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Deported man may lose children born in North Carolina

In 2003, a man came to North Carolina seeking a better life. He came to this country illegally, but he soon married a U.S. citizen and had three children. He was their only source of support and income, as his wife had a mental disability. But immigration officials discovered and deported him to Mexico, splitting his family into pieces. His children now reside with two foster families because his wife cannot provide for them and authorities refuse to reunite them in Mexico.

The man drew the scrutiny of Immigration and Customs Enforcement when he received a string of license violations. At one time, North Carolina allowed people to obtain a driver's license using a variety of government identifiers, including a taxpayer ID number issued by the Internal Revenue Service. But in 2007, the General Assembly required that license applicants have a Social Security number, which the man did not have. Police in the man's small town would pull him over for no other reason than because they knew he did not have a valid license.

Soon after, he was deported. ICE, however, did not inquire about whether his wife was fit to care for the children. In fact, ICE does not operate under any officially created guidelines that would specify how the agency should deal with custody cases like this man's. According to one research group, approximately 5,100 children have been sent to foster parents after ICE deported one or both of their parents.

State officials have considered allowing the children to live with their father in Mexico, where he has a job and lives with relatives in a house that has many modern amenities. Officials refused, however, when they discovered the house lacked plumbing. Instead, the state has now sought to end the man's legal parental status. Authorities note that states rarely send children to live with deported parents once the state begins to care for them.

Immigration law is complex by itself. When it intersects with child custody laws, the combination can be byzantine. But an experienced immigration attorney can help immigrants fight for citizenship and access to their children.

Source: Associated Press, "NC deportation case highlights child welfare maze," Michael Biesecker and Gosia Wozniacka, Mar. 9, 2012.

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