JACKSON — Mississippi’s attorney general has asked a federal court to throw out a lawsuit filed on behalf of a Mexican illegal immigrant who claims the state welfare agency and a hospital conspired to take her newborn to give to a white couple for adoption.
U.S. Magistrate Linda R. Anderson has set a Dec. 15 conference for the case that’s at the heart of a national debate over parental rights of illegal immigrants who give birth to children while in the United States.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit in August against the state Department of Human Services, two social workers, Singing River Health System and a hospital interpreter.
In documents filed in U.S. District Court, Attorney General Jim Hood has asked that the complaint be dismissed.
Singing River Health Systems also denied the allegations of the suit in a separate filing.
“This complaint has been baseless and without accurate facts from the beginning. It is a shame that the Health System has even had to defend itself and its employees against such ridiculously frivolous charges,” Richard Lucas, a hospital spokesman said this week.
The suit alleged Cirila Baltazar Cruz’s constitutional right to family integrity were violated after she gave birth to a baby girl at the hospital in November 2008.
Cruz — who spoke no English and little Spanish and could not read or write — was interviewed by a hospital interpreter. The interpreter spoke Spanish, not Chatino, a dialect indigenous to Cruz’s native Oaxaca in rural Mexico, the lawsuit alleges.
The suit alleged the interpreter told officials that Cruz was trading sex for housing and wanted to give the child up for adoption. After social workers for DHS intervened, Cruz’s child was taken into state custody and placed in the home of the white couple, who work as attorneys.
Cruz said in the court filing that she tried to explain to the interpreter she worked in a Chinese restaurant and lived in an apartment.
Cruz and her daughter were separated for a year while the child was in the couple’s care. The mother and child were reunited in November 2009 and have since returned to Mexico.
Hood declined to comment on the case beyond what can be found in the court documents that were filed Oct. 26. Hood’s office contends the suit should be dismissed because it fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted, among other reasons.
“What they’re saying is that even if everything we say is accurate, they haven’t done anything illegal. We find that to be an extraordinary position. These entities and defendants did conspire to take this woman’s baby illegally from her. On its face, that’s a pretty strong accusation of illegal conduct,” said Mary Bauer, legal director of the law center.
The suit also claimed officials had contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs officials about Cruz’ status.
There have been similar cases around the country.
Last year, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Guatemalan woman who had lost custody of her children after she was arrested and deported. Justices said Nebraska officials didn’t prove Maria Luis was an unfit mother when they terminated her parental rights.
Luis had been charged with obstructing justice for falsely identifying herself to authorities. After she was deported, her two children — one of whom was born in the U.S. — were placed in foster care. Attorneys say Luis didn’t have time to file an appeal to regain custody before she was deported.
“The state of Nebraska didn’t want to send the kids to Guatemala. They thought it was in the best interest of the children because living conditions in the U.S. were superior to Guatemala,” said Luis’ attorney Omar Riojas of DLA Piper LLP.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., filed a bill in 2009 requiring state child welfare systems to assign case workers who can communicate in the native language of the child and their family, or provide an interpreter who can facilitate the meetings. There’s been little action on the measure.
Riojas said he and other immigrants’ rights attorneys are closely watching the Cruz case.
“States shouldn’t be trying to determine which countries offer a better lifestyle,” Riojas said Wednesday. “Immigration law should have no bearing whatsoever on the decision to terminate parental rights,” he said.
Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press