HOUSTON — Texas state Rep. Talmadge Heflin (R-Houston) is a right-wing legislator and chairman of the Texas House Appropriations Committee. He is notorious in Texas for arguing that a sales tax on groceries was “not an unfair burden on the poor.”

Heflin, who is white, is now notorious for asking a judge to allow him and his wife to take an African immigrant’s baby away from the child’s mother and father.

In a recent custody hearing, the child’s mother, Mariam Katamba, said the Heflins offered her housing and that she worked for them as a maid and was paid in cash. The Heflins countered that Katamba was only a “houseguest” and a bad parent.

Katamba and her husband have a 20-month-old son, Fidel Odimara Jr. Heflin said Katamba would not be able to care for the child as well as he and his wife could. He pointed out that the child’s parents couldn’t provide health insurance for the child, whereas he was in a position to do so.

It should be noted that Heflin presided over state budget cuts that resulted in 7,000 children being cut from the CHIP Program. CHIP provides health care for children from families who are ineligible for Medicaid and cannot afford other health insurance.

Heflin is quoted as having testified in the custody hearing, “We all know the terrible problem that Black male children have growing up into manhood without being in prison.” The Heflins also argued that the biological parents might harm the child by taking him to his father’s homeland, Nigeria.

In an effort to counter arguments that the Heflins’ actions were inappropriate and influenced by racism, their attorney Harry Tindall asserted, “Race is not an issue here and this is not about acting as a plantation owner.” Yet even Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey pointed out that Heflin seemed to be trying to resurrect Rudyard Kipling’s concept of the “white man’s burden.”

On Aug. 23, Family District Judge Linda Motheral, who presided over the custody hearings, dismissed the Heflins’ case. Little Fidel, who had been taken from Katamba and given to the Heflins several days before, was promptly returned to his parents. The parents are reportedly considering their legal options for further redress.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.

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