Learn English, Judge Tells Moms

Ellen Barry, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 14

LEBANON, Tenn.—A judge hearing child abuse and neglect cases in Tennessee has given an unusual instruction to some immigrant mothers who have come before him: Learn English, or else.

Most recently, it was an 18-year-old woman from Oaxaca, Mexico, who had been reported to the Department of Children’s Services for failing to immunize her toddler and show up for appointments. At a hearing last month to monitor the mother’s custody of the child, Wilson County Judge Barry Tatum instructed the woman to learn English and to use birth control, the Lebanon Democrat newspaper reported.

Last October, Tatum gave a similar order to a Mexican woman who had been cited for neglect of her 11-year-old daughter, said a lawyer who is representing the woman in her appeal. Setting a court date six months away, the judge told the woman she should be able to speak English at a fourth-grade level by that meeting. If she failed, he warned, he would begin the process of termination of parental rights.

“The court specially informs the mother that if she does not make the effort to learn English, she is running the risk of losing any connection—legally, morally and physically—with her daughter forever,” reads a court order from the hearing, according to Jerry Gonzalez, the Nashville attorney who represents the woman.

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