A groundbreaking United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has recommended for the creation of a new international parental child abduction prevention program aimed at establishing a non-departure fly list for United States citizens who have been determined by either our courts or law enforcement as potential high-risk international parental child abductors.In the report that Gerald Dillingham, the Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues for the U.S. GAO issued, the GAO recommendation states, “To further help prevent international parental child abduction involving airline flights, particularly for persons identified as high risk for attempting such abductions, we recommend that the Secretary of Homeland Security consider creating a program similar to the child abduction component of the Prevent Departure program that would apply to U.S. citizens.”
A response from Jim Crumpacker of the Departmental GAO/OIG Liaison Office of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concurs with the GAO recommendation to create a secondary security screening list in order to stop American child-citizens from being illegally abducted abroad; however, DHS cites challenges that exist to implement such a program. Specifically, “DHS strongly agrees that preventing international child abduction is a very important issue. The Department also agrees that expanding its current efforts along these lines to include pre-departure flight screening for potential U.S. citizen abductors could be helped in preventing some abductions.” The response by DHS then states that there do exist challenges in implementing a secondary security screening list when he states, “However, a number of challenges exist to visibly implementing a high-risk abductor list for U.S. citizens. These include potential constitutional, operational, privacy, and resource issues, among others. DHS remains committed to continuing its work with the U.S. State Department, the airlines, and other stakeholders to better prevent these abductions. DHS will consider options to expand its efforts, as reasonably appropriate.”
The statements by both the GAO and DHS of the grave necessity for a security screening program in the face of the rapid expansion of the criminal international child abduction of American child-citizens originating from the United States offers keen insight for the courts of local jurisdiction who are responsible in issuing orders and remedies that will protect a child from abduction.
Peter Thomas Senese, the author of IPCA related books including ‘Chasing The Cyclone’ and the co-author of ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ as well as the creator/producer of the educational documentary film series on IPCA titled ‘Chasing Parents’ commented, “The recommendation from the Government Accountability Office, agreed by both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, sends an important message to local courts involved with a child’s welfare when they consider the potential for a child’s international abduction that there is a real and growing problem of American child-citizens who are either criminally abducted from the United States or illegally detained in a foreign country after travel orders are granted. The local courts charged with oversight of a child must take note that the United States federal government is directly saying that existing state and federal government programs and policies created to prevent abduction are not enough to prevent child abduction, and serious loopholes exist that allow for children to be stolen and taken abroad – where too many defenseless children are never recovered. It is my hope that the convergence of multiple government agencies cited in the GAO report, each declaring that IPCA is a real problem, will cause local courts to realize their need to act prudently and with keen insight on all the local and international issues involving a potential child abduction. With thousands of children criminally abducted from the United States and taken abroad each year, the creation of a secondary security departure list will stop a substantial number of American child-citizen kidnappings from occurring each year. This recommended policy is exactly what the child abduction prevention community has been calling for.”
According to the new report, government and nongovernment stakeholders agree that the creation of a security program similar to the existing ‘Prevent Departure Program’ (established in 2003) which is administered by the Department of Homeland Security and utilized by the Department of State’s Office Of Children’s Issues may significantly reduce the growing number of cross-border parental child abductions each year. Presently, the ‘Prevent Departure Program’ allows for precautionary security checks to occur, whereas a legal or illegal alien resident living in the United States and who is considered to be a potential parental child abductor is prohibited from traveling abroad with their child due to court orders prohibiting the child from international travel. Additionally, in order for an individual to be placed on the Prevent Departure Program, either a court or law enforcement must determine that a potential international child abduction threat is a possibility.Once this occurs, it is up to the Department of State to request to the Department of Homeland Security that a person be placed on the non-departure list.
One of the great challenges targeted children and parents of international parental abduction face is the limited amount of abduction prevention laws or government programs in place to prevent a United States citizen, or more commonplace, a United States citizen possessing rights of dual citizenship from departing the country with a United States child citizen despite non-removal orders issued by a court. Specifically, one of the glaring ways that a parent of dual nationality living in the United States is able to illegally remove a child from the country is if they and their child travel by air on either a valid United States passport, or, if they travel on a secondary passport issued by their country of origin, which, in most cases, the child would have automatic rights of citizenship to. In both scenarios, a program such as the Prevent Departure Program would not be able to prevent abduction from occurring because the individual is a U.S. citizen and as such is not eligible for inclusion in the Prevent Departure Program. In addition, international abduction by either land or sea would have similar challenges.
If the Government Accountability Office recommendation is acted upon, and a new security screening process is created to protect children at risk who cannot be protected under present government programs, then children who are either the product of multicultural relationships targeted for illegal international removal or children of parents simply desiring to leave the United States with their child despite court orders will be significantly more protected.
Presently, the United States government has several programs in place to prevent international parental child abduction. This includes the following:
1. The State Department requires both parents or guardians consent prior to the issuance of a child’s U.S. passport.
2. Parents can sign up for the State Department’s Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program.
3. Parents can contact the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues to place a suspected non-U.S. citizen abductor on the DHS’s Prevent Departure.
According to Joel S. Walter, a New York City based attorney who focuses on federal court and family law matters including international child custody, “There currently exists no database that captures information pertaining to child custody and a court’s orders concerning a child’s travel restrictions. And even with court orders in place, it is difficult for law enforcement to uphold travel orders, in part due to the lack of an up-to-date nationwide database. When we add that the United States generally does not exercise departure controls at our borders for citizens possessing a valid passport from leaving our country, we begin to realize the ease at which certain individuals may be able to illegally remove a child. Clearly, the Prevent Departure Program offers abduction prevention assistance for targeted parents and children who are non-nationals. However, without a security screening process for parents possessing American citizenship that are considered high-risk abduction threats, prevention of these types of cases will remain extremely difficult. There is no question in my mind that children who face potential international abduction need the United States government to establish additional policy or program that will protect them such as the secondary screening program recommended by the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Homeland Security. The work conducted by the GAO Infrastructure team in thoroughly researching this issue and bringing to light the real need for their suggestions hits right on one of the key issues that attorneys like myself who practice international family law as well as targeted parents of abduction realize: that our nation’s children must be protected from the cruel threat of parental kidnapping. I urge others to sign the White House petition site and send a message to our policymakers that we need to new abduction prevention programs.
Supporting Mr. Walter’s statement, the GAO report states, “The lack of exit controls makes timing crucial in preventing international parental child abductions involving an airline flight. If a child has a valid passport, preventing an abduction on an international airline flight could be very difficult even if a parent has obtained a custody order barring such travel because that parent would not only need to involve law enforcement but do so with enough time to intercept the abducting parent and child before they board an international flight.” The report further adds that often, “A parent does not know that another family member plans to board the child on an international flight, and thus may not contact law enforcement on time.” Various studies show that many abductions occur when the targeted parent is unaware of the other parent’s abduction scheme.
Patricia M. Lee, a seasoned St. Petersburg and Orlando, Florida based attorney practicing international parental child abduction prevention and reunification added, “The legal environment for parents whose children are at risk of abduction is daunting. To begin with, targeted parents are often not aware of the other parent’s imminent plans to abduct their child. All too often local courts may not realize the complex issues involved in these types of cases, and the challenging legal remedies that a targeted or left behind parent faces in order to prevent or attempt to reunite with their child, not to mention the incredible financial burden. Present loopholes in existing laws and policies make it possible for children to be abducted internationally, despite injunctive relief or federal assistance under existing programs. I have to ask why American citizens should be treated differently than resident aliens when the risk of abduction is the same, if not greater, as we are addressing preventing abduction of children from or by parents resident in the United States. These parents most likely possess dual citizenship, or American citizenship documentation. The disparity in treatment of U.S. citizens and resident aliens certainly raises legitimate constitutional concerns, and more importantly, leaves gaping holes in the prevention system. I believe that the recommendations by the GAO are appropriate, timely and much needed. For example, without the creation of a secondary screening departure list established to prevent would-be abductors who possesses a United States passport and/or a secondary passport issued from another country, there are limited remedies available that could realistically prevent a child from being wrongfully taken abroad. What is needed is exactly what the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Homeland Security are recommending: a preventive program that focuses on the point of departure that ensures that children who are not permitted to leave the country with a particular parent due to potential child abduction are unable to do so. This type of program would be of great benefit to at risk parents seeking to prevent child abduction by a dual national and/or American citizen parent. In our ever shrinking world, this is a very real threat that is not currently being addressed.”
According to the critically herald Government Accountability Office report that was significantly contributed to by GAO Assistant Director – Infrastructure – Maria Edelstein, Samer Abbas, Jessica Bryant-Bertail, Lauren Calhoun, Pamela Davidson, and Amy Rosewarne that child abduction prevention advocates are praising, “Preventing international parental child abductions can be very difficult and depends on a number of factors, including the parent’s knowledge of the abduction risk and the existence of clear custody status for the child. While prevention efforts available to parents, such as contacting the State Department to request a passport alert for a child, generally require that the parent has some knowledge beforehand of the risk that an abduction might occur, abductions often occur when the parent has no such knowledge. In general, prevention efforts also require clear custody status. For example, in order for a parent to add a child and suspected abductors to the DHS’ Prevent Departure list, the requesting parent must demonstrate that he or she has parental or custodial rights to the child and that there is a court order barring the child from traveling internationally with the suspected abductor. However, custody laws vary by state, and many parents may not have such clear custody documentation available.” The report further states that according to the Department of Justice, as cited in the GAO report, “In cases where the parent is unaware of the abduction risk, and where there is no documentation of the child’s custody status, preventing such abductions is extremely difficult.”
Gloria Nyberg, a child abduction prevention advocate who has been involved in the successful reunification of numerous children over the past 30 years of her volunteer activism stated, “A security screening program that identifies U.S. citizens as high risk for committing international parental child abduction crimes, including violations under the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, would have far reaching and substantial benefits that would immediately reduce the number of international child abductions. Given the great difficulty a parent and our courts have in being able to recover a child who is criminally removed or detained, combined with the surging growth of abduction in our country and abroad, I welcome this news and pray that the recommendation is followed. I have no doubt that this suggested policy, if implemented will save countless thousands of lives from abduction while also saving an incredible amount of resources that must be utilized in order to litigate in local and foreign courts, to search for and track an abducted child, and to hopefully reunite with a child. Stopping the horror of abduction before it happens is critical. I urge others to sign the petition found on the White House website.”
Jill Jones-Soderman, Ph.D, and the Director of nonprofit The Foundation For The Child Victims Of The Family Court as well as the Founder of the Family Resolution Center based in New York observed, “Child abduction of any kind is a severe form of child abuse toward a child. The sociopathic tendencies of a parental abductor can be relentless to the point that individuals intending to criminally abduct a child overseas will often attempt to do so until they are successful. Parental abductors generally do not care about the true welfare of the child they abuse, but rather, they use a child in order to cause hurt in the other parent’s life. The short-term and long-term damage that is often done occurs well before the actual act of abduction, as parental alienation is commonplace. As an active voice against child abduction, the Foundation for Child Victims of the Family Court applauds the efforts of the Government Accountability Office and its report titled ‘Program Aimed At High-Risk Parent Abductors Could Aid In Preventing Abductions’. We are in full support of the creation of a secondary security screening program as has been recommended.”
The GAO report further emphasizes the need for a secondary prevent departure list when it states in its report, “Department of Homeland Security officials told us that their Prevent Departure list – which requires a custody or court order specifically banning the child in question from traveling internationally with a specified parent or someone acting on behalf of the parent – is quite effective at preventing abductions involving non-U.S. citizen abductors. Officials at the State Department added that a similar list for U.S. citizens would be very effective in cases where there was already a custody or court order preventing the child from traveling abroad with the specified parent.”
Carolyn Ann Vlk, who drafted Florida’s Child Abduction Prevention Act that is now law, co-author of ‘The World Turned Upside Down’, co-producer of the documentary film ‘Chasing Parents’, and the writer of numerous articles and research reports on international parental child abduction stated, “The reality is that our nation’s children are not safe from international parental child abduction, and the legal remedies available to targeted parents of abduction in the international community are not typically efficient. The single most important way to stop a child from being abducted is to prevent it from happening in the first place. That was and is the intent of Florida’s Child Abduction Prevention Act. However, as this highly regarded GAO report specifically points out when addressing risk factors targeted parents who are desperately trying to protect their children face, ‘Department of Homeland Security officials told us that many judges who deal with custody issues simply are not aware of the risk for international parental child abductions and thus may fail to issue a court order banning such travel. Officials at the State Department added that some judges are not adequately trained to issue court or custody orders that ban international travel in cases where abduction is a real concern.’ And so, with local courts of jurisdiction not possessing the knowledge of the great harm of parental child abduction onto a child, and, the unimaginable hardship a parent faces who is trying to find and reunite with their stolen child, the current trend of sharply rising abductions will continue. If and when the noteworthy GAO recommendation is created, there will be many thousands of children who will be better protected from international abduction.”
Eric Kalmus, a child abduction prevention advocate and the co-founder of The Japan Children’s Rights Network added, “The reality that American citizens face is that the vast majority of children illegally removed abroad do not come home. A microcosm of this problem is Japan’s failure to ever return an American child-citizen back to the United States, and Japan is supposedly one of America’s biggest allies. In order for international parental child abduction to be reduced, our policymakers must create and uphold programs geared at preventing the illegal removal of our children. New programs or policies such as creating a screening list of individuals possessing American citizenship who are considered high-risk abductors would make a significant impact on reducing cross-border abductions. Additionally, closing the loopholes associated with minimal international travel documentation requirements for children traveling by land or sea as created under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will also be a major step in preventing these crimes from occurring. The community of child abduction prevention advocates has been saying for a long time that preventive programs and policies are key. The GAO recommendation is a recommendation for good policy that will unquestionably stop many illegal international child kidnappings.”
Obstacles for the Department of Homeland Security to implement a secondary prevent departure list do exist. According to the GAO report, “DHS may need additional statutory authority and potential additional financial resources to implement a high-risk abductor list for U.S. citizens. As previously discussed, the Immigration and Nationality Act provided departure control officers with the statutory authority necessary to prevent non-U.S. citizens from departing the country through the Prevent Departure program. This authority is insufficient to establish and administer such a list for U.S. citizens. Consequently, DHS would need to explore other current existing statutory authority to seek new authority to administer a program similar to the Prevent Departure program that would apply to U.S. Citizens.”
T. Pederson, a ranking senior naval officer and a parent undergoing custodial litigation that includes a possibility of parental abduction to a country that is noncompliant with the Hague Convention, comments, “Having consulted several attorneys and sat through court proceedings concerning the safety and welfare of my only child, where key abduction risk indicators under the newly-established Florida Statute 61.45 existed, I am deeply concerned about the lack of awareness of international parental abduction among the judiciary and applaud efforts to create a program similar to the existing Departure Prevention program for U.S. citizens that are potential international parental child abductors. The emotional duress and alienation abducted children endure, as well as the financial burden and emotional suffering a targeted parents would face if their child were abducted, must be averted. It is my hope that such a program would lead to education of the judiciary while ensuring the safety of many of our nation’s at-risk children.”
Peter Thomas Senese stated, “Reducing the capability of an abducting parent to depart the United States illegally with a child is one of the most pressing preventive matters our government must address. There are two significant steps that will dramatically reduce the number of children from abduction. One is the GAO recommendation for a security screening program geared for U.S. citizens considered to be high-risk abductors. The second method is to alter international travel documentation requirements for minors under 16 traveling by land or sea to Canada, Mexico, or to certain Caribbean-island nations under the existing Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Presently, under the WHTI, a child may present only a photocopy of their citizenship papers such as a photocopy of a birth certificate in order to travel abroad. As discussed in ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ I co-authored with Carolyn Vlk, existing WHTI departure policy for children traveling abroad by land or sea offer parental child abductors a significant method to abduct, and this too must stop. If the Prevent Departure program is replicated to prevent individuals possessing a right of U.S. citizenship, we will create a formidable barrier for would-be abductors intending to abduct defenseless children. Unquestionably, it is the goal of parents, advocates, the judiciary, law enforcement, lawmakers, and government agency stakeholders to prevent the abduction of children domestically or abroad. All programs designed to stop abducting parents who have circumvented existing abduction prevention policies will dramatically reduce the number of children criminally abducted abroad. I urge others to sign the petition in support of creating new abduction prevention programs and policies located on the White House website.”
Joel S. Walter added, “The number of reported and unreported cases of U.S. child-citizens being abducted abroad continues to grow at significant and unacceptable rates. The exact number of abductions is unknown due to unreported cases of parental abduction to law enforcement of the Office of Children’s Issues; however, we do know many thousands of U.S.child-citizens are abducted from America alone each year, and that this number is growing significantly. If the abduction growth rate remains the same over the next ten years, we will have more defenseless American children criminally abducted abroad and wrongfully detained than can fill a professional football stadium. And that is absurd!”
David Bokel, who had his only child criminally abducted but was able to stop his child before she was taken out of the country, added, “The reality is most children who are abducted abroad do not come home. For those of us who know the horror of abduction, we would not wish this ordeal onto anyone. It is the worst form of terrorism I can imagine. For those of you who do not know first-hand what it is to have a child internationally abducted, close your eyes for a moment and think what your life would be like knowing your child is gone but you can’t do anything to help him or her, and you can’t protect them. Welcome to the world of international child abduction. As a loving parent who had to protect my 3-year old daughter from this crime, I urge everyone to support any government policies or laws that will help protect our nation’s children. If we don’t stand up for them, who will?”
Pamela Michell, Founder of ‘Survivor On A Mission’, which focuses on raising awareness and preventing abduction and human trafficking spoke of the horror of abduction. “As both a survivor of abduction and human slavery, and as a global advocate assisting many others who have been abducted, abused, and violated, I urge others to rise up in the name of children. No person thinks this can or will happen to them or their family. Yet hundreds of thousands of children are targeted for abduction each year. We ask you to support child abduction prevention laws and programs everywhere. Please.”
“We urge everyone to sign the petition site placed on the Official White House website, and show your support for the GAO recommendation and other child abduction prevention programs,” urged Amanda Bayoumi, a mother at risk who is trying to ensure her children are not abducted to Saudi Arabia.
To show your support for the creation of a security screening list for individuals considered to be high-risk abductors or to voice your concern over poor travel document requirements needed for children traveling abroad under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, PLEASE CLICK HERE.
For more information on international parental child abduction, PLEASE CLICK HERE. For specific information on child abduction to Japan, please visit WWW.CRNJAPAN.NET. To contact Jill Jones-Soderman, PLEASE CLICK HERE. To contact attorney Joel S. Walter, PLEASE CLICK HERE. To contact attorney Patricia M. Lee, PLEASE CLICK HERE. To contact Peter Thomas Senese, please visit http://www.peterthomassenese.com .
We invite you to view Part I of
CHASING PARENTS: Racing Into The Storms Of International Parental Child Abduction
Created By: Peter Thomas Senese
To View The Full Educational Documentary Film Series On International Parental Child Abduction