A terrible injustice that has occurred to a two-year-old South Carolina child named Veronica Rose and her adoptive parents. Two years ago Veronica’s Latina birth mother chose Matt and Melanie to love, nurture and raise her child. To this day, Veronica’s birth mother remains committed to her decision and Veronica has been a thriving, happy child residing in a stable, nurturing environment. On or around Jan. 4, 2010, the birth father signed papers agreeing to give up his daughter.
However, because Veronica has some Cherokee heritage from her birth father’s side of the family, the Cherokee Nation intervened in the adoption proceedings and argued that this happy, healthy two-year-old be transferred to her birth father. Because of a federal law known as the Indian Child Welfare Act, a family court judge ruled that she be immediately transferred to her biological father.
Psychologist who witnessed Veronica’s transfer comments on the detrimental effects –
Click Baby Veronica to hear an audio of the interview
The ruling placed the rights of the birth father and tribe above the best interests of this small child. Child-bonding experts agree that removing her from her home and family would be devastating and have long-lasting consequences. Numerous child psychologists stated this would be detrimental to any child. Yet on Dec. 31, Veronica was handed over to her biological father as if a possession without rights.
We believe that children need protection and should not be removed from loving, nurturing environments. We understand the premise of this law is to protect children; however, in Veronica’s case it has been used inappropriately.
Former U.S. senator Jim Abourezk (SD) authored ICWA. According to the Charleston Post and Courier, after reviewing Veronica’s story, Abourezk called the interpretation in this case “something totally different than what we intended at the time.”
“That’s a tragedy,” he said. “They obviously were attached to the child and, I would assume, the child was attached to them.”
According to the 2000 census, approximately 75% of people claiming to have American Indian or Alaska Native ancestry live outside the reservation. Further, interracial marriages are a fact of life. It is must be recognized that most children of heritage live off the reservation and have extended family that are non-tribal. Though supporters of the Indian Child Welfare Act say it has safeguards to prevent misuse, Veronica and numerous other multi-racial children across the U.S have been hurt by it. Children who have never been near a reservation nor involved in tribal customs are affected. The Cherokee Nation alone is currently tied up in about 1,100 active Indian Child Welfare cases involving some 1,500 children.
Tragically, under the Indian Child Welfare Act:
1) Some children have been removed from safe, loving homes and placed in danger
2) Equal opportunities for adoption, safety and stability are not always available to children of all heritages
3) The Constitutional right of parents to make life choices for their children, for children of Indian heritage to associate freely, and for children of Indian heritage to enjoy Equal Protection has in some cases been infringed upon.
We want more than anything for Veronica to be allowed to come home. As our elected representatives, we urge you to protect Veronica’s rights in all possible ways as well as make legislative changes that will prevent this from happening to any other child again. While we understand you are unable to interfere in court proceedings, we ask you to speak out on this issue and let your constituents know clearly where you stand. We also ask you to sponsor legislation and encourage fellow Congressmen to support the amending of the Indian Child Welfare Act to:
1. Guarantee protection for children of Native American heritage equal to that of any other child in the United States.
2. Guarantee that fit parents, no matter their heritage, have the right to choose healthy guardians or adoptive parents for their children without concern for heritage.
3. Recognize the “Existing Indian Family Doctrine” as a viable analysis for consideration and application in child custody proceedings. (See In re Santos Y, In Bridget R., and In re Alexandria Y.)
4. Guarantee that United States citizens, no matter their heritage, have a right to fair trials.
• When summoned to a tribal court, parents and legal guardians will be informed of their legal rights, including USC 25 Chapter 21 1911 (b)“…In any State court proceeding for the foster care placement of, or termination of parental rights to, an Indian child not domiciled or residing within the reservation of the Indian child’s tribe, the court, in the absence of good cause to the contrary, shall transfer such proceeding to the jurisdiction of the tribe, absent objection by either parent…”
• Under the principles of comity: All Tribes and States shall accord full faith and credit to a child custody order issued by the Tribe or State of initial jurisdiction consistent within the UCCJA – which enforces a child custody determination by a court of another State – unless the order has been vacated, stayed, or modified by a court having jurisdiction to do so under Article 2 of the UCCJA.
5. Include well defined protections for Adoptive Parents.
6. Mandate that a “Qualified expert witness” be someone who has professional knowledge of the child and family and is able to advocate for the well being of the child, first and foremost.
7. Mandate that only parents and/or legal custodians have the right to enroll a child into an Indian Tribe. Because it is claimed that tribal membership is a political rather than racial designation, we are asking that parents, as U.S. citizens, be given the sole, constitutional right to choose political affiliation for their families and not have it forced upon them.
• Remove the words “or are eligible for membership in” 1901 (3)
• Remove the words “eligible for membership in” from 1903 (4) (b), the definition of an ‘Indian child’ and replace with the words “an enrolled member of”