August 5, 2014
Source: The Hub
A bill empowering the U.S. State Department to aggressively pursue the return of internationally abducted children is headed to the president’s desk after being approved by Congress.
The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, the fourth bill of its kind introduced by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4), was drafted after Smith became involved with David Goldman’s fight to be reunited with his son, Sean.
According to Jeff Sagnip, the congressman’s press secretary, Goldman’s wife absconded with Sean from the family’s Tinton Falls home in June 2004, bringing him to Brazil when he was 4 years old without seeking custody of Sean or legally divorcing Goldman in a U.S. court.
She subsequently died in childbirth, Sagnip said, and the Brazilian government held that her partner at the time of her death should maintain custody of Sean.
Brazil is a signatory of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, but chose to ignore the policies outlined by the international agreement, Sagnip said.
“Previously, the State Department would say ‘… There’s nothing that we can do,” Sagnip said. “[For a parent] trying to get a foreign court to award custody, it’s very difficult and returns are rare.”
The Sean and David Goldman Act (H.R. 3212) would allow U.S. embassies to apply pressure in incremental phases to dissuade governments from ignoring international law and sheltering abductors.
“[This bill] provides a series of tools which vary in their severity, from mild to strong,” Sagnip said. “The State Department is able to start with a little pressure and then build the pressure [on foreign governments refusing to return abducted American children to their homes.]”
Those tools include a private diplomatic protest called a demarche, a public condemnation of the foreign government, the withholding of economic aid and, eventually, demands for the extradition of the abductor.
Goldman, who was reunited with his son after five years of heavy investment both financial and emotional, said the passage of the bill provides hope for parents facing the same struggle he did.
“It was a long road, nearly five years, thanks to a tremendous effort of Congressman Smith and his staff,” Goldman said. “It was a great thing to do. It was the right thing to do. It’s another step closer to reuniting families. Next step: the White House.”
For victims of international child abduction and their parents, Smith said the Sean and David Goldman Act represents a shift in U.S. policy that will benefit separated family members.
“Many children and parents have tragically lost years separated from each other in violation of U.S. and international law,” Smith said. “They have missed birthdays, holidays, and family time that they can never get back. H.R. 3212 ensures that they will now receive significant help from the U.S. government in their fight to recover their children.”
According to Sagnip, the bill allows the State Department to use the leverage already at its disposal in international abduction cases — leverage that is invaluable to an individual parent who only has so many resources to expend.
“How can a parent in Rutherford, New Jersey … fight a battle that’s halfway across the world? How do they pay for it?” Sagnip said. “It’s a tremendous expense, it’s a tremendous undertaking, and this [bill] puts the State Department in their corner.”
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