Michael Sanchez Gets Back His Abducted Daughter After Almost Four Years

Michael Sanchez has at last been reunited with his daughter after her mother abducted her almost four years ago.  Read about it here (Huffington Post, 8/18/11).

Over three and a half years ago, Sanchez was scheduled to have some visitation time with his daughter Emily.  But when he turned up at her mother’s apartment in Berwyn, Illinois, no one was home.  In fact, mother Nigia Machado and little Emily were nowhere to be found.  She left only a note.

“The letter explained how she felt threatened by the courts, and that she was afraid she was going to lose custody of Emily sooner rather than later,” Michael wrote on his website, “She was also angry that I knew she was not a legal U.S. citizen and scared that she was going to be deported.”

Sanchez filed missing persons reports and soon enough the U.S. State Department learned that Machado had purchased a one-way ticket to her native Brazil.

Now, students of international parental kidnapping know that Brazil is a notoriously difficult country from which to extract a child who’s yours.  Despite being a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Brazil routinely makes no pretense of compliance with its strictures. 

The most shocking example of that is Sean Goldman whose son was abducted from New Jersey to Brazil by his mother.  Despite the clear terms of the Convention and despite the death of the child’s mother, it took Goldman five years to regain custody of his son.  But it wasn’t just the passage of time that was required; eventually it took the intervention of Goldman’s congressional representative and the threat of economic sanctions by the U.S. against Brazil for the child to finally be returned.

So Sanchez faced a long, uphill struggle to get Emily back into his care.  It took him almost four years of working two jobs to pay his legal fees.  At one point he travelled to Brazil to see his daughter, only to be told by Machado that he couldn’t.

But just a few days ago, he got her back.  Remarkably, that had nothing to do with the Hague Convention or Brazilian courts doing what they should have done years ago.  No, it seems Machado had a change of heart.  She and Sanchez have entered into an agreement, the details of which remain confidential.  How much time he’ll have with his daughter under the terms of the agreement is known only to him and Machado.

A few points.  First, the law that exists to correct one thing and one thing only – international child abduction – failed totally.  Sanchez has his daughter back, but no thanks to the Convention or the Brazilian courts.  How long the case would have dragged on before Sanchez got his daughter back is anyone’s guess.  What type of pressure would have been required for that to happen is likewise unknown.

Second, once again, a father’s rights were placed in the hands of his child’s mother, not his.  Machado kidnapped his child for the least compelling of reasons – that a court might take away or limit her parental rights.  Presumably there was a reason why the court was considering that extreme step, but that didn’t matter to Machado; she doubtless knew she could take the child to Brazil and there be no legal consequences for her doing so.  Given that, what was the downside to her for doing so?

Meanwhile Sanchez was stuck with the Hague Convention, little as it is.  As the parents who testified before a U.S. House subcommittee said, the State Department is worse than useless in dealing with these cases even though it’s tasked with doing so.  The State Deparment sees its primary role as promoting commerce and good relations between the U.S. and the various nations of the world.  Demanding compliance with the Hague Convention and threatening sanctions for failure to do so seem low on State’s list of priorities.  Sean Goldman and now Michael Sanchez can testify to that.

So once again, the law has failed a father seeking one of the most humble things a man can want – a relationship with the child he helped bring into the world.

Tellingly, just last week, in a similar case, the three children of a California man were returned to him only two days after they were discovered in Mexico – another inveterate violator of the Hague Convention.  Why did things go so smoothly in his case and not in Goldman’s or Sanchez’?  Well, the dad happened to be the son of a U.S. congressman, that’s why.  In fact, the Hague procedures were bypassed altogether in that case.  The Mexican police picked up the mother and the children, took them to the border and turned them over to police on this side.  They took Mom to jail, charged her with criminal interference with custody and the kids have been reunited with their father. 

Dads like Sanchez and Goldman, and indeed all those who aren’t lucky enough to have a politically powerful father have to do the best they can with the tools at their disposal, i.e. the law.  Time and again, the law fails fathers.  It did this time too.

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