Between a recovering-alcoholic father and meth-using mother, living options were pretty limited for a 6-year-old girl who has been bouncing between foster homes in the past several years.
The girl’s father, Alfonso Pantoja-Samano, is a convicted felon who has served time for assault in Oregon. He was recently deported to Mexico.
The judge had two options when deciding where to send the girl: either she could be kept in foster care while her mother tries to get clean, or she could be sent to Mexico to live with her father.
On Thursday afternoon, a Marion County judge decided that the girl, who was born in Oregon, will have to go live with her father in Mexico. The child is an American and Mexican dual citizen.
The girl’s grandmother, Kerrie Lechuga, believes her granddaughter has no business going to live with her father. She fought to keep the girl in the United States and broke into tears after the judge’s ruling.
Lechuga herself has a 2005 animal neglect conviction, because horses and dogs died on her property; she maintains that the animals died because her daughter and Pantoja-Samano did not care for them. She believes this is one reason Oregon's Department of Human Services was hesitant to let her care for the girl.
Lechuga does not share Judge Jamese Rhoades’ hopes that Pantoja-Samano will follow through on his long list of promises, which include staying sober, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and not keeping alcohol in his home.
Pantoja-Samano has committed to doing individual counseling and counseling with his daughter, enrolling her in school, and finding resources to help her adjust, particular in regards to her bilingual abilities.
“He couldn’t follow the rules here," Lechuga said. "He couldn’t complete his alcohol treatment here. What makes them think he’s going to follow through there?”
DHS spokesman Gene Evans said that it will be Mexican officials’ responsibility to hold Pantoja-Samano accountable. Evans also noted that Oregon’s DHS workers have negotiated an extended period of time during which Mexico’s child welfare workers will provide monthly reports on the young girl’s progress.
Last month, a judge ordered the girl to live with Pantoja-Samano. Gov. John Kitzhaber ordered a review of the case last week.
Evans noted that this is the second time the case has undergone legal review.
“This was about as good – following policy following state law, following guidance – as any child welfare case we’ve seen in the state. All cases should be handled this well,” Evans said.
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