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7-year legal fight reunites girl with Chinese parents

Woody Baird Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A Chinese couple regained legal custody of their 8-year-old daughter Monday after a seven-year fight to get her back from what was supposed to be temporary foster care.

Judge Curtis Person of Memphis Juvenile Court signed an order returning custody of Anna Mae He to parents Shaoqiang and Qin Luo He, Chinese citizens who came to the United States so Shaoqiang He could attend college.

The order revoked the temporary guardianship by Jerry and Louise Baker, former foster parents who had tried to adopt the girl over her parents’ objections.

“As far as custody goes, that’s it,” said David Siegel, the Hes’ lawyer. “That’s no longer an issue. That’s nothing that will ever be an issue again.”

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in January that Anna Mae He must be reunited with her parents, and she began a series of meetings with them in March. Those meetings, which progressed to overnight stays and weekend visits, were overseen by a lawyer and psychologist appointed by the Juvenile Court.

In his custody order, Person said the Supreme Court mandate had been fulfilled.

“I want everyone to know she will have a bright future,” Shaoqiang He said in a telephone interview Monday. He said he expects to return to China with his family after Anna Mae has settled in.

Psychologists helping her adjust to leaving one family for another will decide whether she has further contact with the Bakers, who took her in when she was just less than a month old, He said.

“That depends on Anna Mae and her emotional and psychological needs,” He said. “We want to do the best for her.”

In its ruling, the state Supreme Court overturned a decision by a Memphis judge that took away the Hes’ parental rights. That decision in 2004 followed a trial at which the Bakers argued Anna Mae would have a better life in suburban America than in China.

“I want her to have both cultures, Asian heritage and American culture,” He said. “But from today on, she will never have to hide her Chinese heritage. I want her to have pride in it.”

The Bakers’ lawyer, Larry Parrish, issued a written statement last week saying that they had ended their custody fight. The Bakers contend Anna Mae will be emotionally devastated by leaving the only family she has known, “but further delaying the execution of what she must now suffer cannot be expected to help,” Parrish wrote.

The high court said the Hes were penalized because they did not understand the American legal system and thought they were giving up their daughter temporarily so she could get health insurance. The family hit hard financial times when Shaoqiang He lost his graduate school scholarship and student stipend at the University of Memphis.

He also lost his student visa, but the immigration courts have held off on deportation proceedings because of the custody fight.

“I have to leave the United States,” He said. “I promised the immigration judge I would take the voluntary departure after the custody issues were resolved.”

But He said he hopes his family, which includes a son and another daughter born during the custody fight, can stay in the United States a while longer.

“I hope for the sake of Anna Mae’s welfare they can give us … one year or two years until Anna Mae is well-adjusted,” he said. Going to China sooner “might be too big a change for her right now.”

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