Language Barrier at Child Protective Services

For the first year, Baby Raymond lived happily with his family. Then the agency took him away and even though his Chinese-American family fought to get him back, they couldn't find the right words

And the Lord said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech."

Genesis 11: 6-7

On Sept. 23, Sally Liu will ask the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals for the chance to get her three-year-old boy back.

Liu, a 38-year-old schizophrenic, lost her son in September 2007, when a Harris County jury terminated her parental rights and awarded custody of Raymond Liu to a Katy couple.

In the nearly ten years since Liu was diagnosed, she has failed to consistently take her medications and has frequently been hospitalized. Irrational when not medicated, Liu believes that having her son will "cure" her.

Sally has the misfortune not only of being mentally ill but being mentally ill in Harris County. She also has the misfortune of not speaking English as a first language and of coming from a culture completely foreign and confounding to the narrow interpretations of low-level American bureaucracy.

From the minute Sally was pregnant, her family knew she wouldn't have the capacity to independently care for Raymond, which is why he never lived with her and why she was never alone with him. Instead, as in many other families, Raymond was raised by his grandmother, Situ Liu, who lives in Phoenix near her daughter and son-in-law, Connie and Tony Diep. Raymond had the good fortune of being constantly surrounded by a bright and hardworking extended family. In Phoenix, Raymond spent time with Aunt Connie (Sally's twin) and Uncle Tony, and he bonded with his teenage cousins, Christina and Diana. In Sugar Land, Raymond was adored by Aunt Ling, Uncle Buntheng and their children. On the three or four Houston visits during Raymond's first year, Raymond would get to see his mom. It was important to the Lius that, while Sally could not care for Raymond, she still be a part of his life.

For the first year of Raymond's life, Situ would rise early every morning to boil congee, or rice porridge. She had fixed this traditional meal for her five children and eight other grandchildren.

Situ has lived in the United States for 21 years, but she never learned English. Until March 2006, it never seemed to be a problem. She was overjoyed that she was able to move her family from China to the United States. Sally and Connie came first, in 1986. They lived with family in Phoenix until the rest of the family followed a year later. (Their siblings were over 21 and had to wait a year before immigrating.)

It's the typical story: Situ and her husband did not want their children to spend the rest of their lives under an oppressive regime. The children worked hard, went to school, started businesses and took care of each other. How could she have conceived of the idea that, one day, government workers in the United States of America would come to the door and take her grandson?

We come to America. This is a great country. We have a better life here. This is the country have the freedom and have this — this is the country have civilization and freedom. And how do I know they can take the children just like this?

— Situ Liu (interpreted), testifying in court, September 2007

Raymond Liu was born in the Year of the Rooster.

According to Chinese astrology, that makes Raymond a jumble of often opposing characteristics. Brave and loyal, Roosters' blunt honesty can be misinterpreted as insulting. They are sociable, but they can be braggarts, and like to be the center of the attention. They are smart, organized and motivated. But they can also be moody and subject to severe emotional swings.

Born in 2005, Raymond is a Wood Rooster. That element tempers the Rooster's normal self-centeredness; he's more likely to be a team player. They are do-gooders, and so ready to fight injustice that they will often take on more than they can handle and never finish their mission.

His mother Sally was born in 1970, a Year of the Dog. The first Chinese New Year Raymond ever celebrated — 2006 — was also a Year of the Dog. It would be the last one he ever celebrated with his family.

Sally Liu moved to Houston from Phoenix one year earlier, in February 2005, when she was about eight months pregnant. She moved without telling anyone, for reasons still unclear. The family has said Sally might have believed doctors in Phoenix would have taken Raymond away from her as soon as he was born. By that time, her mother Situ and her sister Connie had been Sally's legal guardians for three years.

Sally gave birth to Raymond and lived with her sister Ling for three months. Then Raymond went to live with his grandmother and aunt and uncle in Phoenix. Sally never kept in touch with Raymond's father, a waiter who lived in Phoenix and who had split when Sally's illness proved too much. He wanted nothing to do with her. He told people to tell her he moved to Puerto Rico.

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