Tot to stay with couple, judge rules

Grandparents from Mexico lose custody battle with foster parents

By Hector Gutierrez
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

A Denver judge ruled Thursday that a toddler placed in protective custody should remain with her foster parents and not be sent with her paternal grandparents to their home in Mexico.

After the decision by Juvenile Court Judge Dana U. Wakefield, foster parents Christopher Gomez, 29, and Dawne Gomez, 30, tearfully embraced their lawyer, Kama McConaughy.

"We're very, very happy about the whole situation," McConaughy said.

McConaughy refused to let the couple answer any questions and led them away from the Denver County courthouse.

Wakefield said the 20-month-old child has developed a loving bond with her foster parents, that she views them as her primary caretakers and that sending her to Mexico would be painful for her.

Under Wakefield's ruling, the Gomezes will assume parental rights and responsibilities.

The judge allowed limited visitation rights for the natural father, Ponciano Lazaro Aviña, and told lawyers to help arrange supervised visits.

Eventually the Gomezes will be allowed to raise the youngster without interference from social services workers.

"Her heritage on at least one side is Mexico, but her culture is which she was born to," Wakefield said. "She was born to an American woman and an American citizen, and one who wants to make her home here. Her culture is here. Where she lives now is her culture."

The ruling was a major blow to the child's biological father and his parents, who were brought to Denver last month from Guanajuato, Mexico, with the hope they would return to their homeland with their granddaughter.

Wakefield also ruled against the recommendations of the Denver Department of Human Services, which requested the youngster be placed with the grandparents in Mexico as a first resort or with the father as the second alternative.

Lazaro's mother, Maria Guadalupe, broke into tears after a Spanish-speaking interpreter explained that she and her husband, Francisco, would not be raising their granddaughter. The child and grandparents met for the first time last month and they've had visitations.

"Children belong with their natural families if they live in a cave, in a desert or in another country," Clara N.R. Romero, Lazaro's lawyer, maintained. "I believe the family belongs together."

The judge praised the grandparents' home in central Mexico as a loving environment. However, he delivered scathing remarks about the father for thinking he could somehow continue his relationship while he lived in Colorado and his daughter was in another country.

Wakefield said Lazaro testified that he did not want to raise the youngster.

The situation has been complicated because Lazaro, 26, is an undocumented worker and recently had a second child born to his girlfriend, who is undergoing rehabilitation for a drug addiction. Lazaro's girlfriend, Priscilla Gonzales, 22, has been allowed to keep the younger child.

Contact Hector Gutierrez at (303) 892-5204 or at gutierrezh@RockyMountainNews.com.

November 10, 2000

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