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COLUMBUS, Ohio – A judge urged an Ohio couple to stick with counseling toward a reconciliation with their teenage daughter, who ran away to Florida last year claiming she would be harmed for converting from Islam to Christianity.
Rifqa Bary’s parents have denied their daughter’s claim and had asked Franklin County Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Gill to scrap a deal reached in January that includes counseling as part of a reunion effort.
Mohamed and Aysha Bary said the county child welfare agency, which now has custody of the girl and which developed the reconciliation plan, was still allowing her to talk to a Florida pastor who sheltered Rifqa there.
Gill on Tuesday denied the parents’ request, saying she recognized their frustrations but believed that the best course was to move ahead with counseling to heal the family.
“The only individuals that are going to be able to repair it are the three of you, with professional help,” Gill said, addressing the parents and their daughter.
Earlier during the custody the hearing, the parents’ attorney, Omar Tarazi, said the mother and father still “want a reasonable, good faith chance for reconciliation.”
“If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” Tarazi said.
Rifqa Bary, who turns 18 in August, wants the court to rule that a reunion is impossible and that it is not in her best interest to be returned to her native Sri Lanka. Her lawyer, Angela Lloyd, said the teen wants to be able to practice her new religion and would not feel safe doing that at her parents’ home.
Police in Florida and Columbus found no evidence that the girl faced harm in Ohio.
The family alleges that Christian pastors helped her flee to Orlando, Fla., in July. Police in Columbus are investigating whether anyone broke the law helping her leave home.
Bonnie Vangeloff, a court-appointed attorney who represents the girl’s rights as a child in foster care, told the judge the family is in deep need of counseling but that reconciliation is probably unlikely before the girl turns 18.
Tuesday’s hearing also touched on Bary’s immigration status. Her attorneys raised the issue in a recent court filing that noted federal law allows “an undocumented immigrant minor” to receive permanent resident status when placed in long-term foster care by a judge. In court, Lloyd confirmed that the girl is an illegal immigrant.
“Unlike her parents, if reconciliation fails, at 18 then she is without legal status,” Lloyd said.
The immigration status of the parents is unclear. Attorneys have been under a gag order not to comment on the case.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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