In the Matter of the Guardianship of Shirla Gonzalez Xitumul: Miguel Hernandez Jeronimo, Appellant-Petitioner.
from the Decatur Circuit Court The Honorable Timothy B. Day,
Judge Trial Court Cause No. 16C01-1901-GU-1
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Alexander E. Budzenski Indianapolis,
Summary and Issue
Miguel Hernandez Jeronimo ("Hernandez") filed a
petition seeking to be appointed guardian of his niece,
Shirla Gonzalez Xitumul ("Shirla") and also seeking
certain findings that could enable Shirla to seek Special
Immigrant Juvenile ("SIJ") status from the United
States Citizen and Immigration Services ("USCIS").
At the time Hernandez filed the petition, he held a foreign
power of attorney signed by Shirla's parents allowing him
to act on their behalf with respect to Shirla. The trial
court made findings relevant to Shirla's SIJ status but
found it unnecessary to appoint Hernandez as her guardian
because he already held the power of attorney. In this
unopposed appeal, Hernandez raises the sole issue of whether
the trial court erred in denying the petition. Concluding the
trial court erred in finding the guardianship unnecessary, we
reverse and remand.
and Procedural History
Shirla resided in her native country of Guatemala until
October of 2017 when, at fourteen years of age and with her
mother's support, she began her journey to the United
States. Shirla traveled with people she did not know,
"by car or walking," because she "didn't
feel secure" in Guatemala due to her "violent"
relationship with her father: "He always hit me.
He'd always get drunk. He threw me out of the house.
Never - he was never there to support me, insults and
mistreatment." Transcript, Volume 2 at 12-13. When
Shirla arrived in the United States, she initially lived in a
shelter for immigrants in Chicago, Illinois. In October of
2018, she came to live with Hernandez and his family in
Decatur County, Indiana. She does not think she could go back
to Guatemala to live with her parents because she does not
have the support there that she has here. Hernandez
"treats [her] well[, ]" supporting her and giving
her an education, housing, clothing, and food. Id.
at 14. She wishes Hernandez to be her guardian.
Hernandez has lived in Indiana since 2007 and works in
construction. He is a Guatemalan citizen and an illegal
immigrant to this country. He does not believe Shirla could
be reunited with her parents in Guatemala "because of
what she had to live - she had to go through when she was
living over there with her parents." Id. at 9.
Shirla's only other relatives in Guatemala are on her
father's side of the family. Hernandez thinks living in
the United States is in Shirla's best interest because
she can get an education, have better opportunities, and be
protected. He supports Shirla emotionally and financially and
wishes to be her guardian. At some point after Shirla came to
live with Hernandez, Shirla's parents signed a document
"renounc[ing] the parental authority, guardianship, and
custody" of Shirla and giving Hernandez power of
attorney "so that he can provide the essentials for her
subsistence[.]" Appellant's Appendix, Volume 2 at
On January 2, 2019, Hernandez filed a petition seeking to be
named guardian of Shirla, then sixteen years old and
unmarried with no dependents. The petition alleged Shirla had
been abused, abandoned, and neglected by her parents and that
it is not in Shirla's best interest to return her to her
home country for those reasons; appointment of a guardian is
necessary to ensure her proper care and supervision and
specifically to "obtain decision-making powers in the
following areas: healthcare, including treatment and access
to medical records, and school enrollment"; and
Hernandez is the best person to serve as guardian as Shirla
resides with him. Shirla consented to the guardianship, but
as to her parents, the petition alleges, "Shirla's
parents have not objected to [Hernandez] being awarded
guardianship of Shirla and it is not likely they will do
so." Id. at 14-15.
[Hernandez] requests that this Court . . . enter an Order
1. [Shirla] is an unmarried minor;
2. The Decatur County Circuit Court has jurisdiction over
minors, and Shirla, as a minor, is dependent upon the Court
per IC 29-3-5-1 et seq.;
3. The appointment of a guardian for [Shirla] is necessary;
4. Shirla has been physically and mentally abused by her
5. Shirla has been abandoned and neglected by both of her
parents who forced her out of the home and left her with
nowhere to live in Guatemala and sent her to journey across
Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States alone;
6. Reunification with either parent is not a viable option;
7. Shirla has no parent willing or able to care for her in
the United States;
* * *
9. It is not in Shirla's best interests to be returned to
her country of nationality and last ...