I CARE Foundation Director Peter Thomas Senese Speaks About Dual Citizenship And International Child Abduction
Many U.S. citizen children who fall victim to international parental abduction possess dual nationality. Being aware of the child’s other parent’s possession of a secondary passport issued from that parent’s country of origin is critical in preventing abduction because children abducted abroad usually travel outside of the country on their foreign passport. Preventing the issuance of your child’s secondary passport to a foreign country is possible, but not guaranteed, based upon the country of origin of the child’s other parent and their laws. Nevertheless, it is important to strongly note the majority of international parental child abductions that occur are carefully planned schemes that attempt to catch the targeted parent off guard. A parent intending to snatch a child may use an assortment of reasons in order to obtain the secondary passport. Certain countries require signatures of both of the child’s parents, while many require only the signature of the parent that possesses citizenship to that country.
In scenarios where only the parent who possesses citizenship to the country the child has a right to secondary citizenship to can apply for their child’s passport, the grave risk and reality is that if abduction is planned, the abducting parent will attempt to conceal the existence of the secondary passport from the other parent. Additionally, in cases where dual signatures are required, it is possible that the taking parent can fraudulently submit the other parent’s signature to the passport bureau of the other country as generally there are limited documentation controls in place set up to validate the application request.
Of troubling concern is the fact that the United States does not possess border exit controls, thus there are limited ways to ensure that a child departing the country is doing so without violating a custody order. Granted, there are certain government programs that exist that have worked extremely well, such as the Prevent Departure Program; however, there are restrictions to such programs such as the Prevent Departure Program, including that a person considered to be a high-abduction risk cannot possess a right of American citizenship. Thus, if a parent who is planning to abduct a child possess dual citizenship, they cannot be placed on the secure screening list established to protect against international kidnapping. Additional difficulties abound, including the reality that a U.S. court has limited authority in obtaining records from a foreign embassy or consulate to determine if a parent has requested or obtained secondary passports for a child.
While the Department of State will make every effort to avoid issuing a U.S. passport if the custodial parent has provided a custody decree, the Department cannot prevent embassies and consulates of other countries in the United States from issuing their passports to children who are also their nationals.
All is not lost if you act thoughtfully. For example, you can ask a foreign embassy or consulate not to issue a passport to your child. On numerous occasions, I, or one of the attorneys associated with the I CARE Foundation, have accompanied a targeted parent and personally visited a foreign embassy or consulate and requested that a secondary passport not be issued in the name of the child due to an abduction threat.
If traveling to an embassy or consulate is not a possibility, I suggest you contact the consulate, locate a supervisor who oversees their passport issuance program, and speak to them about your concern for abduction and specifically state you do not want that country to issue a passport. Immediately after that telephone call, you must submit a written request, along with certified complete copies of any court orders addressing custody or the overseas travel of your child you have. From experience, I strongly suggest you also include your marriage certificate, your child’s birth certificate, and any other relevant documentation that establishes your marriage or legal partnership and establishes that you are the parent of the child or children. In your letter, inform them that you are sending a copy of this request to the U.S. Department of State.
If your child is only a U.S. citizen, you can request that no visa for that country be issued in his or her U.S. passport. No international law requires compliance with such requests, but some countries will comply voluntarily.
With respect to your requests to a foreign country, there is one thing I would like to share from experience: you are likely to get more cooperation at times if you or your legal representative schedule an appointment in person. This is something I have seen first-hand in my capacity as a director of the I CARE Foundation.
But what is dual nationality?
The concept of dual nationality means that a person is a citizen of two countries at the same time. Each country has its own citizenship laws based on its own policy. Persons may have dual nationality by automatic operation of different laws rather than by choice. For example, a child born in a foreign country to U.S. citizen parents may be both a U.S. citizen and a citizen of the country of birth.
A U.S. citizen may acquire foreign citizenship by marriage, or a person naturalized as a U.S. citizen may not lose the citizenship of the country of birth.U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship or another. Also, a person who is automatically granted another citizenship does not risk losing U.S. citizenship. However, a person who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose U.S. citizenship. In order to lose U.S. citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship.
Intent can be shown by the person’s statements or conduct.The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. citizens may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist citizens abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person’s allegiance.
However, dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries. Either country has the right to enforce its laws, particularly if the person later travels there.Most U.S. citizens, including dual nationals, must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States. Dual nationals may also be required by the foreign country to use its passport to enter and leave that country. Use of the foreign passport does not endanger U.S. citizenship.Most countries permit a person to renounce or otherwise lose citizenship.
Information on losing foreign citizenship can be obtained from the foreign country’s embassy and consulates in the United States. Americans can renounce U.S. citizenship in the proper form at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Two Parent Signature Law for a Passport
As stated earlier, The United States does not have exit controls on its borders for holders of a valid passport. This makes preventing a passport from being issued to your child without your consent very important. Generally, if your child has a passport, it can be difficult to prevent the other parent from removing the child to another country without your permission.
U.S. law requires the signature of both parents, or the child’s legal guardians, prior to issuance of a U.S. passport to children under the age of 16. To obtain a U.S. passport for a child under the age of 16, both parents (or the child’s legal guardians) must execute the child’s passport application and provide documentary evidence demonstrating that they are the parents or guardians. If this cannot be done, the person executing the passport application must provide documentary evidence that he or she has sole custody of the child, has the consent of the other parent to the issuance of the passport, or is acting in place of the parents and has the consent of both parents (or of a parent/legal guardian with sole custody over the child to the issuance of the passport).
The law does provide two exceptions to this requirement: (1) for exigent circumstances, such as those involving the health or welfare of he child, or (2) when the Secretary of State determines that issuance of a passport is warranted by special family circumstances.
Prevent Departure Program
Since 2003, United States citizens have had available a very effective international child abduction prevention tool called ‘The Prevent Departure Program’. Unfortunately, many parents at risk of having their child internationally abducted are not aware that this incredibly useful tool is available to them.
In the aftermath of 911, the Department of Homeland Security’s ‘Prevent Departure Program’ was created to stop non-U.S. citizens from departing the country. The program applies to non-US citizens physically located in America considered individuals at risk of child abduction. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) oversees this program and it is monitored 24 hours a day.
What the ‘Prevent Departure Program’ does is provide immediate information to the transportation industry, including all air, land, and sea channels a single point of contact at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and provides a comprehensive database of individuals the United States believes may immediately depart to a foreign country.
The program only applies to aliens, and is not available to stop U.S. citizens or dual U.S./foreign citizens from leaving the country.
Under Section 215 of the ‘Immigration and Nationality Act’ (8 U.S.C. 1185) and it’s implementing regulations (8 CFR Part 215 and 22 CFR Part 46), it authorizes departure-control officers to prevent an alien’s departure from the United States if the alien’s departure would be prejudicial to the interests of the United States. These regulations include would-be abductions of U.S. citizens in accordance to court orders originating from the child’s court of habitual residency.
If the abductor and child are identified, they will be denied boarding. In order to detain them after boarding is denied, there must be a court order prohibiting the child’s removal or providing for the child’s pick-up, or a warrant for the abductor.
In order for an at risk parent to participate in the program, all of the following must be demonstrated:
- Subject may NOT be a US citizen; and,
- The nomination must include a law enforcement agency contact with 24/7 coverage; and,
- There must be a court order showing which parent has been awarded custody or shows that the Subject is restrained from removing his/her minor child from certain counties, the state or the U.S.; and,
- The Subject must be in the US; and,
- There must be some likelihood that the Subject will attempt to depart in the immediate future.
With respect to the established guidelines listed above, note that in order to request the listing of the other parent, that person must be an alien of the United States. The program does not apply to US citizens at risk of leaving the country.
The second mandate states a request to place an individual’s name on the Prevent Departure Program must include support by a law enforcement agency or from the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues, which has the authority of requesting for the Department of Homeland Security to list a suspected child abductor on the ‘Prevent Departure Program’.
The third criteria: possessing a custodial order, is essential. Regardless if the other parent has joint custody or rights of visitation, critically, you must make sure that there are injunction orders in place prohibiting the child from being removed from the jurisdiction of habitual residency. Unfortunately, many international parental child abductions are well planned out in advance of the actual abduction, and the targeted parent has no idea that an abduction is in progress until it is too late. This is why it is essential for parents in partnership with non-nationals to be fully aware of the warning signs associated with a potential international child abduction.
The fourth criteria states the obvious: in order to prevent an alien-parent suspected of abducting a child on U.S. soil, that parent must be on U.S. soil.
The fifth criteria requests that the applying parent demonstrate that the alien-parent has demonstrated the likelihood of abducting the child across international borders in the immediate future. Remember – you need to document and record as much evidence as possible.
The Prevent Departure Program is not for everyone and should not be abused; however, in situations where an abduction threat is real and the targeting parent intent on abducting a child is a non-US citizen possessing the capacity to breach court orders and abduct a child of a relationship, the Prevent Departure Program may be a useful tool.
Be aware that if a person has a right of U.S. citizenship, including possessing sole American citizenship or dual citizenship, they cannot be placed on the Prevent Departure Program (The I CARE Foundation is hoping to have the government change that policy since individuals who possess singular citizenship do abduct children abroad).
The I CARE Foundation has assisted many families in crisis who are at risk of having a child internationally abducted from the child’s country of jurisdiction based upon one of the child’s parent’s scheme to remove the child by obtaining a secondary passport. In many of these cases, the targeted parent did not know that the other parent already possessed a secondary passport for their child. In certain situations the parent possessing a right of citizenship to another country did not need the other parent’s signature, and in other cases, a passport signature of the targeted parent was forged on the foreign passport application for the child.
Targeted parents and attorneys overseeing an abduction prevention case need to be aware that when there is an abductin concern that they should immediately contact the consulate where the child’s other parent is a national of and request if a passport has been issued in the child’s name. There are times when the consulate or embassy may provide this information. Often this is not the case.
In all cases where a secondary passport is a concern, one of the legal strategies the attorneys associated with the I CARE Foundation have successfully implemented is to seek an emergency order from the court possessing jurisdiction of the child whereas, the petition requests that ‘responding parent’ (parent believed to planning an abduction) provide formal documentation from the consulate or embassy of their country of origin that grants the consulate or embassy permission to answer a court subpeona concerning the issuance of a passport (the consulate or embassy is not required to do so even if a subpeona is issued), or, that the court order the responding parent to provide an official letter from their country of origin stating that neither a passport for the child has been issued from that country and no application for a passport has been submitted.
During the emergency application, the targeted parent (the ‘applicant’) has sought a host of measures, including seeking for the court or the applicant to take possession of the child’s American passports; and, for the child being placed on the United States Passport Issuance Alert Program; and, for either removal of child access or limited, supervised access of the targeted child by the parent suspected of child snatching. If the Prevent Departure Program is applicable, attorneys have previously sought for the court to request that the U.S. Department of State petition the U.S. Department of Homeland Security place a person considered a high-risk child abductor on the secure screening list to ensure that person does not travel outside of the country with the child unless permitted to do so by court order.
Obviously there are many other steps that can be taken, but one I think worth sharing is the concern that a parent traveling by land or sea across international adjacent borders (For the United States this means travel to Canada, Mexico, or certain Caribbean island-nations) with a minor under 16 years of age does not need to present a valid passport for their child at the border-crossing (valid passports are required for all travelers regardless of age only when traveling abroad by aircraft) as established by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Thus, a parent planning to abduct a child could do so by boarding a closed circuit cruise, or by simply driving across the border. It is critical that an attorney attempting to prevent abduction familiarize themselves with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative loopholes and present these issues to the court they are litigating over. One other good idea is that they present to the court the statistical realities of child abduction return, including whether a country that appears to be a likly inbound country is a member of the Hague Convention, and whether or not they are a complying country. Of course, that’s not all that should be presented to the court. A few other important issues include the potential for severe abuse to the child; and, the severe abuse to the targeted parent, the cost to litigate; and, the ability for the taking parent to disappear abroad, including departing the country they initially ‘landed’ in, and travel to another country; and finally, the likelyhood that a child will be returned.
I invite you to read Summer Vacations and International Parental Child Abduction and to visit the official website of the U.S. Department of State, I CARE Foundation and Chasing The Cyclone for more information about abduction.
One little word of advice: the majority of parents who have had their child abducted never saw it coming. Do not stick your head in the ground and think this cannot happen to you. Educate yourself.
– Peter Thomas Senese –
Founding Director – The I CARE Foundation