The Love of a Mother Transcends Language

Mother & ChildWhat makes a good mother? Is it her ability to love and nurture her children? Is it her ability to provide them with the emotional, physical and spiritual support they need?

Or is it her ability to speak English?

Most people would choose love, nurture and support. But in courtrooms across the country, this seemingly easy question has led to illogical, unconstitutional and immoral results.

Last month, Time magazine highlighted the recent Mississippi case of Cirila Baltazar Cruz, an undocumented immigrant from rural Mexico, who speaks only Chatino, an indigenous language. Last November, she gave birth to a baby girl, Rubí. The hospital called the state Department of Human Services (DHS), which determined that Baltazar Cruz was an unfit mother in part because her lack of English “placed her unborn child in danger and will place the baby in danger in the future.” DHS argued that since she had failed to learn the English language, she was unable to call for assistance for transportation to the hospital. Rubí was taken from her and in May a county judge gave Rubí to a couple. Baltazar Cruz is challenging the ruling, with the help of the Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Unfortunately, based upon the Time article and our experience, this is not an isolated event.

State agencies taking children from their immigrant mothers is an outrageous violation of fundamental human and constitutional rights. Before a state attempts to force a breakup of a family, the state must prove parental unfitness. A loving mother who is trying to support her children is not an unfit parent simply because she lacks proficiency in the English language.

Baltazar Cruz’s fight in a Mississippi court to regain custody of her infant daughter may seem like a long way from Nebraska; however, we continue to see and hear of examples of the discrimination and inequality of immigrant families in the child welfare system. This is a priority issue for Nebraska Appleseed and we will continue to work to ensure that children are not taken away from loving and nurturing immigrant mothers and fathers simply because of the parents’ country of origin, immigration status, or because they lack proficiency in the English language.

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