A Mexican man who was deported to his country last year is fighting with North Carolina over custody of his three U.S.-born kids, who state authorities want to put up for adoption.
Felipe Montes' nightmare began one morning in October 2010 when he got up - as he did every day - to prepare breakfast for his wife and children and to get them ready to go to daycare.
Montes had lived for 9 years in Allegheny County, North Carolina, where he was the sole provider for his family, given that his wife - a U.S. citizen - could not work because she had become disabled.
Unable to get a driver's license because he was undocumented, Montes had been arrested several times for driving without a license, and although he was charged with those crimes and was ordered not to drive any more, he risked driving anyway so that he could take care of his family.
When he went to court to pay his fines, two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were waiting for him.
"They didn't let him speak with his wife or say goodbye to his children, whom he had cared for and loved since they were born. This is another example of the growing number of separated families who are suffering due to a broken immigration system," Arturo Carmona, the executive director of Presente.org, told Efe.
The organization, with the cooperation of the Applied Research Center, on Tuesday started an online petition campaign to ask the Allegheny County Department of Social Services to reconsider its decision to terminate Montes' parental rights.
Less than a year after Felipe's deportation, his wife, Marie Montes, lost custody of their children due to economic difficulties and a decline in her health.
Marie told the publication Colorlines.com: "If they can't be with me, I want them to be with him. Nobody is a better father than he is."
On Feb. 21, a judge will hear the arguments of the DSS that the children, all of whom are under age 5, would be better off with their current foster families than with Montes in Mexico, because there is no running water where he lives.
"Being poor isn't a crime," emphasized Carmona. "Montes has done everything possible to recover his children and for them to live with him. He has everything prepared in Mexico."
"In this world there are many injustices. At the very least, I would like them to send my kids to Mexico," Montes told Colorlines.com.
The Applied Research report "Shattered Families" revealed that more than 5,000 children of deported parents or in ICE custody are currently in adoptive homes.
In just the first six months of 2011, there were more than 46,000 cases involving deported mothers and fathers who had left their U.S.-born children behind.
More than a fifth of the 391,000 undocumented immigrants deported last year were the parents of U.S. citizens.
North Carolina is one of the states with the highest rates of those cases and so the Presente.org petition includes a request that the state Division of Social Services develop clear policies to ensure the rapid reunification of families separated by the deportation of one of the parents.
Carmona told Efe that his organization is ready to "exhaust all avenues" to reunify the family and prevent the children from being adopted.
"This is a question of human rights, it's something immoral, because they are taking away the right a father has to raise his children," he said.