Protest Punishment: Baby taken away from foster dad after arrest outside ICE facility

(WSVN) - A South Florida foster father says fighting for what he believes in left him fighting to get his foster daughter back. 7’s Brian Entin has our special report, “Protest Punishment.”

Back in July, protesters were at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Pompano Beach, upset about the U.S. policy separating immigrant children from their parents.

Activists used bike locks to attach themselves to the front gate. And on police body camera video, you see Mathi Arivalan, who locked himself to a car to block the driveway.

Firefighters had to cut off the roof of the car. Mathi and the other protesters were arrested.

Mathi Arivalan, lost foster child: “I was outraged by this policy of separating out families and especially detaining children, innocent children.”

Mathi expected to spend the night in jail on a misdemeanor trespassing charge.

He did not expect to lose his foster child.

Mathi Arivalan: “I was devastated, confused and like hurt all at the same time.”

In home videos, you can tell how much Mathi loves his foster daughter.

Mathi Arivalan: “I saw this precious, innocent child who needed a home, and I couldn’t say no.”

Mathi, who is a single software engineer, started fostering the baby when she was just 3 weeks old.

She lived with him for seven months, but now her nursery is empty.

Mathi Arivalan: “It is really sad coming in here because it brings back all those memories.”

Kids in Distress is the Broward County nonprofit agency that oversees Mathi as a foster dad. They removed the baby from his care immediately after his protest arrest.

Mathi Arivalan: “I don’t know where she is. I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again. So this was all, like, so confusing. I didn’t even know how to process it.”

Before the protest, Mathi emailed his Kids in Distress counselor saying, “It’s most likely I’ll get arrested. I have already made plans with the backup sitter.”

The counselor responded that she alerted her supervisor and added, “Please be careful!”

But after his arrest and one night in jail, things changed.

Mathi Arivalan: “They said that, ‘You shouldn’t have done this. You shouldn’t have gone to a protest.'”

The CEO of Kids in Distress told 7News he is limited in what he can say because of confidentiality, but he said foster parents must be 100 percent committed to children and must always make decisions based on the best interest of their foster child.

Nancy Hass, family law attorney: “They are concerned about someone who may be irresponsible, who maybe was not thinking about the child first.”

Family law attorney Nancy Hass says Kids in Distress was just trying to protect the child but believes Mathi deserves a second chance.

Nancy Hass: “It wasn’t alcohol. It wasn’t drugs. The child wasn’t exposed to something. He didn’t commit a felony.”

Mathi has no criminal history, and his misdemeanor charge for trespassing was dropped.

Brian Entin: “If they came back to you and said, ‘OK, you can have the child back but you cannot get arrested again,’ would you agree not to do protests like this?”

Mathi Arivalan: “I would agree not to put myself in a vulnerable situation, but I would still raise my voice in different ways against racism.”

Mathi has a lawyer and is trying to formally adopt the baby.

For now, we have learned she has been placed with one of her family members.

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