On a cold day in February 2017, Marcos Andrés-Jose and his father Dennis arrived to Bowling Green, Ky., on the doorstep of Judy Schwank’s law office. Marcos and his father illegally immigrated to the United States from San Miguel Acatan, Huehuetenango in Guatemala.
While Marcos and his father Dennis stopped in cities along the way, it was not until they came to Bowling Green, Ky., that they were able to settle. Seeing that Marcos and Dennis were in shorts and t-shirts during one of the coldest months of the year, Judy Schwank invited them into her office for warmth and rest.
Schwank noticed, however, that the father was very paranoid and would not allow anyone to care for his child. “I tried to feed them and give them hot chocolate but the father refused. He would only allow the child to eat food that was prepared at a restaurant like McDonald’s and he could only drink water that was bottled,” Schwank said.
Marcos’ father released their medical records to Judy Schwank showing the previous locations where they had lived. It was then that Judy Schwank discovered that Marcos’ father had schizophrenia and that this was the reason for his paranoia.
“The father and child had been to several other places to live and they always got kicked out. And I’m sure it’s because of the father’s mental illness,” Schwank said.
Judy Schwank intervened on Marcos’ behalf when she realized he wasn’t receiving the care he needed. “The Guatemalan consulate did an investigation. They talked to the wife and the family members in the states and everything. And in the meantime we had to call 911 because the father had become crazy and violent one day at the house. I said ‘You know I’m not putting up with this anymore’ because I was afraid he was going to hit the child. He really was not nice to that child,” Schwank said.
To ensure Marcos’ safety, the United States government would not allow Marcos’ father the ability to see him. The United States government gave Marcos’ mother the choice of re-uniting with her husband or Marcos. She chose her husband.
“The court here was pretty specific that the child could not go where the father is,” Schwank said. “I think that’s right because I don’t think the father has anything that he cares about that child. He’s just too mentally ill.”
Now under the permanent custody of Judy Schwank, 11-year-old Marcos speaks fluent English and is enrolled in the fifth grade at TC Cherry Elementary School. Marcos is still adapting to his new home, but has retained his native Acateco language by keeping in touch with his mother back in Guatemala. Judy Schwank realizes though that it may be a while that Marcos will return to Guatemala to see his mother.
“Marcos’ mother has told me every time I talk to her that the father is doing fine there is no problem,” Schwank said. “But when I took Marcos to visit his uncle here in Bowling Green, Ky., the uncle told me that’s not true and that he is “gravid” which means gravely ill. He is gravely, mentally ill and there are a lot of problems there and he is very happy that Marcos is staying here.”
Marcos has adjusted to his new living situation and has made friends in his fifth grade class but may not realize his stay here is not temporary. “I think Marcos is better off staying with us,” Schwank said. “I just don’t know when he’s going to realize that he’s not going home anytime soon.”
Judy Schwank expects that Marcos will gain his residency within the next 3 months. Once Marcos gains residency, he will get his green card and will be able to visit his family in Guatemala. “I think if I can take him to Guatemala to visit one time and that as long as he knows I can come and go now. I don’t have to walk and swim the river to get here. I can come and go. I can see my family and help them,” Schwank said.
“Whether he will appreciate any of this I don’t know. I don’t know. But I think its what’s in his best interest,” Schwank said.