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Mother and Child Caught in Unusual Immigration and Child Custody Battle

border-patrol-637725_640Since being detained by Texas Border Patrol agents some three years ago, Dora Beltrán’s son has been moved between different shelters and detention centers across five states. As Dora continues to fight for her son’s freedom, casual observers may think that her family’s immigration status is the problem.

But it’s not. Dora is a legal permanent resident. Moreover, an immigration judge had already ruled that her son would not be deported from the country.

Still, her teenage son remains incarcerated as Dora wages war with federal officials over whether they can continue to keep her from her child. Although she and her family had lived in Texas for years, her son had run away and was spotted by border patrol agents near the Mexican border. And because he was only 14 at the time, government officials treated him as an unaccompanied minor.

Mother’s Ability in Question

Subsequently, an immigration judge ruled that that the teenager did not have to be deported. But this did not stop federal officials from deciding that the boy should be held in a detention center, citing his history of being a self-described runaway and drug user, as well as his association with criminal gangs. Federal authorities believe this is proof of Dora’s inability to supervise and keep her child safe.

Beltrán’s lawyers countered that federal officials should have released their client’s son immediately after the immigration judge’s ruling. Dora’s lawyers are set to argue that she is entitled to a custody hearing just as she would in any child welfare system.

Government to Vet Adult Guardian First

But federal officials and a recent ruling by an appeals court say that Dora’s son was apprehended as an “unaccompanied minor,” and thus cannot be released without the government thoroughly vetting Dora’s ability as a legal guardian.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency under the Department of Health and Human Services, has formal authority over locating and vetting adult sponsors for unaccompanied migrant children while their immigration cases are being processed. The office, however, does not track the number of children who remain in custody after the resolution of their immigration cases despite having parents in the United States.

Dora’s son belongs to a small percentage (roughly 1 percent or 60,000 individuals) of unaccompanied minors held in juvenile detention facilities across the country this year. The identity of Dora’s son has not been disclosed because he is still a minor at age 17.

Government lawyers involved in the case of Beltrán’s son say parents are not automatically entitled to a hearing when the resettlement office assumes custody. According to a recent filing Alexandria’s U.S. District Court, this setup would “overwhelm the entire system.”

If you or a loved one is caught in this kind of problem, discuss your legal options with the immigration law experts of the Lyttle Law Firm. Find out how we can help you by calling our offices today at (512) 215.5225.