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In re F.R.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

November 4, 2019


          On Appeal from the 287th District Court Bailey County, Texas Trial Court No. 9740, Honorable Carry Baker, Presiding

          Before QUINN, C.J., and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.


          PER CURIAM

         M.L., mother of the children the subject of this appeal and a Guatemalan national, appeals an order terminating her parental rights to F.R., A.L.R., and I.R.L. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) was named managing conservator in the same termination order. Through five issues, M.L. contends that 1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the parties, 2) the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support termination grounds (D), (E), and (O) and that termination was in the best interest of the children, and 3) the trial court abused its discretion in appointing the Department as managing conservator of the children.[1] We affirm.


         The final hearing began with testimony from M.L.'s immigration attorney. Its substance follows. A deportation order has been entered for M.L., from which she has filed an appeal. She presently is being held in a detention center. Her attorney believed they had grounds for reversal and if that were to happen then she would have another hearing and could possibly be released on bond. Her hearing could be anywhere between two to three years to determine whether she would receive asylum in the U.S. If M.L. is not successful with her appeal, she could be deported back to Guatemala soon thereafter.

         Regarding the children the subject of this proceeding, F.R. is a female who was born in Guatemala and at the time of the hearing was 5 years old. A.L.R. and I.R.L. are both males and were born in the United States, ages three and one, respectively, at the time of the hearing. The Department had attempted to contact their fathers who were believed to be living in Guatemala. That effort included contacting the Guatemalan Consulate in Houston, Texas.

         Sergeant Leonardo Aviles, of the Muleshoe Police Department, also testified. The substance of his testimony follows. Shortly after 10:00 a.m. on June 23, 2017, he received a call from one of M.L.'s neighbors who reported that the three children were home alone. When he arrived at M.L.'s home, he found the neighbor with two children outside the house. The oldest child appeared to be about age three and the younger about one or two. Inside the house, he found an infant appearing to be about age three or four months old. The children looked as if they had not showered. Their diapers needed changing, and the infant was crying. The neighbor told him he found the children outside about 9:30 a.m., which meant they had been home alone from 6:00 a.m. until 9:30. The officer also said that: 1) I.R.L.'s legs and foot appeared to be in "bad condition" due to lack of bathing and skin care; 2) the children were transported to the police station; 3) M.L. picked them up five hours later; 4) "[M.L.'s] house was dirty," needed to be cleaned and had trash everywhere; and 5) "the kitchen look[ed] like it [had not] been cleaned for a while, greasy. . . . [with] dead roaches or different type of insects, spiders."

         Pictures of the home depicted an overturned bucket near the stove. M.L. conceded that the bucket's placement would have allowed F.R. or A.L.R. to reach the stove. Another photograph showed an unprotected electrical outlet on the wall near the floor beside the kitchen table.

         The next witness was the children's caseworker Elvia Buelna who testified that 1) a report had been received on June 23, 2017, about three young children being left home alone and unattended; 2) she discovered the home "in filthy and unsanitary conditions"; 3) the children were dirty and seemed hungry; 3) M.L. was, at the time of hearing, in "an immigration detention center" and unable to care for her children; 4) M.L. lacked a stable home for the children; 5) M.L. lacked stable employment; 6) M.L. had not addressed the issues of why her children came into care; 7) after the children were removed, M.L. was given unsupervised visitation over weekends with the plan to reunite them; and 8) at the end of the first visit, the children and their clothes were unclean and the children were hungry.

         The caseworker also related the events of the second unsupervised visit. I.R.L. had contracted pink eye before arriving. M.L. was given eye drops to use to combat the pink eye and was shown how to use them. Thereafter, the caseworker made an unannounced visit to the home while the children were there and discovered that A.L.R. and I.R.L. had fevers while I.R.L. also was "just limp, no life in him, his eyes were shut with gunk, the eye gunk that comes out, and his cheeks were bright, bright red." When questioned about the children's condition, M.L. "just kind of shrugged her shoulders." The caseworker then transported the children to the emergency room, where "the doctor stated that [I.R.L.] had a grave case of pink eye" and "[b]oth of the boys had high temperatures" ranging from 102.5 to 103.9.

         These events and M.L.'s inability to meet her children's basic needs led the Department to keep the children in its care. M.L. "immediately became upset and made threats towards" the caseworker when told of this decision. The threats included cursing her "to God" and cursing the caseworker's children. M.L. also threatened to return the children back to Guatemala if they were returned to her. M.L. then refused to release the children to the caseworker and shoved the latter when effort was made to approach the children. Both F.R. and I.R.L. were in her arms when she shoved the worker. M.L.'s brother also stood near M.L. holding a knife, at the time. That resulted in the caseworker becoming scared, leaving without the children and contacting the police. The police subsequently arrested M.L. and charged her with the offense of terroristic threat, to which charge she pled guilty.

         Other evidence revealed that, at the time of the hearing, the children were "in a legal risk home in the Dallas area," doing very well, all together, and happy. The home was safe and clean and large with ample space for the children inside and out. Each child had their own bed. The placement or foster parent expressed interest in adopting the children and in addressing F.R.'s immigration issues. Remaining in the foster home was the best opportunity for the children, according to the caseworker. And, though other foster children were in the home, all the children developed an instant bond and adapted.

         M.L. testified as well. She 1) denied leaving the children alone but in the care of others who either left or failed to appear; 2) explained that she could not take the two children running high fevers to the hospital because of a lack of transportation; 3) denied threatening the caseworker (despite pleading guilty to the charge of terroristic ...

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