Immigrant sues over lost custody of child in Pascagoula

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - An illegal immigrant's custody battle has lead to a lawsuit against the state of Mississippi and Singing River Health System.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed the suit on behalf of Cirila Baltazar Cruz, who gave birth to a daughter at Singing River Hospital in November 2008. The suit says Cruz' constitutional rights were violated when false allegations were made against her and the Department of Human Services took the child away two days after she was born to be adopted.

Cruz was reunited with her child a year later following an investigation by federal officials.

A letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service to the executive director of the Mississippi DHS noted that the state failed to comply with several requirements under federal law and regulations. Among the failures cited by HHS are that reasonable efforts were not made to prevent the child's removal or to place the child with relatives. The agency also found that the MDHS "failed to take reasonable steps to ensure effective communication" with Baltazar Cruz.

DHS has not commented on the lawsuit.

Singing River Health System said it had not yet been served with the suit, and said their inclusion in such a complaint is "frivolous and entirely inappropriate."

"We feel very strongly that our employees provided exceptional health care and acted properly and in good faith in all matters related to the care of Ms. Cruz," the health system said in a statement. (Read the health system's entire statement below.)

As a result of the earlier gag order, the lawsuit was filed under seal in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division. Click here to read a redacted version of the lawsuit.

The SPLC is asking the federal court to allow the suit to be made public in its entirety and has also appealed the youth court's gag order to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

"This lawsuit is about ensuring the law is enforced equally in Mississippi and that the rights of the most vulnerable are protected," said SPLC attorney Michelle Lapointe. "That didn't happen in this case, and as a result this young mother suffered the traumatic separation from her child for the baby's entire first year."

The following is the entire public statement from Singing River Health System:

"We have not yet been served with a lawsuit, so we do not have any specific information concerning the complaint regarding Ms. Cruz.

Regarding the issues involving Ms. Cruz, we, as required by law, referred her case to the Mississippi Department of Human Services at the appropriate time. We feel very strongly that our employees provided exceptional health care and acted properly and in good faith in all matters related to the care of Ms. Cruz. In fact, our role in this matter was limited to caring for the patients and to ensure that the appropriate parties were notified in accordance with the laws and regulations to which we are subject. These regulations exist, as we understand, to protect the welfare and rights of all persons. The decision-making authority within this structure lies outside the scope of our organization.

For us to be included in such a complaint is frivolous and entirely inappropriate. Our mission includes providing care for all who come to us in need, and we did exactly that in caring for Ms. Cruz, who came to us in distress and in an emergent situation. She received exceptional care, and numerous staff worked diligently to ensure that everyone involved in this matter was treated with respect and with the best interest of all parties in mind. To help those in need, and do it well, then have a lawsuit brought for no legitimate purpose is discouraging to say the least, and speaks to the litigation-driven climate that pervades our society.

We will continue to proclaim very strongly that Singing River Health System and all employees involved treated Ms. Cruz professionally and with the highest standard of care."

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