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Court to decide fate of illegal immigrants’ son

/ Source: The Associated Press

His mother isn't in the picture. His illegal immigrant father was deported.

Now, the 13-year-old waits for a Georgia court to decide his fate. Among the options: keeping the boy in the only country he's ever lived in, but as a ward of the state, or sending him to his father in Guatemala, a country he's never seen.

It's a tangled case that defies easy solutions. The boy is a U.S. citizen and says he wants to stay in his native country. His father, a bus driver without regular work, says he would gladly take his child — though he agrees the boy would be better off in the U.S.

But the teen has a history of behavioral problems, which make him hard to place with a foster family. His older brother, who is 16, lives with relatives in the U.S. But they have other children and are unable to care for the boy because of his problems.

A lawyer hired to represent the boy's interests says the state appears to be looking for a way to send him to Guatemala against his wishes, a move she likened to deportation.

Beatriz Illescas Putzeys, Guatemala's consul general in Atlanta, said she usually argues for family reunification, but in this case she is prepared to argue that the boy should stay here because he is a U.S. citizen and would have access to better education and counseling.

"It is highly unusual, totally unusual," Illescas Putzeys said. "What I have been dealing with most of the time is trying to get children sent back to Guatemala to their families."

The boy was born in Los Angeles in December 1995 to illegal immigrants — a father from Guatemala and a mother from El Salvador. His mother later abandoned the family and her whereabouts are unknown, according to Rebeca Salmon, a lawyer hired by the boy's court-appointed guardian. The boy's father, Edgar Ovidio Juares, 40, was arrested in June 2007 and deported to Guatemala last year, he told a lawyer in Guatemala.

Father's mixed feelings
In a recent phone interview with The Associated Press, Juares was conflicted about his son's fate. He said he wanted to have his son in Guatemala with him, but acknowledged the boy's quality of life would be better in the U.S.

"I don't want to lose contact with my son," he said, speaking in a mix of Spanish and English. "I want him here, but here it is hard to help him with the problems he has because we don't have much money.

"He said to me he doesn't want to come here," Juares said.

Salmon asked the AP not to identify the boy to protect his privacy. The case is being handled in Gwinnett County Juvenile Court, and juvenile cases are generally sealed to protect the child.

Salmon said she was hired by the boy's court-appointed guardian who believes the state plans to ask the court to send him to his father. She does not believe that is best for the child. The Associated Press has filed a motion seeking to open the court proceedings to the media to hear the discussion about what is in the child's best interest.

The boy has been in foster care since his father's arrest and has been moved from one home to another, nine in all, over about two years, Salmon said. She described him as rebellious and said he needs counseling. He now lives in a group home, but Salmon said she is seeking therapeutic placement for him. That would put him in a group home or with a family that is trained to handle children with special needs.

"Instead of solving the problems he has, he's just been shuffled from one place to another, and now they're out of places and they are trying to send him to a foreign country," Salmon said.

Guatemala prepared report
In an e-mail earlier this year, the state's Department of Human Resources, which oversees the Division of Family and Children Services, asked Guatemalan officials for a home evaluation for the family in Guatemala. An agency spokeswoman, Dena Smith, declined to comment on the state's plans for the boy, but said its priorities for every child are safety and permanency.

"Legally, we cannot talk about any open case of any child," Smith said. "Case plans are individualized and are based on the needs of the individual child."

A Guatemalan official wrote a letter to the Georgia child welfare division in July 2008 stating that the boy's aunt in Guatemala said he would be better off in the U.S. because of his "psychological and behavioral problems."

A more detailed home study was done in early 2009. A translation of the report provided to the AP says Juares lives with his father, the boy's paternal grandfather, that both are interested in having custody of the child, and it appears they can care for and protect him. But it also recommends the child's rights as a U.S. citizen, including access to a better quality of life, be taken into account.

The report says the grandfather, who is 67, earns up to $616 a month farming his land and operating corn mills. Juares earns about $18 a day as a bus driver but doesn't have regular work, it says. They live in a rural area with access to "basic public utilities such as water, electricity, elementary and basic education."

Several family law attorneys consulted by the AP said the situation is essentially a child custody case. They said that means the main responsibility of everyone involved — the courts, the court-appointed guardian and the state — is to find the solution that is in the child's best interest.

A hearing scheduled for earlier was postponed and has been rescheduled for July 20.

Illescas Putzeys said she had been prepared to argue at the June hearing that the child not go to Guatemala. She said she spoke with Juares before that date because her position as a consular official requires her to argue for the rights of Guatemalan citizens. She said it was important for her to ensure that Juares did not object to her arguing that the boy should stay in the United States.

"He says that he would like to be able to take care of him but he realizes he cannot," she said.