Friday, August 23, 2013

International Child Abduction and The Prevent Departure Program

Earlier this summer I had shared an article that I had written on Summer Vacations and International Child Abduction Warning Signs.  The article explained in detail some of the possible scenarios and techniques that a potential abductor may use in order to wrongfully remove a child from their home country of jurisdiction.  Even though that article was focused on the time of summer vacations, a time where approximately 85% to 95% of all parental abductions occur in the United States or abroad, even though summer is almost over international parental child abduction still poses a very serious threat for many families.

As always, the I CARE Foundation works toward the goal of preventing international child abductions.  One of the major keys to protecting innocent children from abduction is raising awareness of the realities of international abduction with the hope that our messages about the risks and warning signs that a kidnapping is being planned may allow a parent or other stakeholders the opportunity to prevent abduction.  Historically, the U.S. rate of reported cases of outbound abduction has declined by approximately 15% during the fiscal years 2011 and 2012, and that is after nearly 30 years of reported growth.  This tells us that abduction prevention efforts are working.

Now one of the most concerning risk factors that will lead to international child abduction is the use of a would-be taking parent to use a secondary passport not issued by the United States government in order to depart the country as shared in detail in the article published on behalf of the I CARE Foundation titled Summer Vacation. Child Abduction. Dual Citizenship. Two Passports. How To Prevent Abduction

I urge any parent who believes they are at risk of abduction to read both articles that I have listed.

One of the most effective tools available for at-risk parents trying to prevent abduction is the Prevent Departure Program, which is a secure screening program that lists any individual considered by the courts or law enforcement to be a high-risk child abductor.  In order to be placed on the Prevent Departure Program, there are certain requirements, one of which presently includes that the person cannot be a citizen of the United States of America.  Thus, only aliens residents (or non-residents) physically located in the United States may be put on the Prevent Departure Program at the request of the Department of State to the Department of Homeland Security.

Unfortunately, the caveat is that in order for a person to be considered a candidate for the Prevent Departure Program they are not American citizens, which presents a problem since individuals who possess dual citizenship, including American citizenship, cannot be placed on the Prevent Departure Program list.  Hopefully, there will be a modification in policy so that American citizens who are considered to be high-risk child abductors can be placed on a secure screening list.  The following press release provides details of the need to have the Prevent Departure Program policy modified:  Peter Thomas Senese & The CARE Foundation Supports GAO Recommendation to Create Departure Screening List for High-Risk U.S. Citizens Considered High-Risk Child Abductors.

So what is the Prevent Departure Program and how can it be applied?

Case Study 

Lets begin by suggesting Parent A is a citizen of another country but lives in the United States with Parent B. Parent B is a United States citizen. Parent A need not be married to Parent B.

During the course of A and B’s relationship, a child is born in the United States. When this occurs, the child is automatically a United States Citizen by birth.

In all likelihood, the child also will retain automatic citizenship to the nation that Parent A is a national of.

Let us assume both parents enjoy a right of custody to the child either through marriage, or, in cases where there is no marriage, either by state statue or by court orders.

During the course of time, Parent A decides to end the relationship and desires to return to their nation of origin with the child.

Now, Parent B, having great concern that Parent A intends to take the child and flee the United States and go to another country, obtains court orders forbidding Parent A from taking the child out of the country. The court orders for Parent A to turn over to the court the child’s US passport if one has been issued, and further directs the child’s name to be registered with the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program, thus essentially removing the potential abducting parent from being able to remove the child from the United States using an American passport issued in the child’s name.

In addition, Parent B successfully requests that the court notify the embassy of the country Parent A is a citizen of, whereas, the court informs the embassy that a child custody dispute is alive and well in the jurisdiction of the child’s country of habitual residency, and the court requests for that foreign embassy not to issue a passport in the child’s name, thus securing the inability of the child from departing until the court proceedings are finalized.

Problem solved? No

In many circumstances, a pending departure is already well planned before the targeted parent becomes aware of it. Parent A may already have in their possession a passport issued by their nation of origin for the child. If this is the case, it is very difficult for the US court to seize the foreign passport of the child, particularly if it is not known whether a passport has been issued in the child’s name.

If a passport has not been issued in the child’s name, then in all likelihood, Parent A will attempt to obtain one regardless if the child’s passport application requires Parent B’s signature or not. In fact, certain countries do not require the signature of the mother of a child, only the father.

In addition, each nation obtains a sovereign right to oversee their own citizens, and since the child may be considered a citizen of the country of Parent A too, the embassy is not required or obligated to follow the U.S. court’s orders. They have every right and may issue a passport in the child’s name despite requests not to do so. And make no mistake about this, in more cases than not, particularly if Parent A is very persuasive when communicating with someone from their own embassy, they will successfully obtain the passport.

If Parent A has possession of a non-US passport for their child, they very well may be able to physically leave the country with the child and illegally abduct the child. What is perhaps even more troubling is the fact that Parent B has no way or right to know if a passport was issued from the native country of Parent A in the name of the child.

A disaster waiting to happen? You bet it is.

But there is hope for those parents who find themselves in a scenario where Parent A is not an American citizen living in the United States with their child and, Parent A possess a foreign passport for the child of the relationship.

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:

  1. Subject may NOT be a US citizen; and,
  2. The nomination must include a law enforcement agency contact with 24/7 coverage; and,
  3. 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,
  4. The Subject must be in the US; and,
  5. 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.

For many parents who face the risk of having their child abducted and removed across international borders, the nightmare that both targeted parent and victimized child face is unbearable. 

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.

For more information on the ‘Prevent Departure Program’, please visit the U.S. Department of State’s website or contact the Office of Children’s Issues.

Finally, the Department of State's Office Of Children's Issues Abduction Prevention Division is in charge of requesting that an individual be considered a candidate to be listed on the Prevent Departure Program.  From our experience, it is critically important that a court order be issued stating that a specific person be listed on the Prevent Departure Program, and that person is restrained from traveling outside of the United States with the specified children of the partnership considered by the court to be at risk of possible abduction.  

For more information on international parental child abduction please visit the I CARE Foundation.  Some of you may be interested in also visiting the official website of my deeply inspired novel about abduction titled CHASING THE CYCLONE, which contains a great amount of information on abduction.

Kindest regards to all -