Governor steps into dispute over fate of 6-year-old girl

Governor steps into dispute over fate of 6-year-old girl »Play Video
Kerrie Lechuga with her 6-year-old granddaughter.

HOPEWELL, Ore. -- Kerrie Lechuga held a going away party this week for her six-year-old granddaughter.

Oregon’s Department of Human Services wants to send the girl to live with her father, Alfonso Pantoja-Samano, who was deported to Mexico as a convicted felon.

Lechuga says she’ll do whatever it takes to keep the little girl here in the United States, where she was born.

“Do I need to go through parenting classes?” says Lachuga, “Do I need to stand on my head?  What do I need to do? Do you want me to go through counseling? Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it.”

Lechuga knows one reason DHS balks at letting her care for the little girl - a 2005 conviction for animal neglect for horses and dogs that died on her property. She says her daughter and her felon boyfriend were supposed to care for the animals, but didn’t.

Lachuga says she took the responsibility for what happened to keep Pantoja-Samano from being separated then from her other grandchild.

Lachuga says, “I said ‘OK, I’ll take responsibility’ to avoid Alfonso being deported and being taken away from my granddaughter.”

But when her youngest grandchild was born, Lachuga says Pantoja-Samano simply left the girl with whoever would take her.

“He will get her down there, and she’ll be dumped, as she was here,” says Lachuga.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has stepped in, ordering a review of the decision to send the little girl to Mexico. That review will take about a week.

Kerrie Lechuga would leave her grandchild in foster care if she could, because she knows the family she’s with right now is caring for her.

“If we can get her placed with a loving home, with someone that’s been close to her, that’s all I want. That’s all I want,” Lachuga says, “I hope she gets to stay here."