The International Child Abduction Research & Education Foundation (I CARE Foundation) has launched a recruitment campaign urging attorneys located in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada to join the United States Department of State’s Hague Convention Attorney Network (“Attorney Network”) – and help protect innocent children victimized or targeted by international parental child abduction (IPCA). Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada are hotbeds for IPCA due to a significant increase in reported and unreported parental kidnapping cases to and from Mexico and remaining Central America. The Department Of State’s recruitment of attorneys in these states is due to the rise in abduction cases, combined with their effort to educate undocumented parents living in the United States who have been victimized by child abduction that they and their abducted children have protective rights under the Hague Convention.
The I CARE Foundation is urging lawyers in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada interested in assisting parents of children who have been internationally abducted or who may be targets of international parental abduction to participate in the Department of State’s “Hague Convention Attorney Network” according to Peter Thomas Senese, a director of the foundation. “In order to prevent child abduction, the reality is lawyers educated on the complex issues of international child abduction need to be mobilized within the Department of State’s attorney network. When this occurs, there will be significant opportunity to educate a less than knowledgeable judiciary who are too often unfamiliar with the complexities typically present in these cases. Additionally, and of equal importance, particularly in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada is the need for undocumented individuals living in the United States to know that if their child is abducted from the United States, they have major recourse under the Hague Convention, and that the Department of State’s Office of Childrens Issues is ready, willing, and able to assist them.
The Office of Children’s Issues in the U.S. Department of State serves as the U.S. Central Authority for the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Convention”). The International Child Abduction Remedies Act (“ICARA”), establishes procedures for litigating Convention cases in the U.S. The U.S. Central Authority has numerous functions including facilitating the institution of judicial proceedings in the U.S. “with a view to obtaining the return of the child and, in a proper case, to make arrangements for organizing or securing the effective exercise of rights of access.” In April of 2008, the U.S.Central Authority assumed the responsibility for all incoming cases, and overseeing a network of volunteer attorneys.
The “Attorney Network” provides critical assistance. Lawyers that join the “Attorney Network” are asked to consider taking Hague Convention return and access cases on a pro bono or reduced fee basis. There is never an obligation to take a case, and legal fees and expenses may be recoverable under the Convention’s Article 26 and the implementing statute (42.U.S.C 11607), and under state law when state law remedies are pursued (e.g., UCCJEA). In addition, lawyers with and without Hague experience are welcome to join the Attorney Network, as the Attorney Network offers a host of information and mentor programs. In addition to incoming cases of abduction, attorneys can also represent parents in abduction prevention cases and outgoing abduction cases.
Presently, there are over 1,640 ‘reported’ cases of IPCA originating from the United States according to the last published report issued from the Department of State to Congress. The number of cases has nearly tripled from 2006 to 2009 alone according to a recent report issued by the Government Accountability Office’s (“GAO”). According to I CARE, the number of ‘unreported cases’ of IPCA appears to be substantial and at least equal the number and growth rate of ‘reported’ cases.. Many of the ‘unreported’ cases appear to involve immigrants who originate from Central and South American, and Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada (along with California) clearly have a high-volume of incoming and outgoing cases.
Peter Thomas Senese added, “Overall growth rate of IPCA is conservatively estimated to be between 15% – 20% per year, and there could be well over 100,000 children abducted from the United States between 2009 and 2020 if current trends conservatively stay the same.”
As the growing rate of abduction and the shortage of trained attorneys becomes more well known, key media voices in the legal community have recently come to support I CARE’s recruitment campaign for attorneys to join the Department of State’s “Attorney Program.” Aware of the growing crisis in Connecticut, the Connecticut Law Tribune(CLT) recently published an important article concerning this issue.
Patricia M. Lee, a Florida attorney practicing in the area of parental child abduction and a Director of the I CARE Foundation who was interviewed by the CLT states, “I feel privileged to have been a referral attorney for the implementing agency for many years of my private practice. The trauma experienced by victimized children and parents when faced with a child abduction, especially in the international arena, is overwhelming, primarily due to the lack of experienced attorneys, but also, due to the great financial burden, and cultural and language barriers. When they have nowhere else to turn and are so desperate, being able to help these people has been a rewarding experience personally, as well as professionally. It is worth every hour I have spent climbing the learning curve in this little known area of the law. OCI has always been responsive and helpful in the practicalities of dealing with clients living abroad, and the network of mentor attorneys available across the U.S., nothing short of a wealth of information and assistance. My experience in taking these cases has been humbling, to say the least, as I have seen the very best of my profession, which is too often the object of jokes and derision. I would encourage any attorney to join the Attorney Network.”
Joel S. Walter, an lawyer practicing in New York, a member of the I CARE Foundation, and a Director of the Attorney Network said, “As a lawyer practicing complex cases primarily in federal court for over 30 years, it is astonishing to learn of the tragedies children of abduction and their targeted parents face. In joining the Department of State’s “Attorney Network”, I have an opportunity to give back to our community, and make a difference in the life of a child. Participating in the network is not just good lawyering, but it is good citizenship. The I CARE Foundation looks forward to assisting the Department of State by educating other lawyers about the attorney network in hope that they too may participate in this critical program.”
Denise Gunn Garno, a Naples, Florida based lawyer practicing primarily complex family law matters and who is a member of the Department Of State’s Hague Convention Attorney Network commented on the significance of lawyers from Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada to join the ‘Attorney Network’ when she stated, “Florida’s new CAPA law presents a challenge to attorneys attempting to ensure CAPA is applied in cases wherein children are in imminent danger of abduction. A lack of judicial awareness is extremely detrimental as it puts children’s lives in jeopardy. In order for the State of Florida and our nation to protect our children from abduction, we must not only create abduction prevention laws, but the rules of law must be adhered to. My participation in the Department of State’s Hague Convention Attorney Network will make a difference in the lives of my clients and hopefully the children targeted of this crime from my home state.”
Carolyn Ann Vlk, writer of Florida’s CAPA law and a director of I CARE said, “The reality is that laws that have been established to protect children are not followed in part due to an uneducated judiciary. The way to remedy this is to have informed litigators who can make a difference before the courts. Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona have a high case load and clearly attorneys are needed by the Department of State to join their “Attorney Network.”
An extensive report to be published by I CARE this December puts the cost of IPCA in the United States over the next 10 years at over 1.6 Billion dollars.
If you are a lawyer interested in finding out more about the Hague Convention Attorney Network, please visit http://travel.state.gov/pdf/AttorneyNetworkFlyer.pdf or call 202-501-4444. To learn more about international parental child abduction please visit http://www.travel.state.gov/abduction.