Photo: Felipe Montes
A North Carolina court postponed a decision in the case of an immigrant deported to Mexico who is fighting for the custody of his three U.S.-born children.
District Court Judge Michael Duncan heard for eight hours the arguments as to whether Felipe Montes, who lived in Sparta for nine years, is capable of bringing up his children in Mexico or whether it would be better to put them up for adoption.
The judge heard Thursday from the state Division of Social Services and set another hearing for May 29, when Montes’ attorney, Donna Shumate, will have the chance to argue the importance of reuniting the family.
“This is a complicated, difficult case, but we expect to win. I’ve had the support of other attorneys in different parts of the country, and we’ll prepare for our hearing,” Shumate said.
Felipe Montes’ nightmare began on a day in October 2010 that started out like any other. He made breakfast for his wife and children and got the kids ready for daycare.
Montes, 33, was the sole provider for the family and the children’s primary caregiver, as his wife - a U.S. citizen - suffers from an unspecified disabling mental illness.
Unable to get a driver’s license because he was undocumented, Montes had been arrested several times for driving without a license, but continued to drive so he could work.
When he went to court to pay his fines, two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were waiting for him.
They handcuffed him and transferred him to a detention center in Georgia, from where he was deported to Mexico on Dec. 3, 2010, as his wife was expecting the couple’s third child.
Soon after Felipe’s deportation, his wife, Marie Montes, lost custody of their children due to economic difficulties and a decline in her health.
Marie, 31, told Efe that she expects to join her husband in Mexico once the judge returns custody of the children to Felipe.
“He’s an excellent father,” she said, and noted that Montes is “desperate” to see his kids because “he loves them with all his heart and so do I.”
The woman told Efe that the DSS has not let her speak with or see her children and that has caused her stress and insomnia.
“I did what I could during the three months that I had the kids. I want them sent to him. I have health problems with my kidneys and I take medicine, but I repeat, I’m not a drug addict like say I am,” the mother said.
Montes is not an isolated case, according to the Applied Research report “Shattered Families,” which shows that more than 5,000 children of deported or detained immigrant parents are currently in foster homes.
DSS says the Montes children would be better off with their current foster families than with their dad in Mexico, because there is no running water where he lives.
The Mexican Consulate in Raleigh has been encouraging Montes and will offer the necessary assistance to reunite the father with his children if the court rules in his favor.