Following an appeals court order, details of a year–long custody battle very reminiscent of the Elian Gonzalez case have now been made public. The battle over a 4–year–old Cuban immigrant girl pits her Cuban father, Rafael Izquierdo, against foster father Joe Cubas, a well–known Cuban–American sports agent, and his wife Maria. Just as Elian’s father Juan Gonzalez faced numerous unfair hurdles to get his son back, Izquierdo is being manhandled by the child welfare system, in part because of the system’s anti–father bias.
In 2005, the girl’s mother, with whom Izquierdo had a brief relationship, brought the girl to Miami from Cuba. The Florida Department of Children & Families removed the girl from her mother’s custody in 2006, after an investigation found that the woman’s mental illness rendered her an unfit parent. She was placed with the Cubas family, and Izquierdo came to the US to bring his daughter home.
Izquierdo, a fisherman and farmer from Cabaiguan, Cuba, has spent the last two months performing the numerous tasks DCF has demanded in order to be reunited with his daughter. Several child welfare experts have asserted that these tasks may be designed to make Izquierdo fail, so DCF can follow through on its stated goal of permanently placing the girl with the foster family.
Much of what Izquierdo is going through reflects well–documented problems with the child welfare system. An Urban Institute study released last year found that when a mother and father are divorced or separated, and a child welfare agency removes the children from the mother’s home for abuse or neglect, the system generally refuses to allow the fathers to raise their own children, instead shuttling the kids off into the foster care system.
Child welfare proceedings, including this one, are usually determined by the child welfare agency’s opinion as to what’s best for the child. This represents a tremendous usurpation of parental authority. When an agency has taken a child from an abusive or neglectful mother or father, its only further role should be to determine whether the other parent is fit. If the other parent is not found to be unfit, the child should be given to that parent, and the case closed. Only if there has been a finding of parental unfitness should the child welfare agency permanently place the child with a foster family.
There is also substantial evidence that Izquierdo’s little girl is being alienated from him. Parental Alienation arises in custody disputes (usually after a divorce or separation) when one parent, usually the custodial parent, tries to turn the child(ren) against the other parent.
According to Miguel Firpi, the girl’s psychologist, the girl ”does not want to go to Cuba…she grinds her teeth at night.” Firpi says the girl tore up a new toy her father had given her. When the girl was angry after a visit with her father, caseworker Maria Zamora said the girl explained that “she only had one father, and it’s [the foster caregiver].” Where would a normal four–year–old girl get such a strong aversion to her father, and to Cuba? How often does a four–year–old girl decide to destroy a new toy she’s been given? The girl is being taught to fear and dislike her dad.
Izquierdo is also caught in an endless string of Catch–22s. The US State Department denied him a visa for several months, but during the hearings the DCF accused him of ”abandoning” his daughter because he didn’t come sooner. He is criticized for allegedly having “failed to bond” with his daughter sufficiently, but has been allowed only short, videotaped and supervised visits with her.
The judge in the case, Jeri B. Cohen, recently described DCF’s attempts to paint Izquierdo negatively as being ”light” on evidence, pointedly telling the DCF attorneys, ”You know it, and I know it.” Nobody has even suggested that Izquierdo has ever mistreated his daughter, and the girl’s mother says she wants the girl to live with her father in Cuba instead of with the foster family. Izquierdo should not have to fight to raise his own child. He is a fit father–how and where to raise his daughter is his decision.
- Buffalo News8/16/07