- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

A U.S. District judge in Missouri has blocked temporarily the deportation of a pregnant Mexican woman who is married to a U.S. citizen, calling the fetus an “American” and citing a federal law created to protect unborn children after the high-profile death of Laci Peterson.

Senior U.S. District Judge Scott O. Wright ordered that Myrna Dick, 29, of Raymore, Mo., who is accused of falsely claiming American citizenship, be allowed to remain in the United States for now and told prosecutors and the defense to prepare for a possible trial.

“Isn’t that child an American citizen?” he asked, according to the Kansas City Star. “If this child is an American citizen, we can’t send his mother back until he is born.”

In rejecting the federal government’s request to lift a temporary stay granted Mrs. Dick in April, Judge Wright pointed to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, which grants unborn children equal protection under the law if their mothers are targets of criminal violence.

The law is also known as “Laci and Conner’s Law” for a California woman and her unborn son whose bodies washed up along the shore of San Francisco Bay in April 2003. Scott Peterson, Laci’s husband, is charged in the deaths.

Lee Cohen, spokesman for Rep. Melissa A. Hart, Pennsylvania Republican and a sponsor of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, said he was baffled by Judge Wright’s allusion to that law in the case of Myrna Dick, because there is no indication either she or her unborn son was a victim of violence.

Mr. Cohen said that, under the law, a person who commits a federal crime of violence against a pregnant woman can be charged with killing or injuring the woman’s unborn child.

The law — opposed by many abortion proponents — states there are two crime victims, not one, if a pregnant woman is attacked.

“If no violence was committed against a pregnant woman, the law doesn’t apply,” Mr. Cohen said yesterday.

He said he recognizes some have claimed the new federal law opens the door to a host of legal protections for the fetus, but he called that claim “a stretch,” given that the law is restricted to violence that causes the bodily harm or death of a pregnant woman and unborn child.

Rekha Sharma-Crawford, attorney for Mrs. Dick, yesterday said her client has an immigration work permit and is in a “loving marriage.”

“The court raised inquiries about the law, as to whether it might impact this case down the road. … The court did not say the law was applicable … it never resolved the issue,” she said.

“I think the question the court was asking was whether that law creates a legal right for the fetus to remain in this country.”

Mrs. Dick, who is five months pregnant, was arrested April 23 when she went to an immigration office to renew her work permit. Since then, she has been held in jail on charges she lied about being a U.S. citizen in 1998.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement yesterday said she doesn’t know of any law or regulation that prohibits deportation of a pregnant woman in the country illegally.

“I’ve never heard of anyone not being deported because of [pregnancy],” said Ernestine Fobbs. But she said such issues are handled on a case-by-case basis.

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