MEMPHIS (AP) - A Chinese couple facing deportation suffered another legal setback Monday in trying to get their 4-year-old daughter out of foster care.
A judge indefinitely delayed a trial that would determine if an American couple can proceed with plans to adopt the girl over her parents' objections.
The delay left parents Shaoqiang He and Qin Luo stuck in a custody fight that has dragged on for more than three years - and time for them may be running out.
They go before an immigration court in December. If they are deported before regaining custody of daughter Anna Mae, the couple could lose her forever.
"I think this judge is very unfair with us," He said outside the courtroom.
Anna Mae's parents put her in foster care in 1999 because the family was in financial trouble.
He, then a graduate student at the University of Memphis, lost his scholarship and student stipend when accused of a sexual assault for which he ultimately was cleared. He also lost his student status for being in the United States.
No allegations of abuse have been raised against the Hes, but repeated attempts to get their daughter back have failed.
Foster parents Jerry and Louise Baker of suburban Memphis want to adopt the child and are seeking to have the Hes' parental rights terminated on the grounds of abandonment.
Judge D.J. Alissandratos postponed a trial on the Bakers' petition because the husband of the lawyer for Anna Mae's court-appointed legal guardian has been diagnosed with cancer.
Lawyer Linda Holmes said she would be unable to give her full attention to a trial. Her husband is expected to have surgery within two weeks.
Alissandratos refused to continue the trial with another lawyer replacing Holmes. No new trial date was scheduled.
The judge also refused to consider letting the Hes visit with their daughter while the dispute is in his courtroom. He issued an order last year denying them any contact with her.
The Hes have seen Anna Mae only once since police escorted them from the Bakers' residence more than two years ago following an argument over conditions for visitation.
In preparation for the trial, a court-appointed psychologist recently accompanied the Hes on a visit with their daughter.
"During our meeting she recognized we are Mommy and Daddy," He said. "I show her pictures and say, 'Who is this?' She say, 'Mommy, Daddy."'
David Siegel, the Hes' lawyer, said they believed when they put Anna Mae in foster care they could get her back when their finances improved. They did not understand court approval would be needed, Siegel said.
Larry Parrish, the Bakers' lawyer, said Anna Mae is now a part of their family.
"My clients will always do whatever is in the best interest of this child," Parrish said, declining further comment.