Couple Says Arizona's Denying Them Custody of Their Granddaughter Because They're Undocumented

The parents of a teenager —  who recently was sentenced to five years in prison after authorities said she tried to hide her pregnancy by  throwing her newborn out of a window — said today they’ve been denied custody of their granddaughter because they’re undocumented.

Samantha Perez was 15 years old when she was raped by an adult family friend, something that wasn’t brought up during court proceedings, and became pregnant. She concealed the pregnancy from her family, and at 16 years old, gave birth secretly to a baby girl in the bathroom of her parents’ home in east Mesa.

In August, she was sentenced to five years in prison and lifetime probation after pleading guilty to attempted second-degree murder and child abuse. She also lost her parental rights and won’t be allowed to contact her daughter once she’s released. She also faces the threat of deportation because, like her parents, she is undocumented.

The baby girl was taken into Arizona Department of Child Safety custody, and her grandparents were allowed to visit her. But the visitation rights soon were taken away.

The grandparents said the Arizona Department of Child Safety deemed them unfit to be guardians of the child because they’re undocumented, even though there’s no state law that bars people from gaining custody of a child based on immigration status. A Maricopa County family court judge later sided with the department.

“I think that's unjust," grandfather Francisco Perez, tells a reporter in Spanish at a news conference organized by the immigrant-rights group Puente,. “Our status has nothing to do with our ability to take care of the baby.”

Perez and his wife have another daughter about the same age as their granddaughter. Puente director Carlos Garcia said if the state didn't think the girl's grandparents were fit to take care of their younger daughter, they would’ve already taken her away.

“I think that's unjust,” Francisco Perez, the child's grandfather, says of state's decision. “Our status has nothing to do with our ability to take care of the baby.”

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“This is an enormous injustice,” Garcia said. “This baby needs to be with her family.”

Garcia added that he knows of at least six other cases involving undocumented immigrants who’ve lost custody of their children. He insisted that the state is “using the fact that these people are undocumented as a way to disqualify them from being able to have custody.”

An Arizona Department of Child Safety representative could not be reached for comment. 

Samantha’s parents recently hired an attorney to help them get custody of their granddaughter. They said they don’t know if the child, whose name they declined to disclose, already has been put up for adoption.  

They also noted that they haven’t been able to see their daughter, who’s serving her sentence at an adult women’s prison in Perryville, because they aren’t able to get state-issued identification, a requirement for visitation at a state penal facility.. 

At the press conference, Garcia disputed authorities' version of what Samantha Perez did. He said Samantha put the baby on a windowsill and she accidentally fell off. 

“It’s been a really sad last two years,” Olivia Perez, Samantha’s mother, said. “Not only did we lose our daughter, but we lost our granddaughter. We don’t know where she’s at. We don’t know how she’s doing.” 
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