital interpreter soon after giving birth. The interpreter spoke Spanish but not Chatino, a dialect indigenous to Cruz's native Oaxaca region of rural Mexico, the group's lawsuit alleges.

After talking with Cruz, the interpreter told one of the immigrant's relatives that Cruz was trading sex for housing and wanted to give the child up for adoption, according to the lawsuit. Cruz said in court papers that she tried to explain to the interpreter that she worked in a Chinese restaurant and lived in an apartment.

The SPLC argued in the lawsuit that the defendants deliberately failed to provide adequate language interpretation to communicate with Cruz, thus depriving her of the right to be heard and to challenge the allegations made against her.

Cruz was separated from her daughter for a year before her child was returned to her in 2010 after the intervention of the SPLC, a nonprofit U.S. civil rights organization that said it presses for immigrant justice, battles hate and extremism and helps children at risk.

Cruz and her daughter have since returned to Mexico.

In a ruling this week, U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate denied the immunity claims of two employees of the Pascagoula hospital and a caseworker with the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Those defendants had sought immunity for the lawsuit under Mississippi's Tort Claims Act.

The lawsuit names the department, which is Mississippi's welfare agency, along with Singing River Health System and others. It seeks monetary damages and alleges the state officials conspired to deny Cruz and her child their constitutional rights to family integrity.

The MDHS has declined comment on the case. Singing River has said it followed proper procedures. The attorney general's office did not immediately respond to a message left by The Associated Press.

SPLC staff attorney Michelle Lapointe said in a statement Wednesday that Cruz will have her day in court.

She lauded the judge for letting the lawsuit proceed.

"This decision means that state officials cannot violate with impunity a mother's constitutional right to raise her child. Immigrant parents — like all parents — have the right to keep their families together. Fabricating charges against a mother to separate her from her child is egregious," Lapointe said.


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New federal data show Mississippi received 179 unaccompanied children caught at the U.S. border this year. Gov. Phil Bryant wrote to President Barack Obama demanding the president pre-announce plans to send immigrants to Mississippi, saying Mississippi would block transports. Do you agree with Bryant?

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