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Foster Parents to Keep Child Smuggled into U.S.

(CN) - A Guatemalan woman cannot return her young son to the woman who bought the child and smuggled him into the United States six years ago, a Connecticut appeals court ruled.

The Department of Children and Families received a report from the Department of Homeland Security on Sept. 18, 2012, stating that a woman known as Maria G. and her husband had possibly bought a newborn Guatemalan child and smuggled him into the states on June 14, 2009.

The report also alleged that Maria had been physically aggressive with the child, who is referred to in court records as Santiago G.

Though Maria at first lied that she and her husband were Santiago's biological parents, she later revealed the truth, a Children and Families intake member, Marta Saavedra, testifed.

Maria told investigators that she had heard that a 14-year-old orphan in Guatemala wanted to give up her newborn baby, so she traveled there and paid a physician to deliver the child.

A midwife allegedly helped Maria obtain a birth certificate naming Maria and her husband as the biological parents, and used a false passport to return to the United States.

On Nov. 15, 2012, a Connecticut judge found that Santiago, then 3, had been neglected by his biological parents and was in immediate physical danger.

Foster parents with a 4-year-old child took Santiago in the next month, and the court finally received evidence in June 2013 that Melissa M. was the child's biological mother. Melissa's counsel told the court she wanted Maria to raise Santiago.

The commissioner presented plans on Sept. 12 to let either Maria or the foster parents adopt Santiago, and moved in November to set aside the order stating he was neglected.

Maria pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to unlawfully bring an alien child into the United States in Connecticut federal court on Nov. 26, 2013.

As part of her plea, Maria agreed to return to Argentina, with Santiago in tow.

After nearly four months of hearings starting on Jan. 16, 2014, judicial referee A. William Mottolese denied Melissa's motion to revoke Santiago's commitment to foster care.

"It is clearly in his best interests that he continue to grow up in that environment," Mottolese stated, later noting his mental image of Santiago "kicking and screaming" upon learning that he was going back to visit Maria.

The court later denied the commissioner and Melissa's motion to open the judgment and introduce newly discovered evidence, and the pair appealed.

But the state appeals court affirmed the lower court's ruling Jan. 6, 2015, tossing aside Melissa's claim that the court improperly credited a psychologist, David Mantell.

"The respondent challenges the court's reliance on Mantell's opinion that the child formed a second primary attachment to the foster mother and removal from that home would cause greater harm than ending his relationship with Maria G.," Chief Judge Alexandra DiPentima wrote for the three-judge panel.

The judge added: "The court, in making the best interests determination, was free to credit the testimony and opinion of Mantell over [Melissa's experts,] Rosado and Grueneberg."

The court brushed aside the claim that Maria would not be sentenced in her criminal case earlier than August 2014, and would thus have time to see the child before going to Argentina. "The court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to open filed by the commissioner and joined by the respondent," DiPentima wrote. "It explained that the timing of Maria G.'s departure from the United States was not the primary focus of its best interests determination. It is clear that the court concluded that the delay in sentencing would not have produced a different result in a new proceeding. This claim, therefore, fails."

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