Even before the Trump administration briefly made family separation official policy, migrant children were sometimes split from their parents at the U.S. border, and when those children are placed in foster care, things can get complicated quickly. The separated children are under custody of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, but states "typically run child-welfare system," The Associated Press reports, and the end result can be deported parents deprived of parental rights, their children adopted by American families.
After an extensive investigation, AP "identified holes in the system that allow state court judges to grant custody of migrant children to American families — without notifying their parents." "When state courts gain control of a child being detained by the federal government, that child can become invisible in the system."
AP focused on the story of Salvadoran national Araceli Ramos Bonilla and her daughter Alexa, separated from her mother at age 2 when they crossed into Texas and eventually placed into a foster home in Michigan while her mother was deported. The Michigan family convinced a rural state judge to grant them full custody of Alexa without Ramos' knowledge, and if federal prosecutors hadn't stepped in after Ramos waged a social media campaign, the family may well have adopted Alexa.
Alexa was finally returned to Ramos after 15 months, and it took several more months for Alexa to bond with her mother again and relearn Spanish. Some parents haven't been so lucky. And with hundreds of children still in detention or foster care from President Trump's "zero tolerance" policy, hundreds of separated parents deported, and more than 200 children deemed ineligible for reunification or release, "it's just a recipe for disaster," says former ICE director John Sandweg.
It's unjust to "give our children up for adoption without our permission," Ramos told AP. "They are our children, not theirs." You can read more about the Ramos case and flaws in the system at The Associated Press.