Posted: 18 Dec 2008 04:59 PM CST
After being contacted by Mary Ramos, who is a victim of coerced adoption in violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act, I reviewed her story and had the opportunity to talk for an hour and a half about the legal battle she finds herself in regarding her son Elijah, where the judge ruled against her after ignoring blatant fraud, coercion, and violation of ICWA. After hearing her story, I find myself compelled to share it with my readership.
In many cases, my research has indicated that Florida’s laws are so loose as to allow adoption schemes, coercion, and traps that are not overturned by legal challenges – even in the case of Mary Ramos, who contacted the agency in order to rescind her paperwork within the allotted three days. As my research has found, once you are targeted by a Florida Adoption Agency – “you are screwed”… and the courts are unlikely to support challenging mothers fighting paperwork they signed under pressure from these agencies.
However, in Mary’s case, there was a simple fact that was overlooked – Mary is a Native American, registered with the Avogel tribe of Louisiana – with a certified note from the Tribal Chief, blood records, birth certificates, and registry information to support her tribal belonging. This makes her child, by rules of the tribe, a registered member of the Avogel tribe – and as such, subject to the rules and regulations of the ICWA – Indian Child Welfare Act of Congress (circa 1979):
§ 1901. Congressional findings
- that clause 3, section 8, article I of the United States Constitution provides that “The Congress shall have Power * * * To regulate Commerce * * * with Indian tribes ” and, through this and other constitutional authority, Congress has plenary power over Indian affairs;
- that Congress, through statutes, treaties, and the general course of dealing with Indian tribes, has assumed the responsibility for the protection and preservation of Indian tribes and their resources;
- that there is no resource that is more vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children and that the United States has a direct interest, as trustee, in protecting Indian children who are members of or are eligible for membership in an Indian tribe;
- that an alarmingly high percentage of Indian families are broken up by the removal, often unwarranted, of their children from them by nontribal public and private agencies and that an alarmingly high percentage of such children are placed in non-Indian foster and adoptive homes and institutions; and
- that the States, exercising their recognized jurisdiction over Indian child custody proceedings through administrative and judicial bodies, have often failed to recognize the essential tribal relations of Indian people and the cultural and social standards prevailing in Indian communities and families.
- in the case of forced termination of parental rights. Mary Ramos has the ability (but not the means) to appeal the ruling of Florida Judge Arthur M Birken for a number of procedural and evidentiary irregularities – but the major source of concern is that the Judge threw out ICWA in the ruling and the adopting agency failed to notify the BIA or the Avogel Indian Tribe, in violation of 25 CFR § 23.11A.
A ruling in the Colorado Jefferson County District Court addressed this issue on November 30, 2006 – stating such:
Congress enacted the ICWA because of concerns over the involuntary separation of Indian children from their families for placement in non-Indian homes. B.H. v. People in Interest of X.H., 138 P.3d 299 (Colo. 2006). The purpose of the ICWA is to protect Indian children who are members of or are eligible for membership in an Indian tribe. 25 U.S.C. § 1901(3) (2000). The Colorado General Assembly has expressly provided for compliance with, and consistent application of, the ICWA. See § 19-1-126, C.R.S. 2006.
The ICWA promotes the best interests of Indian children and protects the stability of Indian tribes. The ICWA is based on the presumption that the protection of an Indian child’s relationship with the tribe is in the child’s best interests. People in Interest of A.T.W.S., 899 P.2d 223 (Colo. App. 1994).
The ICWA applies when the state seeks to place an Indian child in foster care and when the state seeks to terminate parental rights. See 25 U.S.C. §§1911, 1912 (2000). Under those circumstances, whenever the court knows or has reason to know that an Indian child is involved, the party seeking placement or termination must provide notice to the child’s tribe or his or her parent’s tribe, or to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (the BIA) if the tribe cannot be identified or located. 25 U.S.C. § 1912(a) (2000); see also People in Interest of A.N.W., 976 P.2d 365 (Colo. App. 1999).
If notice is not given in compliance with the provisions of 25 U.S.C. § 1912, the tribe may petition to invalidate the order terminating parental rights. 25 U.S.C. § 1914. The tribe may raise the issue of inadequate notice in the first instance in this court, as the ICWA specifically provides that the issue of inadequate notice may be raised in “any court of competent jurisdiction.”25 U.S.C. § 1914; see In re L.A.M., 727 P.2d 1057 (Alaska 1986); In re Antoinette S., 104 Cal. App. 4th 1401, 129 Cal. Rptr. 2d 15 (2002).
In this case, the state was removing Native children to foster care due to violent criminal and drug related behavior of the father. The children belonged to the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. The court ultimately upheld the appeal, rejecting the termination of parental rights based on the failures in the notification process required for removing native children from native family members. In Mary’s case, the question of state mandated child removal versus consent of adoption (with reversal of decision within the short period of time allowed) needs to be answered.
In discussing this issue with Mary, a substitute teacher and avid member of her church, she described the events leading up to the initial contact with the adoption agency. There was serious financial and mental hardships which caused an increased depression, which led to her new husband to suggest contacting the agency. The husband is not the biological father of the child, Elijah, nor is he the father of Mary’s 10 year old daughter (9 at the time of the court ruling). Mary’s contact with the adoption agency led to immediate, consistent, and persistent contact by the agency convincing Mary that adoption was the best option for the 1 ½ year old boy. The process, as well as the persistence, placed Mary under a great deal of duress, resulting in the eventual coercion to meet a family, sign the paperwork, and turn over her child. Florida law allows a 3 day period in which the biological parents can reconsider their actions – which Mary did. The adoption agency was given a telephone call, which was met with resistance and a notice that Faxing such a request to renege would not be allowed – which meant that a 4 hour trip would be necessary to file such paperwork, causing Mary’s filing time to be in excess of the 3 day grace period. In the end, Mary lost her child on a technicality – with full intent of keeping her child. A technicality which the Florida judge wrongly upheld.
Mary has not seen her son, a picture or otherwise, since October 2007.
Mary showed intent to repeal the adoption within the mandated time, made an attempt to stop the process within that same time, and as such, this ruling became a case of forced removal – by the judge – in violation of ICWA.
The judge did not find Mary unfit to be a mother, else she would have lost her eldest child, Autumn. The judge ruled on behalf of the agency, upholding their right to terminate Mary’s Parental Rights – but did so with the following irregularities:
1. Allowed Mary’s attorney to remove himself from the case (after collecting
$10,000) the day before trial. The judge allowed a continuance of about 6 weeks,
which was a time insufficient for Mary to find proper legal counsel – Mary
ultimately had to represent herself.
2. The removed attorney was a childhood friend of the judge, and spent some time working as a clerk for the judge – the judge ruled that he would allow the attorney to leave the case.
3. The judge knowingly allowed perjured testimony from the notary public, provided legal advice to her from the bench, and therefore knowingly allowed fraudulently
notarized documentation as evidence against Mary.
4. The judge dismissed any request from the Avogel tribe to be made party to the suit, any acknowledgement of the ICWA procedures (as this was a case about forced adoption), and dismissed jurisdiction complaints from the Chief of the Avogel Tribe.
5. Mary’s date for a retrial was set 2 days before she was delivered the order of the court, making it impossible for a request for retrial.
This leaves Mary with no choice but to appeal – leaving her appeal date as December 25th 2008. Mary is left without legal counsel, without funds to acquire counsel, and without sufficient knowledge of legal rules to properly file an appeal that won’t be thrown out on a simple technicality (such as using an individual’s full name as opposed to initials in the body of the appeal). She is in desperate need of immediate advice, else she loses her child on a technicality – and ultimately on fraud and coercion.
The United States ICWA states in Title 25, Chapter 21, § 1901 (3)
“that there is no resource that is more vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children and that the United States has a direct interest, as trustee, in protecting Indian children who are members of or are eligible for membership in an Indian tribe;”
As such, with expressed interest being shown by the Avogel tribe, expressed interest by the mother to renege the adoption within the three day period, the State of Florida and justices therein should comply with the intent of federal law and federal protection of the integrity of the Avogel tribe.
Mary Ramos: “If I do nothing they win. If I open my mouth and tell the world, maybe someone will hear…”
Mary is in dire need of assistance on this case. If any reader has the ability to provide advice, feedback, or contacts that could assist in her appeal, please contact me and I will gladly put you in contact. We have a week to uphold justice – for a tribe – for a mother – and for a child.
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