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Gary Younge
Texas politician seeks custody to 'save' African child

State representative Talmadge Heflin and his wife Jan ice made their case to a family court in Houston this week, accusing Mariam Katamba and her partner, Fidel Odimara, of not caring for their son or providing him with adequate medical care.

Ms Katamba, who is from Uganda, and Mr Odimara, who is from Nigeria, say they love their child, have never abused him, and are being threatened by the Heflins be cause they are illegal immigrants.

Ms Katamba moved in with the Heflins in July last year to work as their maid and then took on extra work outside of their home, but says she saw her son, Fidel, as often as she could. The Heflins say they took in the mother and child and cared for Fidel Jr when Ms Katamba was out at work. They say she worked all week and went out at weekends leaving the child with them.

Ms Katamba denies that she went out at weekends. "You pretended that you are helping me and now you are trying to take my kid away from me," she told the court. Mrs Heflin had offered to babysit for her after she found another job, she added,but she had never wanted to give him up. In an affidavit Ms Katamba added. "They always take my child to Austin, Texas, whenever I'm off. When I protested about their denying me my child, they then brought the [case]."

In their documentary evidence the Heflins insist that Fidel Jr has spent most of his short life with them and that they "are the only caregivers the child has known".

The issue came to a head last month when the Heflins gained temporary custody with a court order, saying that if the child were taken to either Uganda or Nigeria he might not receive adequate medical care for his asthma and heart murmur.

They say they want temporary custody to ensure Fidel Jr's wellbeing and do not want to end the couple's parental rights.

The African couple's lawyer, Matthew Nwogu, says the case is about returning a child to biological parents who are willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to care for him.

Judge Linda Metheral adjourned the case to today to gather more information.

"[The child] sees us as his protectors, and we are," Mrs Heflin told the Associated Press.

"We want him to know his parents but we also want him to be protected."

Mr Odimara, who has rebutted claims made by the Heflins that he assaulted his wife while she was pregnant and has treated his son recklessly, told the hearing that the first-born child had a special significance in Nigerian culture. "I want my son back," he said.

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