Woman pleads with officials to keep granddaughter, 6, in U.S.
SALEM, Ore. -- A grandmother is pleading with the governor, lawmakers and anyone else who'll listen to allow her granddaughter to stay in America.
Her granddaughter is just 6 years old.
Kerrie Lechuga says the state's child welfare officers are preparing to send her granddaughter to Mexico to be with her biological father.
The process is formally known as reunification and is administered by the Oregon Department of Human Services.
"You can call it reunification if you want, but I call it deportation or exile," said Lechuga.
The little girl was born in Silverton and is an American citizen, says Lechuga, who says she was also denied custody.
Oregon's Department of Human Services has placed the child in foster care.
"They have said the goal is to reunite her with a parent, whichever parent is ready first. My daughter is not at that point yet," said Lechuga.
Lechuga's daughter, the girl's mother, is a convicted drug user.
The girl's father is also a convicted felon and was recently deported to Mexico.
In Oregon, he was convicted of DUI and assault.
"I don't care about his rights," said Lechuga. "This is a 6-year-old child."
A spokeswoman for DHS said the state is not allowed to discuss individual children or cases citing privacy laws.
However, DHS says it always puts the child's best interests first.
Oregon sent 34 children to live with parents or other custodians in foreign countries last year, mostly to Mexico.
Case workers collaborate with their counterparts overseas, conducting investigations, background checks and home visits, says a DHS spokeswoman.
DHS says a local judge always makes the final decision.
Lechuga claims DHS will not tell her when her granddaughter will be sent to Mexico, if that's the decision the judge makes.