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An unprecedented adoption case in the US seeks to rectify an injustice in Mexico

Their adoptive parents in the U.S. refused to pay a bribe in Mexico. As a result, the Polinske children have been waiting 37 years for their Mexican adoption - and U.S. citizenship - to be recognized.
Publicado 21 Dic 2022 – 11:10 AM EST | Actualizado 21 Dic 2022 – 04:00 PM EST
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Maria Antonieta Polinske, (l) with her parents and her three adopted children, Michael, Michelle and Amanda, shortly after her birth in Torreon, Coahuila. Crédito: Courtesy of the Polinske family.

Adopted at birth, Michael and Amanda Polinske had all but given up hope of ever being reunited, or becoming U.S. citizens.

But that could change after a Texas lawyer read a story about their case on the Univision News website in 2018 and decided to take it on pro bono.

For the last four years, Veronica de la Fuente has relentlessly pursued their case in the United States and Mexico, seeking to restore their rights - and legal identities.

“I saw the Univision story. It left me feeling frustrated”, says de la Fuente, an immigration attorney in San Antonio, Texas.

The children, born days apart, were brought to the United States from Mexico as toddlers with another child, and grew up in Midland, Texas. Now 37 years old, they believed they were Americans until they left high school and discovered they couldn’t get jobs because they had no social security cards. It turns out their adoption papers in Mexico had never been properly finalized.

Michael was arrested in 2007, aged 21, after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor drug possession charge, though he says the drugs were not his. He was deported when ICE discovered he was not a legal resident.

Amanda raised a family in Texas in constant fear of suffering the same fate as her brother while living in the shadows and working as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant. The other sister adopted along with them obtained residency with a special visa after suffering domestic violence.

It is not clear why the government never denied their naturalization. Univision made several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to immigration authorities about his case, but only received a two-page summary of his removal proceedings.

The legal problem stems from an unwise decision by the Texas parents who adopted the three children, who were all born to different mothers in the Torreón region. Maria Polinske, now 82, says she and her late husband refused to pay the lawyer in Torreón when he charged them an extra $10,000 to finish the adoption. Instead, they took the three children and smuggled them across the border in their car. “No-one asked to see their papers when we got to the border. It was different back then,” she said.

Although a judge in Texas recognized the adoption years later, the Social Security Administration did not, in part because they had no U.S. border entry documents, known as an I-95 form. As a result, they have no proof of legally entering the country.

Mexico recognizes constitutional rights of minors

De la Fuente claims that the children's constitutional rights as minors were violated due to the failure to recognize their adoption. Under Mexican law, "the interest of the minor is a fundamental constitutional right," says de la Fuente. “We have a very valid legal argument. Their right to their identity has been denied,” she added.

A 40-year-old Mexican-American, De la Fuente has a rare, dual perspective of the law. She grew up and graduated as a lawyer in Mexico, before moving to the United States where she now practices.

“It is an injustice. These poor children have no identity, they have no name, they have no documents, they have nothing. It wasn't properly handled, neither here (US) nor there (Mexico), and it just bothered me that they were trapped in this legal situation,” said de la Fuente.

An unprecedented adoption case

Working with a colleague in Monterrey, de la Fuente was able to reopen the case in Torreón, Coahuila, where Michael and Amanda were born and adopted.

“It has been tremendous. It is an unprecedented case. It took three months to locate the old adoption case file in a warehouse. At first they said it wasn’t there because there was a fire”, said de la Fuente. But she insisted they keep looking until a clerk found the case file. It took ten court hearings. De la Fuente traveled from San Antonio for four of them.

At first the Torreón court ruled that the birth parents would have to sign their consent before the adoption could be formally recognized. But all six parents were either dead or untraceable.

De la Fuente appealed, noting that all six parents had signed the original adoption papers. The case was only allowed to proceed after the court required her to publish an ad in the local newspaper in September giving the birth parents the opportunity to come forward if they had any objection.

Next steps: correcting the Polinke's Mexican birth certificates

De la Fuente is now appealing the case to Coahuila state court in Saltillo to have the children’s adoption officially recognized and their Mexican birth certificate retroactively corrected to reflect the name of their adoptive parents. "Then, I will have to request a certificate of U.S. citizenship with the US consulate in (Mexico), so they can apply for a U.S. passport."

Michael now lives in Tabasco in southern Mexico where he is the manager of a restaurant in the fishing town of Emiliano Zapata. The Mexican authorities consider him an orphan and gave him a new birth certificate, under his birth name: Michael Vito Martínez Caldera.

He misses his children and his mother who visits occasionally. But he says he’s lost virtually all hope of ever being able to return to the U.S..

“I walked away. I’m done,” he told Univision by phone. “If somebody, someday says ‘You can go home,’ I’ll do that. But I’m not holding my breath,” he added.

His sister, Amanda, on the other hand, has not given up hope and puts her faith in her lawyer de la Fuente.
“We trust in Veronica. This is our last resort. We’ll try anything until we can try no more,” she said.

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