More time for response to immigrant suit in Miss.

Published 2:15 am Sunday, September 12, 2010

A judge has given Singing River Hospital and one of its employees more time to respond to a federal lawsuit accusing them of conspiring with the Mississippi Department of Human Services to take a Mexican immigrant’s child so a white family could adopt the girl.

In court documents, the defendants contended it would be difficult to answer the suit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of Cirila Cruz because details involving Youth Court proceedings remain under seal.

“No meaningful discovery can be conducted as long as large amounts of what plaintiffs deem as relevant facts are not open for discussion,” they said in the motion.

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U.S. Magistrate Linda Anderson granted the request this week, extending the deadline to respond from Sept. 17 to Oct. 26.

Attorney Roy C. Williams, who represented the hospital and Abigail Medina, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.

The suit also names MDHS; Vicki Hayes, an MDHS social worker and her supervisor, Ralph Mathews, as defendants. Jan Schaefer, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office, said a response for MDHS would be filed in a few weeks.

The lawsuit contends workers with the state welfare agency falsely classified Cruz as an unfit mother shortly after her infant was born at the Pascagoula hospital in November 2008.

The mother and child were separated for a year while the child was placed in foster care with a white couple who work as attorneys. Cruz and her daughter were reunited in November and returned to Mexico.

While they were apart, the law center was representing Cruz in Jackson County Youth Court as she attempted to regain custody. Those proceedings are confidential under Mississippi law.

Mary Bauer, legal director of the law center, said the Youth Court information is critical to the case. The law center has filed an appeal seeking to lift a Jackson County Youth Court judge’s gag order in the case.

“It certainly complicates our talking about it, and the presumption it should be open to the press. We need guidance on what we’re allowed to say,” Bauer said. “We want to talk about the important policy issues that are raised, but we obviously have a great interest in complying with court orders.”

The suit said Cruz’ constitutional right to family integrity was violated.

Bauer said the law center didn’t contest the hospital’s motion because the all parties need guidance from the courts on what can be said publicly.

According to the lawsuit, Cruz spoke no English and little Spanish and could not read or write when she was interviewed by Medina after she gave birth. Cruz wasn’t provided a translator who could speak Chatino, a dialect indigenous to Cruz’s native Oaxaca in rural Mexico, the lawsuit alleged.

After talking with Cruz, Medina told one of the immigrant’s relatives that Cruz was trading sex for housing and wanted to give the child up for adoption, the suit stated. Cruz said she tried to explain to the interpreter she worked in a Chinese restaurant and lived in an apartment.

The suit said Cruz was discharged from the hospital without her child, and hospital and MDHS officials later contacted authorities about her immigration status.