SALT LAKE CITY — The consulate of Mexico in Salt Lake City signed an agreement Monday with the Utah Department of Human Services, updating the consulate's extensive role in assisting parental custody cases for minors with Mexican citizenship.
Javier Chagoya, the consul of Mexico in Salt Lake, was joined for a signing ceremony by Ann Williamson, executive director of the Department of Human Services, and Tonya Myrup, acting director of the Division of Child and Family Services. Their signatures were met with applause by custody case workers and others in attendance.
Williamson lauded the agreement as an important step "to advance our shared commitment to children and families thriving safely in their homes, schools and communities." She said the consulate of Mexico fills an integral role in assuring that Mexican children involved in custody cases in Utah are provided with as many potential positive solutions as would be arranged for any other child in the state.
"Every child and family in Utah who comes to the attention of the Division of Child and Family Services will be helped in the same protection and dignity as any other," Williamson told those gathered for the signing. "A child does not consider the accountability of citizenship status when they want to be safe and loved — and neither do we."
The new memorandum of understanding between the organizations replaces the one they signed in 2011. The new document specifically makes a provision for the consulate to assist the Division of Child and Family Services in securing documentation from Mexico required in a minor's application for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status in the United States.
The Special Immigrant Juveniles program is designed to assist foreign children in the U.S. "who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected," according to information posted online by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In that program, undocumented immigrant minors who fall under that category, and who are unable to be assigned to the custody of a parent, relative or qualifying guardian in their home country, can qualify for permanent residency in the United States.
The parental custody cases of immigrant children from Mexico are frequently complicated by the fact that their parents have been deported, face deportation or have otherwise relocated back to their home country for a different reasons, Chagoya told the Deseret News.
Sometimes it's best for those children to be placed with other close relatives in Mexico, and other times the most positive outcome for them is to remain in the United States, he said. But what is important regardless is that their case doesn't languish in uncertainty.
When that happens, the child's plight can fall through the cracks and "they can go down the wrong path," sometimes becoming involved in gangs and criminal activity at a young age, according to Chagoya.
"We're trying to provide them the best (living situation)," he said.
Under the new agreement, Chagoya and Myrup will now be required to meet once per year in order to evaluate the cooperation between their staffs, and lower level staff members from the two sides will be required to meet three times annually.
The close cooperation goes a long way in securing positive outcomes for minors in difficult or complex family situations, Myrup said.
"Now is an important time to reaffirm the Division of Child and Family Services' commitment to the consulate of Mexico to assure the safety, protection and wellbeing of Mexican minors and their families within the full and vibrant context of their traditions, history and culture," Myrup said at the signing ceremony.
The memorandum of understanding also outlines the duty of case workers to notify the consulate of any minor placed in state custody who has at least one parent living in Mexico. Among several other stipulations, the document additionally requires the consulate to coordinate with Mexican child protection authorities, in the event that a child is put into a family's custody in that country, to ensure an appropriate transition for the child.
Because of the U.S. government's changing stances toward immigration and deportation under a new presidential administration, Chagoya said it is essential for Mexican youth who are in the state of Utah's custody to know that their uncertain family situation is being treated thoughtfully. He believes the memorandum of understanding can be a reassuring sign to them that such is the case.
"At this time it is especially important," he said, because of "the fear that people have" of new immigration and deportation policies.
"It's important for them also to know that they have rights. Information is a powerful thing."