A law proposed by a San Tan Valley father to let airport security and other agencies access a national database of children abducted by a parent is slowly gaining momentum.
What would be called Emily’s Law is aimed at preventing parents from taking a child out of the country in violation of custody agreements, while allowing wider access to information on abducted children similar to a National Crime Information Center database.
The effort, spearheaded by Michael Sanchez, seeks to let airport security search those files to determine whether a parent traveling alone with a child may be violating a court order. The hope is that security would be alerted before an abducted child can board an airplane.
In 2008, Emily Machado was taken to Brazil by her mother Nigia Machado in the midst of a custody battle with Sanchez when they were living in Illinois. Nigia Machado was living in the United States illegally and feared the legal ramifications of custody hearings.
In August, with the intervention of the State Department, Sanchez finally was reunited with Emily, now 6, after a lengthy mediation hearing in Brazil where a custody agreement was reached and visitation guidelines were set.
Sanchez began collecting signatures on a petition in July for Emily’s Law. Since then, 1,260 have signed on at www.bringemilyhome.org
“I think it’s progressing pretty good,” Sanchez, 25, said of the law. “Within the last couple of months, it looks like people think it’s a really good idea. We know that it’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s moving forward.”
Sanchez also recently met with U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., to discuss the effort, which has been endorsed by the National Fraternal Order of Police based in Nashville, Tenn. He says he also has met with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., about the issue.
A spokeswoman for Schakowsky’s office in Washington, D.C., told the Tribune earlier this week that the office is working on ironing out issues with the law so it can be fine-tuned and continue moving forward.
“We need to see whether the current protocols in place involving estranged or divorced parents traveling with their children just needs to be enforced, or if new provisions need to be put in place,” said Adjoa Adofo, a spokeswoman for Schakowsky. “A passport for Emily Machado should not have been granted without the consent of both parents, and that’s what happened in that case. We’re looking into how that happened.”
Sanchez was permitted by a court in Illinois to see his daughter every other weekend and two days a week. But when he arrived at Machado’s apartment in March 2008, he found it empty but for a note from Machado saying she was leaving with Emily.
Emily’s whereabouts were first confirmed by Interpol in September 2010, when the State Department notified Sanchez by letter that authorities had located his estranged girlfriend and daughter in Brazil and conducted a welfare check on the child.
Sanchez did not get to see Emily the first time he flew to Brazil in October 2010; Machado said she was busy with school and could not bring Emily to meet him.
After representatives from the State Department and the Brazilian Central Authority intervened and ordered a mediation that took 15 hours in Brazil in August, an agreement was reached that allows Sanchez to visit with and talk to his daughter more freely.
Sanchez said he was grateful so many organizations came together for the first-ever mediation of its kind for an international custody case in Brazil that also included the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Committee for Missing Children and Child Watch of North America.
Sanchez, who plans to return to Brazil in December, said he now talks to Emily over the phone about twice a week, and she still is pretty quiet in her communication with him. But, Emily told him that she wants an iPod for Christmas.
Whether or not Sanchez’ efforts ultimately become law, it is at least an attempt by a parent who has been left behind to prevent the common occurrence of parental abductions of children whose natural home is the United States.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says approximately 200,000 children are abducted each year by a legal guardian or custodial parent and taken out of the country.
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