Migrant Children Can Be Quietly Adopted While Their Parents Are Deported


Bella Trimmer, Staff Writer

An AP investigation has revealed a rather disconcerting turn of events regarding the fate of migrant children when their parents are deported; some of them are being quietly adopted by Americans, giving away their custody without notifying their parents. This is an unthinkable scenario for any parent.

While the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy ended in June, there are still hundreds of children who remain separated from their parents, remain in detention centers, shelters, and foster care. While federal officials insist that they are still working to reunite these families, this AP investigation reveals a dark underside of federal efforts.  

The investigation focused primarily on one individual case: that of Araceli Ramos Bonilla, an asylum-seeker from El Salvador, and her 2-year-old daughter, Alexa. Bonilla fled to the U.S from El Salvador to escape her abusive partner, Alexa’s father, in 2015, under the Obama administration. She was arrested when she crossed the border with her daughter; while she was placed in detention, Alexa was placed into foster care. A few months later, Bonilla was deported, unable to afford a lawyer to argue her asylum case. “She says she was forced by an agent to sign a waiver to leave her daughter behind,” AP reports.

When initially ordered to return Alexa to her mother in December of 2016, Alexa’s foster parents sued. They eventually came to believe that Alexa would be abused by her mother if she were to return to her home country; it took 28 minutes, AP reports, for a judge in rural Michigan to grant Sherri and Kori Barr temporary guardianship of Alexa. Neither the girl’s mother, nor her immigration attorney were notified that this hearing was taking place.

Legally, when a parent is deported without their child, that child is not allowed to be permanently adopted. In early 2017, prosecutors argued that the foster parents had obtained guardianship of Alexa in violation of federal law. The Barrs subsequently dropped their petition to keep their guardianship of Alexa. The young girl was returned to her mother in El Salvador, where she has been living ever since. “This case is indicative of larger loopholes in the immigration system,” the AP contends. Because state governments tend to run child-welfare systems, inconsistencies between federal law and its application at the state level are frequent. This issue needs to be addressed, especially given that 300 parents were deported without their children just this past summer, according to President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.