By Shelia Byrd
Published: Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010 1:47 p.m. MDT
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi officials conspired to take the infant of an illegal immigrant from Mexico so the girl could be adopted by a white couple, a civil rights group charged Thursday in a federal lawsuit.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said Cirila Baltazar Cruz was separated from her daughter, Ruby, for a year before her child was returned to her in 2009 after the intervention of the group.
Cruz had the baby at Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula in November 2008. Two days after the child was born she was taken from her mother when the Mississippi Department of Human Services deemed Cruz unfit, according to the lawsuit.
Cruz — who spoke no English and little Spanish and could not read or write — was interviewed by a hospital interpreter. The interpreter spoke Spanish, not Chatino, a dialect indigenous to Cruz’s native Oaxaca in rural Mexico, the group’s lawsuit alleges.
After talking with Cruz, the interpreter told one of the immigrant’s relatives that Cruz was trading sex for housing and wanted to give the child up for adoption, according to the lawsuit. Cruz said in the court filing that she tried to explain to the interpreter she worked in a Chinese restaurant and lived in an apartment.
“When they tried to take my baby away I felt that I was done wrong, and I was very angry. It was a very painful experience for me and for my baby. This is why I want other people to know, because I don’t want anyone else to go through the same experience,” Cruz said in a statement released Thursday by the SPLC. Cruz is back in Mexico with her daughter.
The lawsuit, which names MDHS, Singing River Health System and others, seeks monetary damages and alleges the state officials conspired to deny Cruz and her child their constitutional rights to family integrity, said Mary Bauer, the law center’s legal director. It also alleges Cruz was targeted by state officials because of her race and nationality.
“It’s hard to put a value on losing your daughter for year,” Bauer said. “It’s one of the most outrageous cases we’ve ever seen.”
The child was placed in the home of Wendy and Douglas Tynes, two attorneys who lived in Ocean Springs and were foster parents. The complaint said the Tynes were seeking to adopt. The suit alleges MDHS officials conspired with a youth court judge and the Tynes to keep Cruz from her daughter so she could be adopted by the couple.
Messages left at the Tynes’ offices weren’t immediately returned.
Even before the lawsuit, the case had drawn national and international attention, prompting a federal review and an agreement that requires Mississippi to notify the Mexican consulate when similar situations occur.
MDHS declined to comment.