Felipe Montes, an immigrant father who lost his three children to foster care when he was deported two years ago, was provisionally reunited with his three young children today in a North Carolina court.
“The court cannot find that the father is unfit,” County Judge Michael Duncan said from the bench in the Alleghany County courtroom shortly after noon. “The permanent plan is reunification with the father.”
The decision marks a major victory for Felipe Montes who faced permanent separation from his kids after local child welfare authorities and the children’s appointed Guardian Ad Litem recommended initially that the kids be adopted by foster families.
Montes is not yet free to take his three U.S. citizen sons, now 2, 3, and 5, to Mexico. After the ruling in court, the judge told the attorneys in chambers that the reunification would be a “trial placement” in Alleghany County, said Donna Shumate, Montes’s attorney. From December 7th until February 19th, the children are scheduled to live with their father in a local hotel.
It’s the same local hotel where Montes and his kids have visited with their father since August when he returned to the country on a rare humanitarian parole from federal immigration authorities. The parole, which was granted after a long application process so that Montes could attend his parental rights hearings, currently expires on December 23rd. Ann Robertson, an immigration attorney hired by the Mexican Consulate to represent Montes, said today she will apply for an extension so that he can remain in the country until the 19th of February.
Colorlines.com broke the Montes story in February. Soon after, the Latino advocacy group Presente.org gathered 20,000 signatures on a petition demanding Alleghany County reunify the boys with their father. In recent weeks, the Alleghany County Department of Social Services reversed it’s position and began recommending the children be returned to their father.
If all goes well for Montes during the trial placement, the Judge will close the child welfare case and grant Montes full rights over his children. The father plans to bring his children with him in Tamaulipas, Mexico, where he’s lived since he was deported for driving violations in 2010.
“I am happy, but I am waiting,” Montes said just after the hearing. “I have learned to be patient.”
Since his return, Felipe Montes has attended regular parenting classes and shared parenting responsibilities with the kid’s foster care providers.
Montes’s children were removed from the custody of his U.S. citizen wife Marie Montes shortly after he was deported.
Mrs. Montes, who is now pregnant, is currently incarcerated for parole violations related to driving violations. She has long struggled with drug addiction and mental health issues and could not continue taking care of their children, including a newborn baby, after her husband was deported.
The county child welfare department initially refused to place the boys with their father in Mexico, instead, arguing that they should be adopted by foster parents.
The foster parents, Brian and Marcie Galyean, who have cared for the two older boys Isaiah and Adrian, and Bob and Patricia Westlund, who have raised Angel since the baby was born, sat quietly in the second row of benches as the judge spoke. Mrs. Galyean and Mrs. Westlund began to cry when the judge ordered the boys move toward reunification. They have previously declined to speak with Colorlines.com and left the court room quickly after the hearing today.
In February, if the judge rules as expected to restore Montes’s parental rights and close the child welfare case, the children’s attorney advocate could appeal the decision.