A 13-year-old boy is caught up in court in Atlanta, pending a decision on whether he will stay in the U.S. or be deported to Guatemala—a country he has never visited before in his life. The boy (whose name can not be revealed since he is a minor) was born to illegal immigrants in the United States. His mother abandoned the family when he was just a toddler and his father was recently deported after an arrest on drug and firearm charges. The custody proceedings, which will determine whether he stays in the U.S. under state custody or be returned to his father in Guatemala, started on Tuesday.
According to the Associated Press, the boy’s court-appointed guardian, Marcie Goldman, said that the Division of Family and Children Services wants to send him to Guatemala to live with his father and grandfather.
The boy’s lawyer, Rebecca Salmon, testified that the child has bounced between nine foster homes in two years due in part to his history of behavioral problems. She believes he needs to be in a group home or with a family that is trained to handle children with special needs. Salmon cited the arrest of the boy’s father, Edgar Ovidio Juares, on charges of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and carrying a concealed weapon as evidence that Juares is not a fit parent
Juares previously told Guatemalan officials that he didn't want to lose contact with his son and would like to maintain custody, but he also admitted that it was in the boy's best interest for him to stay in the U.S. Beatriz Illescas Putzeys, Guatemala's consul general in Atlanta, evaluated the home of the boy's grandfather earlier this year at the state's request. Based on that assessment and conversations with the teen and his father, she testified that she does not believe the child should be sent to Guatemala because he would not receive the counseling or medications he needs.
Gwinnett County Juvenile Court Judge Stephen Franzen is in charge of determining the boy’s custody—and thus, future. Indicating that he would schedule another hearing before Sept. 23, Franzen said, "I'm not going to make a decision until we have someone acting in his interest and his interest alone. This is a complicated issue. I'm not going to undertake it lightly."