"She could have — literally, the very next day after receiving the petition — filed an objection to the Mosers having the child," says Hensley. "Instead she waited an entire year and did nothing at all. It's crazy."

Bail's legal team sounds equally confident of victory. Seattle-based Omar Riojas, a commercial-litigation specialist tapped by Super Lawyers magazine as a "rising star," says he and his cohorts look forward to watching Bail tell her story in person, to a judge. "The evidence shows she did not abandon her child," Riojas maintains.

Refashioned from an old Salvation Army storefront space, the Iglesia Cristiana Hispanoamericana is one of 37 Christian houses of worship in Carthage. Pastor Francisco Bonilla's flock is almost exclusively Latino and includes Jennifer and Oswaldo Velazco, the couple who brought Carlos into the lives of Seth and Melinda Moser.

"When they met him it was love at first sight," says Bess Lanyon, a friend of Carlos' adoptive parents. "That little boy lives a wonderful life."
"When they met him it was love at first sight," says Bess Lanyon, a friend of Carlos' adoptive parents. "That little boy lives a wonderful life."
Encarnación Bail lost custody of her son while jailed for immigration violations.
John H. Tucker
Encarnación Bail lost custody of her son while jailed for immigration violations.

Bonilla himself takes a dim view of Encarnación Bail. "She's not a good mom," opines the pastor, who has followed the saga from the outset. "In my opinion Encarnación is using the boy [in order to acquire her immigration] papers. She's not looking out for Carlos, but for a favor from the U.S."

Perhaps not surprisingly, attorney Joe Hensley agrees. But most immigration experts say this so-called anchor baby premise is a myth borne of misinformation. A U.S. citizen whose parents are foreign nationals must be at least 21 years old in order to sponsor them for citizenship, they point out. If the courts return Carlos to Encarnación Bail, the experts predict, she'll almost certainly be deported to Guatemala and take her son with her.

And that might well be the Moser camp's greatest fear.

"Why should he be sent with a stranger to a foreign country?" asks the Mosers' friend Bess Lanyon. "I can't even think about the possibility of what a move to Guatemala would do to that little boy. This is home. There's security here. For a parent to want to do emotional damage to a child by having them move — that's not my definition of love, which is self-sacrificing."

The Mosers undoubtedly share that sentiment. The couple declined to be interviewed for this story, but in August of last year, Seth Moser told the Joplin Globe that if Bail were to be awarded custody of Carlos, the boy would be "faced with going to a country where he's never been, doesn't speak the language and doesn't know a soul. That would be traumatic even for an adult."

When she visited Encarnación Bail in jail, Laura Davenport told Bail that if she brought up her son in Guatemala, he'd grow up to be a factory worker.

"That lifestyle in Guatemala is not romantic," Davenport declared. "It's nothing."

"Adoption is not social engineering," counters Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in Newton, Massachusetts, and author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution Is Transforming America. "From what I can tell, the judge in this case thought the child was better off in middle-class America than a less-fortunate country. If that's the case, there are lots of kids we can take from homes in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and place in wealthier ones."

Yet some child-development specialists paint a troubling picture along the same lines Seth Moser sketched for Joplin's daily paper.

"There will be a lot of anxiety of the child, which might manifest into problem behavior," predicts Lise Fox, a professor in the University of South Florida's Department of Child and Family Studies. "I'm pretty sure the child will experience grief."

Fox and Pertman do agree that if Bail regains custody of Carlos, the Mosers should be permitted to continue playing a role in his life.

Julie Rosicky is the executive director of the U.S. branch of International Social Service, a network that provides support for children and families that have become geographically separated for any number of reasons. Rosicky readily acknowledges the fear that can accompany international transitions, but she argues that there are mechanisms in place to conquer it. "We've gone global in so many ways — just look at the Internet, or what we stock in our grocery stores," she notes. "In the consumer context, we've accepted there are ways to get anything, anywhere, but we have yet to accept the fact that our families are diverse, too."

Rosicky adds that Carlos' case is a unique one. But she predicts that whatever might transpire in the courtroom, the boy will eventually adjust.

"There is no win-win situation, and there is going to be heartbreak, hurt and trauma no matter what," Rosicky says. "But children are resilient and can adapt. It's the parents who have the issues."

Professor Marcia Zug of the University of South Carolina School of Law has been tracking cases in which a child in the U.S. has been separated from a parent who's deemed an illegal immigrant. Citing a few dozen specific instances over the past decade, she says that for every documented case, numerous others fly under the radar; because juvenile court records typically are sealed, it's impossible to assemble a complete tally. But Zug believes the number is somewhere in the hundreds and continues to climb.

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