They were ripped from a loving California home and sent to Mexico. This family wants them back

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services just released a report stating that immigrant kids separated at the border from their parents are suffering the trauma and anxiety of being ripped from all they’ve known and held in American detention camps.

Many of the kids are afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and some spend their days crying inconsolably, the report said.

A family in Roseville understands this pain completely because it is linked to two small children who were taken from their home and all they’ve known and are now living in another country with people they didn’t know at first.

Michael and Shelly Fanselau and their family have grieved the loss of those kids – a 7-year-old boy, Xavian, and a 6-year-old girl, Anastasia – since the children were removed from the custody of the Fanselaus by authorities from Merced County, where the kids were from.

Their sudden removal occurred at the Sonoma County home the Fanseaus had shared with their kids before moving to Roseville. It was Nov. 10, 2017.

“That was the worst day of our lives,” said Shelly Fanselau, 47. She and her husband Michael, 52, were trying to adopt Xavian and Anastasia when Merced County authorities showed up unannounced to take them away.


Their story of loss is deeply felt like a wound that doesn’t heal. But this story also has two huge twists that separates it from the plight of immigrant kids in U.S. government facilities or other stories of denied adoptions in California

Xavian and Anastasia are not refugees from another country. They are California-born, U.S. citizens. They were taken away to live with their biological father, identified in legal documents as Israel Vargas of Los Banos. The Fanselaus say that by March 2018, Xavian and Anastasia had been dropped off in northern Mexico by their father at the home of his mother, a woman the children didn’t know at the time. The father had the kids for about two months before taking them to his mother and returning to his life in Los Banos, the Fansleaus say. A few months after that, he was arrested for DUI.

The kids didn’t speak Spanish when they arrived in Mexico, the Fanselaus said. They knew no one in the small Baja California town of Hechicera, which is south of Mexicali.

Since that wrenching day, the Fanselaus have been trying to get the children back, not only because they grew to adore them in the 14 months the kids lived with them. But also because Xavian and Anastasia are the biological siblings of three boys the Fanselaus legally adopted in 2012 from Merced County authorities. The Fanselaus lived in Turlock at that time.

When they became parents of their boys, the Fanselaus had no idea they had younger siblings. The boys didn’t know either, Michael Fanselau said. The family had moved to Cotati in Sonoma County and the Fanselaus said they were living happily near the Pacific Ocean, making frequent visits to the beach, when the same Merced County officials who had brought them their boys came with an even bigger surprise.

“We got a call,” Michael Fanselau said. This was in September 2016.

“We met Xavian and Anastasia at a park,” Shelly Fanselau said. “They had to walk a long sidewalk to get to where we were and it was love at first sight. I could not believe how much they looked like our boys.”

The boys – Kyle, 12, and twins Karsen and Konner, 9 – embraced their siblings and bonded with them immediately, their parents say.

“They played together every day,“ Shelly Fanselau said. “We had tried for several years to have children and we couldn’t and now we had five! (Xavian and Anastasia) completed our family. Blood runs deep in these kids. You can totally see that they belong together.”

The Fanselaus say they felt they were on their way to adopting Xavian and Anastasia. They say monthly visits with Merced County authorities were positive. Xavian was in school in Sonoma, along with his older brothers. Anastasia was home with Shelly. The Fanselaus say the children began to smile more, to be more precocious.

They appeared to be shedding the apprehension of what they suspect were turbulent lives in an unstable home before Merced County authorities reached out to them. “Anastasia was the only girl but she held her own with the boys,” Shelly Fanselau said.

“They all just got along,” she said. “They wanted to be together. They would come up with something that they could all do, that they all loved, whether it was basketball or riding bikes or riding scooters. They loved each other.”

That’s why their removal is bit of mystery. Adoption cases involving minors are subject to strict privacy guidelines. Merced County officials, like those in other counties, do not discuss specific cases publicly.

The Fanselaus say they don’t know why the children were placed with their biological father instead of them. Vargas shared the same blood as the children, but Merced authorities also removed children from a stable home where they had siblings.

When they found out the children were being removed, Michael said he rushed to school to bring home Xavian and his three other boys so they could say goodbye. The family attempted a group prayer and Karsen ran to his room screaming. He was terrified that he, too, would be taken away, even though he had been legally adopted by the Fanselaus.

“It was Anastasia who went to him and comforted him,” Shelly said. “She said to her brother, ‘I love you and I will miss you.’”

The family said they didn’t get a hearing. The children were taken to Mexico and the issue became complicated because now they were in a foreign country. The Fanselaus have hired attorneys to the help them, but for now, they are the strongest advocates for their kids.

They took to Facebook and told their story. They have sent packets of information to Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the House minority leader. They have sent the same information to Rep. Tom McClintock of Roseville, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, the U.S. Consul General in Tijuana, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and the U.S. State Department. They have also petitioned Mexican authorities.

The Fanselaus have included a report by a private investigator they hired. The report found that Vargas had been arrested for DUI. Merced County records show an Israel Vargas was booked for DUI on July 5. This was six months after Merced County authorities had placed the children with him and roughly four months after he took the to Mexico, according to the Fansleaus.

The Roseville couple and their children visited Xavian and Anastasia in April. They said they found the children to be dirty and dispirited. The couple feel that their spirits have been broken. The Fansleaus said the children told them they wanted to come home.

But they need help to get the kids – either from the U.S. State Department or from the state of California.

At the least, the administration of California Gov. Gavin Newsom should investigate this case. And if it finds the facts to correspond with the Fanselaus version of events, then Newsom could show mercy or justice to use his contacts in Mexico to bring these kids home.

“Those two completed our family and we’re not going to give up fighting,” Shelly said. “They deserve a life. They deserve a future. They deserve being with their brothers and their mommy and daddy in the only stable loving home they have ever known.”

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Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.