A 6-year-old girl who spent most of her life with California foster parents was removed from her home on Monday under a court order that concluded her Native American blood requires her placement with relatives in Utah.
Lexi, who is part Choctaw, cried and clutched a stuffed bear as Rusty Page carried her out of his home north of Los Angeles to a waiting car. Los Angeles County social workers whisked her away.
Dozens of people had converged on a Santa Clarita neighborhood to demonstrate against plans to move Lexi from her foster family's custody and place her with Choctaw Nation blood relatives who live in Utah.
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"How is it that a screaming child, saying 'I want to stay, I'm scared,' how is it in her best interest to pull her from the girl she was before that doorbell rang?" he told KNX-AM radio.
His wife, Summer Page, screamed "Lexi, I love you!" and a crowd of friends and neighbors cried, prayed or sang hymns.
The child's case falls under the purview of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which was enacted in the 1970s to help keep American Indian children with American Indian families. The law, passed in 1978, outlines federal requirements that apply to state custody proceedings that involve a child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe.
The Save Lexi Facebook page had indicated the girl would be removed Sunday morning from the home of foster parents Rusty and Summer Page, who took in the child four years ago, but it was later announced that the girl's removal had been postponed. Many of the demonstrators stayed put, some camping out in front of the home overnight and into Monday morning.
The crowd remained at the home at midday after the foster family told NBC4 they plan to comply with the plan to move the child, who has been living with the foster family for more than four years.
"It's all about Lexi," said foster father Rusty Page. "We've got to keep that in the forefront of our minds and our hearts."
In a statement issued Monday, the National Indian Child Welfare Association said the foster family was aware of the case requirements and the temporary nature of the care provided.
"In this contentious custody case, there have never been any surprises as far as what the law required," according to the statement. "The foster family was well aware years ago this girl is an Indian child, whose case is subject to the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act, and who has relatives who were willing to raise her if reunification with her father was unsuccessful.
"In fact, the only surprising turn of events is the lengths the foster family has gone to, under the advice of an attorney with a long history of trying to overturn ICWA, to drag out litigation as long as possible, creating instability for the child in question. That the foster family now argues bonding and attachment should supersede all else despite testimony of those closest to her case, seems like a long-term, calculated legal strategy based on the simple fact that the law was always clear, they understood it, but just chose not to abide by it."
The Pages say they want to adopt Lexi, who is part Choctaw, and say the girl considers them and their three children to be her family. The Pages' legal appeals have not been successful.
Philip Browning, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, said law does not allow the agency to comment on details regarding specific cases.
"I am aware that there are questions whether my Department will comply with a court order to replace a child in accordance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act," he said in statement. "I want to assure the public that my Department will continue to act in the best interest of the children we serve and remain in compliance with the court orders and laws governing our work. I am also aware that sometimes the court must make orders that involve resolving competing priorities and interests. Often there are no easy solutions, but when a court makes an order, we must follow it. In this particular matter, I would ask the media to give this child her privacy, not only because it is in the child's interest, but because it is also the law."