Families of children seized from a polygamist sect's Texas ranch could flee the state if they regain custody, child welfare authorities said Tuesday as they urged the state Supreme Court to block a ruling that found the removals to be improper.
Updating an earlier appeal, Texas Child Protective Services lawyers argued that if the custody orders are rescinded, parents could take the children out of the state and "no Texas court would have any authority to enter any orders to protect these children."
The Third District Court of Appeals ruled last week that the state failed to show that the youngsters were in any immediate danger, the only grounds under Texas law for taking children from their parents without court action.
The state filed its initial appeal Friday, arguing that Texas law gave a lower-court judge discretion on whether to remove the children.
About 440 children were taken into custody from the sect's Yearning For Zion Ranch near Eldorado more than six weeks ago after someone called a hot line claiming to be a pregnant, abused teenage wife.
The girl has not been found and authorities are investigating whether the calls were hoaxes.
Child welfare authorities have argued that all the youngsters should be removed from the ranch because the sect forces underage girls into marriage and sex. Members of the sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, claim they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, including that polygamy brings glorification in heaven.
The FLDS has broken away from the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago. FLDS members are concentrated in two towns along the Arizona-Utah line, but there also are enclaves in Colorado, South Dakota and British Columbia.
The appeals court ruling technically applied only to the 124 children of 38 mothers who filed a complaint against the state for taking their children. State officials acknowledged Tuesday that the ruling could harm their case with the hundreds of other children from the ranch.
The state's court filing Tuesday also said DNA testing of potential parents of the children is not yet complete and that children could be returned to sexual predators if the court doesn't rule in its favor. The first DNA results are expected next week.