A San Tan Valley father who has not seen his daughter in three years is continuing to press forward through political red tape and his frustration with the hopes of working out a custody agreement with the girl's mother who took the child to Brazil.
Michael Sanchez already has traveled more than 5,800 miles once in an attempt to see his daughter, Emily Machado, who now is 5 years old, hoping to again be a part of her life and that his child will remember him.
Emily was born in the United States, but Sanchez's ex-girlfriend, Nigia Machado, who was living in the U.S. illegally, took Emily to her native country of Brazil in March 2008 in the midst of a custody battle when she and Sanchez lived in Illinois. Since that time, Sanchez has been trying to work with the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs Office of Children's Issues in Washington, D.C., and the Brazilian Central Authority, which both claim they know where Emily is, but following protocol, will not reveal her whereabouts.
When Sanchez went to Brazil in November two months after the State Department located her there, the closest he got to seeing Emily and his ex-girlfriend was within 600 miles as Nigia Machado contended she was busy with school and did not have time to meet with Sanchez.
"I want to see my daughter, and work something out with her mother where we both can be a part of Emily's life," Sanchez said. "My intent was not to go there and argue, but to see my daughter. Nigia just came up with more excuses to not let me see her. I went there expecting the worst, and that is what is happening."
By the time Sanchez makes his second trip, he hopes he can finally see Emily and that he can avoid a long and drawn-out legal battle with Brazil, which is not taking steps to abide by the Hague Treaty which requires countries to return a child to the country where they were born.
Nigia Machado could be facing federal kidnapping and abduction charges. Emily Machado is among 60 children living in Brazil who are not being returned to parents in the country where they were born, which includes about 20 American children, according to information from the State Department.
The Brazilian Central Authority cites understaffing in its office and internal reorganization as slowing down the process, according to a letter from Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin's office, which is looking into the case.
However, a number of children, similar to Emily's case, were taken to Brazil years ago, fueling an international legal battle.
Sanchez says he is doing all he can to take the "high road" and now has filed a request for a second child welfare check so he can meet with his ex-girlfriend and see Emily in Brazil.
This latest quagmire in the ordeal has triggered the State Department to send two representatives from its office to Brazil this week to meet with BCA officials and federal judges there to discuss the case and look into what is continuing to cause the delays.
In a letter written to Sanchez from Durbin on May 20, Durbin said, "In addition, we are in the process of providing the U.S. Consulate in Sao Paulo with a request for a welfare and whereabouts visit with the minor, with the authorization of the taking mother."
Countries that are a party to the Hague Treaty have agreed that a child who is habitually a resident in one party country, and who has been illegally taken to or kept in another party country in violation of one parent's custodial rights, shall be promptly returned for a custody hearing, according to Rosemary Macray, a spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Office of Children's Issues.
Sanchez was permitted by a court in Illinois, where he lived in 2008, 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 with a note from Machado saying she was leaving with Emily. She said she was tired of battling in the courts and afraid of what could happen to her custodial status because she was not living in the country legally.
Sanchez, who last saw Emily when he had dinner with her and gave her a toy earlier that month, reported her missing on March 27, 2008.
Sanchez said he plans to return to Brazil in November. He would like to go sooner, but cannot afford the average $2,500 price of a plane ticket to travel there right now.
He has chronicled his ordeal on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's website, where Emily's disappearance is listed as a family abduction and on a Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/daddyandemily. The ordeal also is chronicled on the website bringemilyhome.org, where Sanchez issued a statement to those who have supported him and a message to his daughter:
"I want to thank everyone who has helped and supported me during the continuing struggle in my daughter's case," Sanchez said. "I want Nigia to know that I want nothing but the best for our daughter and the best for our daughter is having ‘both' of us in her life. I hope you are both doing well. Emily, I will always love you. I think of you daily. Love dad."