For 2 1/2 years, Michael Sanchez carried the burden of not knowing where his daughter Emily was.
But while an e-mail from the U.S. State Department last month stating that Interpol had found her in Brazil has brought him relief, the 25-year-old San Tan Valley man now may face a drawn-out legal battle to get her back.
Emily’s mother Nigia Machado took her to Brazil in the midst of a 2008 custody battle when the girl was 2 1/2 years old. Now she’s 5, and on Sunday Sanchez will fly to Brazil where he plans to spend the next 10 days. He hopes that he’ll get to bring Emily home based on provisions of the Hague Convention on the civil aspect of child abduction, involving children illegally taken from the country in which they were born.
Sanchez plans to talk with Machado, his former high school girlfriend, in an effort to work something out — but if not, a lengthy federal court battle could ensue between Brazil and the United States.
“It’s nerve-racking,” said Sanchez, who is a full-time student at Central Arizona College in Coolidge with plans to go to law school. “Anything can change in a heartbeat. I have to prepare for that, and prepare to see my daughter not knowing who I am.
“I’m hoping she’ll see me and say ‘Hi dad,’ but I don’t think that will happen. I don’t know if she’ll even remember me.
“This has been a living nightmare.”
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.
On the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website, Emily’s disappearance is listed as a family abduction.
Sanchez has applied for the return of the girl under the Hague treaty.
“I see her as an abductor,” Sanchez said of Machado. “But, I would like to work something out with her so both of us could be a part of Emily’s life, If this were to go to federal court, this could take months or even years before something is determined.”
Sanchez said he also has been working with the American consulate and embassy in Brazil and is grateful for the work the State Department did in locating Emily.
“Whenever I would call the State Department to ask about the case, they would say, ‘There’s nothing new,’ and I wouldn’t know anything more than I did the last time,” Sanchez said. “It was disheartening.”
State Department officials in Washington, D.C., would not comment when contacted by the Tribune.
Sanchez has chronicled his ordeal on the website www.bringemilyhome.org. He said he plans to organize a benefit walk to bring more awareness to the case in hopes of raising funds for future trips to Brazil.
“A lot of people don’t realize what parents go through when a child is taken away or remains missing,” Sanchez said. “This is something we live and think about every day. There’s only so much we can take.”