Exactly Five Years to the Day of First Introduction, Smith’s Int’l Child Abduction Bill Passes Senate; Heads Back to House for Final Approval

Bill prods State Dept. and provides tools to bring American children home

Written by Jeff Sagnip, Office of Congressman Chris Smith


 

On Wednesday, July 16, exactly five years to the day that Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) introduced his first bill to prevent international parental child abduction, the U.S. Senate finally approved Smith’s legislation, The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, House of Representatives Bill 3212 (H.R. 3212).

Smith wrote the original proposed legislation in 2009 subsequent to his personal intervention in the fight to bring Sean Goldman home to New Jersey, years after he had been abducted to Brazil by his mother. Smith’s successful work with Sean’s father, David, and a team of lawyers, volunteers and media helped bring Sean home, but also uncovered gaping weaknesses in U.S. law and the need to codify best practices so that other Americans will also see their children returned home.

 

PICTURED: David Goldman and Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ4), July 16, 2009.


 

At its core, Smith’s legislation will give the State Department a variety of tools to pressure foreign governments to send home American children abducted to overseas destinations. The bill also requires better reporting and support from the State Department so that left-behind parents are not on their own in overseas battles to win the return of their abducted children.

During his five year struggle, Smith has authored four versions of the bill (HR 3240; HR 1940; HR 1951 and HR 3212) using each to educate his colleagues and make modifications aimed at winning widespread support in an increasingly partisan congress. In December 2013, the House passed Smith’s bill unanimously, 398-0. Smith said he was grateful that Foreign Affairs Chairman Bob Menendez and Ranking Republican Bob Corker released the bill out of committee to the Senate floor where it passed unanimously in a voice vote, with some final modifications.

“In the five-year push to turn this bill into law, we have seen a sea change in the Congress’ and State Department’s understanding of international parental child abduction—an understanding that these abductions are a form of child abuse and a human rights violation. There are many heartbroken parents waiting for this bill to help them in their fight to see their children again.

“Many children and parents have tragically lost years separated from each other in violation of U.S. and international law,” Smith said. “They have missed birthdays, holidays, and family time—that they can never get back. H.R. 3212 ensures that they will now receive significant help from the U.S. government in their fights to recover their children. Every day a child is separated from his or her rightful parent and home in the United States brings immense suffering to both parent and child. The Goldman Act is designed to right the terrible wrong of international child abduction and heal enormous pain and suffering and bring abducted children home.”

In 2013, Smith named the bill after David and Sean Goldman who have been reunited in Monmouth County for nearly five years. Following Sean’s return to New Jersey, David Goldman has stayed active in promoting the legislation in an effort to spare other parents and children the painful, illegal separation he and his son endured for five years.

Smith has held multiple hearings on the heartbreaking cases of left-behind parents of American children abducted to India, Japan, Egypt, Brazil, Russia, England and other countries, from which few are returned. Not all countries have signed The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the main international treaty to address parental abductions. The Hague provides a civil framework for the quick return of abducted children to their home country, and facilitation of visitation and contact between parents and children during the pendency of the case and after the resolution. Unfortunately, many Hague signatories, like Brazil, fail to consistently enforce the Hague Convention provisions.

Among its many provisions, H.R. 3212 provides eight steps the Administration should take, increasing in severity, when a country refuses to cooperate in the resolution of overseas abduction and access cases involving American children:

  • a demarche;
  • an official public statement detailing unresolved cases;
  • a public condemnation;
  • a delay or cancellation of one or more bilateral working, official, or state visits;
  • the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. development assistance;
  • the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. security assistance;
  • the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of foreign assistance to the central government of a country relating to economic support; and
  • a formal request to the foreign country concerned to extradite an individual who is engaged in abduction and who has been formally accused of, charged with, or convicted of an extraditable offense.
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    The bill also—for the first time—urges the Administration to enter into Memorandums of Understanding or other bilateral agreements with non-Hague Convention countries to locate and foster the return of abducted children and protect the access of the left-behind parent to the child. In order to ensure better accountability of the Administration and to warn U.S. judges who may allow a child to visit a country from which return is difficult, the bill significantly enhances reporting on country-by-country performance.

    H.R. 3212 also requires the Administration to inform Members of Congress about abducted children from their districts. It also that directs the Secretary of Defense shall designate an official within the Department of Defense to coordinate with the Department of State on international child abduction issues and “oversee activities designed to prevent or resolve international child abduction cases relating to active duty military service members.

    “Currently, if you have a child who is illegally taken to a non-Hague country, the State Department position is that there’s nothing it can do to help,” Smith said. “That’s totally unacceptable. With this bill, for the first time ever, parents with children held in non-Hague countries can work with the State Department. They won’t be on their own, far from the United States, desperately trying to get their children back. The Act also ensures that the Department of Defense will assist our men and women in uniform who find themselves facing parental child abduction.”

    More than one thousand international child abductions are reported to the State Department’s Office on Children’s Issues each year. Between 2008 and 2013, at least 8,000 American children were abducted, according to the State Department. Earlier this year, the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children reported that there have been at least 168 international child abductions from New Jersey since 1995.

     

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    On December 11, in an overwhelming show of bipartisan support, the House of Representatives voted unanimously (398-0) to pass H.R. 3212: The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013, authored by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ).

    This milestone was more than four years in the making and would not have been attained without Congressman Chris Smith’s hard work and dedication, and that of his entire staff.

    David Goldman, Mark DeAngelis and Melissa Capestro from the Bring Sean Home Foundation (BSHF) traveled to Washington, DC, for the day to lend support and celebrate the passage of the bill in the House. We recognize that there remain several critical steps to be completed before the bill becomes law. It is expected that the U.S. Senate will take up the bill early in 2014. All of us at BSHF remain optimistic that the bill will make its way to President Obama’s desk sometime in the coming year.

    CLICK HERE TO READ CONGRESSMAN SMITH’S FLOOR REMARKS

    PICTURED: David Goldman (Co-Founder, BSHF), Congressman Chris Smith, Missy Capestro (Director, BSHF), Mark DeAngelis (Executive Director, BSHF) — in Washington, District of Columbia.

    Follow the Bring Sean Home Foundation on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/BringSeanHome) and view additional photos from the day.

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    Sean and David Goldman abduction bill could be approved this week

    By Susanne Cervenka, APP.com

     

    NEPTUNE — It could be another Christmas surprise for David Goldman, the former Tinton Falls man whose son, Sean, was returned to him on Christmas Eve four years ago.

    This time, the gift would be the passage of a law named for Goldman and his son that would help other families whose children have been kidnapped to foreign countries.

    After three years of negotiations, the “Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act” is headed to the U.S. Senate, where it could be approved as soon as this week, said Rep. Chris Smith, who, along with Goldman, appeared at an editorial board meeting at the Asbury Park Press.

    Smith, R-N.J., said the Senate could take up the bill through unanimous consent, a procedure that would expedite the legislation’s path to President Barack Obama’s desk.

    Smith said he has not heard yet if Obama would sign the bill, but Goldman said Obama was supportive of his mission when he was a senator and intervened soon after becoming president.

    The legislation would set up a series of sanctions against countries that persistently fail to follow either the Hague Abduction Conventions, a 1980 international treaty that bars parents from fleeing to other countries until custody is decided, or similar agreements the United States would make with countries that haven’t signed on to that treaty.

    Sean Goldman, now 13, is the only U.S. child so far to be returned [from Brazil] under the Hague treaty, which is signed by more than 80 countries, but rarely is enforced.

    Children who have come home do so most often because of an agreement reached between both parents, not because of judicial orders by foreign courts, Goldman said.

    The sanctions, which range from the president making a private appeal to suspending or revoking economic aide, are key to the legislation, which Smith said amps up the Hague treaty by putting political pressure on countries that harbor parents. The law also would require the U.S. Department of State, with the parents’ permission, to notify federal lawmakers, who represent left-behind parents, of the abduction so they can put pressure on their diplomatic counterparts.

    “If you don’t have a penalty phase, enforcing a global human rights standard becomes meaningless,” Smith said. “Countries do not sharpen their response and become responsive unless they know there is a potential penalty phase.”

    Sean is in a ‘safe place’

    The bill passed the House with a 398-0 vote, a seemingly impossible feat in the increasingly cantankerous Congress.

    Goldman, however, sees nothing partisan in bringing American children home to settle custody disputes.

    Goldman’s wife, Bruna Bianchi, took Sean, then 4, from New Jersey to Brazil on what Goldman thought was a two-week trip to visit family. Bianchi remarried, then died in childbirth, which set off the high-profile international fight to return Sean home.

    Goldman said cases like his, where the children have been living in the United States before one parent takes them abroad, are often wrongly characterized as international custody cases instead of abduction cases.

    But once abroad, the country harboring the parent abductor treat the case as a straight custodial case, where laws often aren’t the same as the United States.

    Goldman, 47, incurred upwards of $700,000 in debt for legal bills in both countries, plane tickets, extended hotel stays and translation costs in the fight to bring his son home from Brazil.

    This legislation would help reduce the financial damage families face along with emotional turmoil the separation case inflict by speeding up the children’s return to the United States, he said.

    “The quicker the remedy, the less the costs,” said Goldman, who established the Bring Sean Home Foundation to help other families. He has since moved from his Tinton Falls home, but has not said where he is living now. Goldman has remarried.

    Sean has visited with his Brazilian grandmother about three or four times since, at least twice in the past year, he said. Those visits occurred here with Sean’s therapist.

    The focus now has been to give Sean as normal of a childhood as possible, Goldman said.

    Goldman said he keeps a watchful eye on Sean as any parent would, but no longer fears when his son will be home.

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    Senate’s move on Goldman bill

    NJ Editorial/Opinion, APP.com

     

    Given David Goldman’s well-chronicled five-year ordeal to be reunited with his son, who was abducted and taken to Brazil by his mother, it might seem odd to call him lucky.

    But considering how difficult it is for parents whose children were taken from them by a spouse or other family member to another country to succeed in having them returned, he is lucky indeed.

    Despite a 1980 international treaty that prohibits parents from fleeing to other countries until custody is decided, Sean is among a small minority of American children who have been returned under that treaty, the Hague Abduction Conventions, which lacks any enforcement provisions.

    That is why it is essential that the U.S. Senate approve a bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., passed unanimously in the House last week, that would allow sanctions to be imposed against countries that show a pattern of illegally harboring abducted children.

    Smith played a major role in raising the national profile of Goldman’s case, and helped set the wheels in motion for Sean’s ultimate return to the United States. The threat of economic sanctions against Brazil also was a contributing factor.

    Sean, now 13, was caught up in a protracted legal battle after his mother took him, at age 4, to Brazil. She remarried, then died in childbirth. Her parents tried to win custody after she died.

    As Smith and Goldman told the Asbury Park Press editorial board on Monday, the bill essentially gives parents who have fought for the return of their children in abduction cases the full backing of the U.S. government. Instead of individuals having to deal with uncooperative countries on their own, the bill makes it a fairer fight.

    The bill not only gives the president a variety of measures he can employ against nations, but provides other tools that can be used to help reduce the number of abductions, now estimated at more than 1,000 a year in the U.S. alone, and to shorten the length of time the cases go unresolved.

    The bill would require the Secretary of State to submit an annual report on the status of abducted children and whether other countries are meeting their obligations to return them. It also would require our diplomatic and consular missions to designate someone to assist American parents whose abducted children are in their country.

    The legislation would set up a series of sanctions against countries that persistently fail to follow either the Hague Abduction Conventions or similar agreements the United States would make with countries that haven’t signed on to that treaty.

    Fittingly, the Smith bill is named the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013. It serves as a tribute to the perseverance and fortitude of the Goldmans, both father and son, and to the tenacity and decency of Smith.

    The Goldman’s saga, which inspired the bill, should now be the inspiration for the Senate to follow the House’s lead in approving it, and for President Barack Obama to sign it into law.

     
     

    CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULL TEXT OF LEGISLATION

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    Press Release of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact Washington D.C. Office (202) 224-3553

     

    Boxer, Lautenberg, Kerry, Lugar, Inhofe Join Colleagues to Introduce Resolution Condemning International Parental Child Abduction

     

    Bipartisan Resolution Calls on Countries to Do More to Prevent and Resolve Cases of Children Abducted by Parents Across International Borders

     

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today joined Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), John Kerry (D-MA), Richard Lugar (R-IN), James Inhofe (R-OK) and 10 colleagues to introduce a bipartisan resolution condemning the unlawful international abduction of all children. The resolution also calls on the United States and the international community to take additional steps to resolve current and future abduction cases.

    Tragically, international parental child abduction continues to be a common occurrence. According to the U.S. Department of State, last year 1,367 American children were reported abducted by a parent from the United States to a foreign country.

    The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is the principal tool for a parent seeking the return of a child abducted across international borders. The Convention provides a legal framework for securing the return of an abducted child so that judicial authorities can make decisions on issues of custody and the best interests of the child. However, many countries do not participate in the Hague Abduction Convention and the Convention does not apply to abductions that occur before a country joins.

    The resolution calls on all countries to join and fully comply with the Hague Abduction Convention and to take other steps to prevent and resolve cases of international parental child abduction. The resolution also expresses the Sense of the Senate that the United States should “aggressively pursue the return of each child abducted by a parent from the United States to another country through all appropriate means, consistent with the Hague Abduction Convention, and through extradition, when appropriate, and facilitate access by the left-behind parent if the child is not returned.”

    “These abductions are devastating for the parent who is left behind and are extremely harmful to the children involved,” Senator Boxer said. “I have met parents who have not seen or heard from their children in years, and this is simply unacceptable. The international community must be united in its condemnation of child abduction and in its commitment to resolve custody disputes by rule of law.”

    “International child abduction is a tragic situation that impacts not only the parents who are left behind but also the children who have been illegally separated from them and denied any contact,” Senator Lugar said. “Bringing greater attention to this issue is important if we are to change other governments’ attitudes to these abductions.”

    “Conservatives and liberals rarely agree, but on the issue of these child abductions, we see eye to eye,” Senator Inhofe said. “Unfortunately, some countries around the world are complicit in allowing these unacceptable acts. The heart wrenching stories I have heard from parents is not just devastating for them, but destructive for the children. It is time for the Senate to act in a way that will help end this injustice. This well written measure is a high priority. I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join in this effort.”

    “International child abductions aren’t faceless crimes, they’re real and they’re tragic,” Senator Kerry said. “Over the last two years, I’ve gotten to know Colin Bower, a Massachusetts father who had full legal custody of his two young sons and whose life was ripped apart when they were abducted and taken to Egypt. We’re still fighting and working to get his boys home and reunite them with their dad. If you know Colin, you know it’s almost a cliche to say that this is any parent’s worst nightmare and a tragic, all-too-real reminder of why the United States must condemn international abductions and work to resolve them. The international community must stand up and do all it can to make this right.”

    “We saw firsthand the devastation that international child abductions cause for parents and children when New Jersey resident David Goldman had to fight for years to be reunited with his son Sean. We need to gain the support of countries around the world in condemning this practice and agreeing to cooperate in the return of abducted children. This resolution will help us prevent these tragedies in the future,” said Lautenberg, who was instrumental in helping the return of Sean Goldman from Brazil to his father in the United States.

    In November 2009, Senator Boxer and 21 colleagues wrote to President Obama urging him to address international parental child abduction with Japanese leaders during a trip to the country. Japan remains the only G-7 industrialized nation that has yet to ratify the Hague Abduction Convention.

    The resolution introduced today will help continue to raise the profile of this important issue in the United States and across the globe. Additional cosponsors of the resolution currently include Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Patty Murray (D-WA). The full text of the resolution is below.

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    RESOLUTION

     

    To express the sense of the Senate on international parental child abduction.

    Whereas international parental child abduction is a tragic and common occurrence;

    Whereas the abduction of a child by one parent is a heartbreaking loss for the left-behind parent and deprives the child of a relationship with 2 loving parents;

    Whereas, according to the Report on Compliance with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction of the United States Department of State from April 2010, research shows that abducted children are at risk of significant short- and long-term problems, including “anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, [and] aggressive behavior”;

    Whereas, according to that report, left-behind parents may also experience substantial psychological and emotional issues, including feelings of “betrayal, sadness over the loss of their children or the end of their marriage, anger toward the other parent, anxiety, sleeplessness, and severe depression”, as well as financial strain while fighting for the return of a child;

    Whereas, since 1988, the United States, which has a treaty relationship under the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, done at The Hague October 25, 1980 (TIAS 11670) (referred to in this preamble as the “Hague Abduction Convention”) with 69 other countries, has agreed with its treaty partners to follow the terms of the Hague Abduction Convention;

    Whereas the Hague Abduction Convention provides a legal framework for securing the prompt return of wrongfully removed or retained children to the countries of their habitual residence where competent courts can make decisions on issues of custody and the best interests of the children;

    Whereas, according to the United States Department of State, the number of new cases of international child abduction from the United States increased from 579 in 2006 to 941 in 2011;

    Whereas, in 2011, those 941 cases involved 1,367 children who were reported abducted from the United States by a parent and taken to a foreign country;

    Whereas, in 2011, more than 660 children who were abducted from the United States and taken to a foreign country were returned to the United States;

    Whereas 7 of the top 10 countries to which children from the United States were most frequently abducted in 2011 are parties to the Hague Abduction Convention, including Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Ecuador, Brazil, and Colombia;

    Whereas Japan, India, and Egypt are not parties to the Hague Abduction Convention and were also among the top 10 countries to which children in the United States were most frequently abducted in 2011;

    Whereas, in many countries, such as Japan and India, international parental child abduction is not considered a crime, and custody rulings made by courts in the United States are not typically recognized by courts in those countries; and

    Whereas Japan is the only member of the Group of 7 major industrialized countries that has not ratified the Hague Abduction Convention: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved, That—

    (1) the Senate—

    (A) condemns the unlawful international abduction of all children;

    (B) urges countries identified by the United States Department of State as noncompliant or demonstrating patterns of noncompliance with the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, done at The Hague October 25, 1980 (TIAS 11670) (referred to in this resolution as the “Hague Abduction Convention”) to fulfill their commitment under international law to expeditiously implement the provisions of the Hague Abduction Convention;

    (C) calls on all countries to accede to or ratify the Hague Abduction Convention and to promptly institute measures to equitably and transparently address cases of international parental child abduction; and

    (D) calls on all countries that have not acceded to or ratified the Hague Abduction Convention to develop a mechanism for the resolution of current and future cases of international parental child abduction that occur before those countries accede to or ratify the Hague Abduction Convention in order to facilitate the prompt return of children abducted to those countries to the children’s countries of habitual residence; and

    (2) it is the sense of the Senate that the United States should—

    (A) aggressively pursue the return of each child abducted by a parent from the United States to another country through all appropriate means, consistent with the Hague Abduction Convention, and through extradition, when appropriate, and facilitate access by the left-behind parent if the child is not returned;

    (B) take all appropriate measures to ensure that a child abducted to a country that is a party to the Hague Abduction Convention is returned to the country of habitual residence of the child in compliance with the provisions of the Hague Abduction Convention;

    (C) continue to use diplomacy to encourage other countries to accede to or ratify the Hague Abduction Convention and to take the necessary steps to effectively fulfill their responsibilities under the Hague Abduction Convention;

    (D) use diplomacy to encourage countries that have not acceded to or ratified the Hague Abduction Convention to develop an institutionalized mechanism to transparently and expeditiously resolve current and future cases of international child abduction that occur before those countries accede to or ratify the Hague Abduction Convention; and

    (E) review the advisory services made available to United States citizens by the United States Department of State, the United States Department of Justice, and other United States Government agencies—

    (i) to improve the prevention of international parental child abduction from the United States; and

    (ii) to ensure that effective and timely assistance is provided to United States citizens who are parents of children abducted from the United States and taken to foreign countries.

     

    Press Release of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

    http://boxer.senate.gov/en/press/releases/080212b.cfm

     

    Press Release of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg

    http://lautenberg.senate.gov/newsroom/record.cfm?id=337421

     

    GovTrack.Us: S.Res.543

    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/sres543

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    February 11, Another Positive Step Forward

    BREAKING NEWS: A huge Win, today a panel of nine judges ruled unanimously that the case will be heard in the Federal court in Brazil, NOT in the Rio state court. We hope to have more details soon on the pending court proceedings which will follow this decision.

    And let’s continue to make phone calls to our Congressmen asking for their support and co-sponsorship of House Resolution 125 (you can find more info on H.RES.125 at http://bringseanhome.org/hr125.html). THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PROJECT WE SHOULD ALL BE WORKING ON CURRENTLY. There is some urgency to this project as President Lula of Brazil is coming to the US in mid-March and we need to exert maximum pressure on the Brazilian government ahead of this trip. The sooner we build the list of co-sponsors for this Resolution the sooner it will be signed by Congress.

    Here is what we’ve been telling/writing House members, regarding: House Resolution 125:

    Please co-sponsor House Resolution 125 (H.RES.125) introduced by Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey. It calls on the Central Authority of Brazil to immediately discharge all its duties under the Hague Convention by facilitating and supporting Federal judicial proceedings as a matter of extreme urgency to obtain the immediate return of Sean Goldman to his father, David Goldman.

    The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has publicly endorsed this resolution.

    Senator Frank Lautenberg Senator Robert Menendez Senator Russ Feingold
    Frank Lautenberg Robert Menendez Russ Feingold

    Senators Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Robert Menendez (NJ) and Russ Feingold (WI) Today introduced a resolution in the U.S. Senate calling on the Brazilian government, and the federal courts of Brazil to comply with the Hague Treaty on child abduction AND “…to assist in the safe return of Sean Goldman to his father, David Goldman,”

    You can view Senate Resolution 37 online at:

    http://bringseanhome.org/senateres37.html

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