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Latino Daily News

Tuesday June 14, 2011

Undocumented Grandparents Fight for Custody of U.S.-Born Grandchildren After Mother Dies

Undocumented Grandparents Fight for Custody of U.S.-Born Grandchildren After Mother Dies

Photo: Maria and Marcelo Martinez and their five young grandchildren

Click Here to Enlarge Photo

In Chicago, two grandparents are fighting for legal custody of their five grandchildren after their mother passed away from cancer, but the process is not as easy it would seem.

Maria Martinez and her husband Marcelo are undocumented immigrants living in the Chicago neighborhood of Berwyn, and have long taken care of their five grandchildren, ages 1 to 7, but they now fear the government will take the children from them.

The children’s mother Rosa, 25, died six months ago after a battle with cervical cancer and their father was long ago deported to Mexico due to domestic violence, which even included beating two of the toddlers.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has never questioned custody of the children until now, and Maria fears that they state will take them away because she and her husband are not in the country legally, though they have lived in the Chicago area for over 15 years.

The children are legal Illinois/U.S. residents, and as such, are entitled to free medical care, $400 a month in casg, and an additional $400 on a debit card to pay for food.

Without the help from the state, Maria doubts they would be able to afford taking care of the children.

“We’re undocumented, we don’t have much money and that scares me,” Maria said.

The United Church of Christ in Berwyn has organized help for the family and sent members of the church to Martinez home.

“We wanted to see the situation up close,” volunteer Hilda Burgos told EFE, “and we found a very difficult state of economic deterioration.”

In Burgos’ opinion, the grandparents run “a very high risk” of having the children taken away since they don’t have proper legal representation. Maria said she has been assured by a social worker that the children won’t be taken away, but Burgos is wary of such a claim.

“No one has a clear idea of the custody process and in fact someone could be lying to them,” said Burgos.

The church has helped collect money for legal aid for the grandparents, and Burgos said “it’s enough to try and avoid a tremendous injustice.”