After 21-months separated from his children, a deported father who was allowed back to the United States on August 1 to fight for his parental rights will have wait another two weeks for his court hearing. Felipe Bautista Montes was originally scheduled to appear in the Alleghany County, N.C. courthouse today where a judge was expected to decide the next steps in the parental rights case. But this morning, court officials told reporters gathered at the courthouse that the presiding judge would not appear in court, citing health issues.
"I have been waiting for this for so long," Montes told Colorlines.com this afternoon after he heard the news of the postponement. "I'm getting desperate. I thought today was the day."
Montes, who was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was deported from rural Sparta, N.C. in late 2010 for repeated traffic violations. His three U.S.-born children were soon removed from the custody of his wife, Marie Montes, who could not support the children without her husband, the primary caretaker and breadwinner in the family. But the county child welfare department refused to respect the family's requests that the kids be placed with Mr. Montes in Mexico. Isaiah and Adrian, the couples 4 and 2-year-old children, were placed in one foster home and their baby, Angel, who was born weeks after Montes was detained, in a separate home.
Montes's case has made national headlines since February when Colorlines.com broke his story and Presente.org launched a petition calling for the reunification of the family. After over 21,000 people signed the petition, the Mexican consulate in North Carolina applied to federal immigration authorities for a permit for Montes to return to the United States to attend his hearing and try to reunite with his children. Montes was granted a 90-day "humanitarian parole" and on August 1 he flew into the Charlotte, N.C. airport. Consular officials say the grant is the first of its kind for a deported parent.
It's unclear if Felipe Montes will be allowed to visit with his children while he waits for the hearing, now scheduled for August 24. On Tuesday, the child welfare department allowed him to see his youngest child, and last week he saw the two older children for the first time since his deportation. As Felipe left the visitation room at the social services office, Isaiah asked his father, "Will you take us with you, daddy, will you adopt us?"
"No," Montes replied, "I don't have to adopt you, you're my babies, you'll go with me as soon as I fix everything."
Donna Shumate, Montes's court appointed attorney, walked out of the historic brick courthouse this afternoon and told Colorlines.com, "Felipe is disappointed but we're moving forward."
Montes's case is one of thousands around the United States in which children of deported parents are stuck in foster care. In many of these cases, child welfare departments and juvenile courts argue that it's in the best interest of the U.S.-citizen children to stay with foster care providers rather than be returned to their parents in another country. An unknown number of these children have been adopted and deported parents are severed from all contact with their kids.