A Cameroonian father on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to restore his parental rights in Maryland, arguing that the law used to remove his daughter from him deprives him of his 14th Amendment due process rights.
In his petition to the court, the father, identified only as I.M., presented two main arguments: first, that the state of Maryland having authority over him, considering he is a fit parent, is a violation of the due process clause, and second, that ending parental rights of those who are unable to enter the U.S. is a serious, recurring problem.
The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services asked the Montgomery County Circuit Court to end I.M.’s parental rights. I.M. argues the circuit court, where the case began, should not have had authority over him, even if his daughter J.T., born 2016 in Maryland, is within the court’s authority.
The circuit court agreed that it lacked authority over I.M., but still denied his request to dismiss the ending of his parental rights under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.
The act is a law adopted by Maryland and 48 other states that specifies which court should decide child custody cases. The law states that the physical presence of a person is not necessary to determine child custody.
Under this law, courts can decide the custody status for parents that they do not have authority, or personal jurisdiction, over.
“I think what stands out about this case is that we have an international parent, with no contacts to Maryland, who can’t enter the country to get his daughter because of our restrictive immigration policies,” I.M.’s attorney Steve Mercer said. “There is a statute that purports the case to exercise jurisdiction over him, over his parental rights, but that statute has not been tested against the due process clause.”
The question I.M. and Mercer are bringing to the Supreme Court is whether the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act comports with the Constitution’s due process clause in a case where the parent is not deemed unfit, and where the parent has no ties to the state.
According to the petition, I.M. has been unable to enter the U.S. due to strict immigration policies. Since J.T.’s birth, I.M. has maintained regular video visits with J.T. through her mother.
From the circuit court, the case was appealed to Maryland’s intermediate court, the Court of Special Appeals, which upheld the trial court ruling.
“When [I.M.’s] exceptional circumstances are measured in terms of detriment to [J.T.’s] best interest, it is clear to the court that her best interests will be served by terminating his parental rights,” the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland said in its opinion on June 28, 2021. “There is no foreseeable future for [J.T.] with [I.M.] as a parent. She both requires and deserves permanence and stability in a safe and emotionally sustaining environment.”
I.M. then appealed the case to the Maryland Court of Appeals. The court declined to hear his appeal on Oct. 22. The Supreme Court denied the petition on March 28.