July 17, 2015
By Jeff Sagnip
The leading State Department official in the Obama Administration tasked with resolving international parental child abductions conceded today that the administration's first report issued on international child abductions had mistakes and would be corrected in the weeks ahead, and that the Department would work to produce better annual reports in the future.
Ambassador Susan Jacobs made the comments Thursday at a standing-room-only hearing chaired by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), author of the “Sean and David Goldman Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act,” the new law designed to give the State Department tools to help bring abducted American children back home. Other witnesses included parents whose children have been kidnapped overseas, television actress Kelly Rutherford, and one of the nation's top international family law attorneys, Patricia Apy.
With nearly 1,000 American children abducted each year from the U.S. and held in foreign countries, the hearing focused on the U.S. State Department's stumbling implementation of the Goldman Act, a law authored by Smith that gives the State Department leverage in the return of abducted American children.
Smith said accurate reporting is critical to family court judges across the country and parents considering their child's travel to a foreign country where abduction or access are a risk.
“The stakes are high: misleading or incomplete information could mean the loss of another American child to abduction,” Smith said. “The Goldman Act requires an end to the status quo—but the first step toward change is telling the truth in the report. Which is why I am so concerned that Japan was not listed as showing a persistent failure to work with the US on abduction cases. Japan has never issued and enforced a return order for a single one of the hundreds of American children abducted there. It holds the world record on the abduction of American children never returned. And yet it got a pass on more than 50 open cases, most of which have been pending for 5 years or more. Japan needs to be put on the non-compliant list.”
Smith said he was very concerned that the first annual report contains “major gaps” and even misleading information, especially when it comes to countries like India which has numerous intractable abduction cases.
“The report indicates that India, which has consistently been in the top five destinations for abducted American children, had 19 new cases in 2014, 22 resolved cases, and no unresolved cases,” Smith said. “However, we know from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC, that India has 53 open abduction cases—and that 51 have been pending for more than 1 year.” Click here to read Chairman Smith's opening statement.
At the hearing officially entitled “The Goldman Act to Return Abducted American Children: Ensuring Accurate Numbers and Administration Action,” left behind parents openly criticized the State Department, and particularly how it has dealt with abduction cases in Japan, India and other countries.
In a major concession, Jacobs, Special Advisor for Children's Issues at the Bureau of Consular Affairs with the State Department, announced that the three-month-old report would be corrected and amended before the end of the month. Jacobs also said she knows that the 2015 Annual Report falls short of expectations, and has received related feedback from Smith's subcommittee and parents about areas that need improvement.
Jacobs also acknowledged that the report citing zero unresolved cases in Japan and India was not accurate and that the report would be amended. She committed to providing better information and more effective reports in the future. She also said that while frustrating for some, the report was helping to focus countries' attention on child abductions cases and access cases—including Japan.
“U.S. diplomatic missions overseas have delivered démarches to the governments of every country listed as demonstrating patterns of non-compliance, including non-Convention countries such as India, which has the highest number of cases of any country that is not party to the Convention,” Jacobs said. Demarches are a non-public protest or petition through diplomatic channels.
The combination of Smith's law and the report“really brought home to the Japanese” that they need to get moving,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs was defensive regarding criticism of the Obama Administration's record on Japan from left behind parents, most of whom have been waiting years to see their children returned. During a recent trip to Japan, she said she met the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss abductions.
Jacobs said that in talks with Japanese officials she “emphasized that the United States expects meaningful action and resolution of both pre-Convention and Convention cases.” She said she engages the Japanese government to press for returns, access, and resolutions, “as appropriate.” Click here to read Jacob's testimony.
Rutherford testified about her own international legal nightmare.
“Nobody in this country seems willing or able to do anything to help bring my American children home, even though this is the country that sent them away,” she said, referring to a U.S. court order sending her two young children to Europe to live with her ex-husband, even though the family had never lived there. “I can only see this as a legal kidnapping by a California judge forcing my children to live abroad for so long that the other countries seize control over their lives. I just ask each of you here today how it is possible that two American citizens have been ordered by their own government to live in exile in a foreign country?”
International abduction attorney Patricia Apy, who represented David Goldman in his five-year child abduction fight said there is “no viable explanation” how Japan is kept from being objectively identified as demonstrating patterns of non-compliance.
“Japan is singled out in the report, but only as a diplomatic success story, with contradictory information within different sections of the report, regarding Japan's status,” Apy said. “While seemingly acknowledging that Japan has continued their historic patterns of recalcitrance in the return of abducted children or organization of rights of access, Japan is not identified as exhibiting patterns of non-compliance. Click here to read Apy's testimony
Dr. Samina Rahman, M.D., mother of child abducted to India in 2013, Abdallah Khan, now 8, said most Americans live under a false sense of security that the U.S. borders have exit controls: “This is far from the truth. A 4-ounce shampoo bottle will not make it on a plane leaving this country but a minor travelling with only one parent will get past the border every single time.”
Unlike many other governments around the world including the U.S, Brazil, and more recently Japan, India has not signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the main international treaty on resolving cases of international parental child abduction. And while the State Department has told Rahman the Goldman Act grants it the authority to employ a full range of diplomatic tools to improve cooperation with India, including Abdallah's case, she was disappointed with the report and the helplessness of its Office of Children Issues.
“India is listed as ‘non-compliant,' however the only remedial measure recommended by State is: encourage India to sign the Hague,” Rahman said. “I, like other left behind parents, was devastated to find out upon reading the 2014 annual report that there are still no bilateral procedures in place between India and the U.S.,” and no clear path to bring American born children home. The Hague Convention would not be retroactive to current cases like Ms. Rahman's. Click here to read Rahman's testimony.
Diane McGee, of Warren, N.J., is the mother of two children held in Japan, both natural born U.S. citizens who were temporarily in Japan because of her husband's job at Nomura Securities. NJ courts have claimed jurisdiction to decide custody, as the family members are NJ residents.
“He has been retaining my children against my will since December 2012, and has not allowed them to return to the United States in over three years,” McGee said. “This is not about a custody dispute this is about my children's rights to be with and loved by both parents.”
McGee noted that the State Department's first annual report fails to list Japan as non-compliant.
“Conspicuously absent from the list is the worst offender – Japan,” Ms. McGee said. “Japan has never enforced or issued a return order for any American child being held captive there.” She said that “Japan is a black hole for child abduction. All members of the McGee family are American and they are being held hostage by their father in Japan. (Click here to read Ms. McGee's testimony.)
Randy Collins, Managing Director of Bring Abducted Children Home (BAC Home), and father of child abducted to Japan on Father's Day 2008, has not seen his child since 2007. His ex-wife Reiko Nakata Greenberg Collins has warrants for her arrest by the Orange County Sheriff'sDepartment. She is also on the FBI Most Wanted List for Parental Kidnappings, and has red notice issued by Interpol.
“My case, and the 70 cases listed with BAC Home, occurred prior to Japan becoming a Hague signatory and by definition under the Goldman Act are abduction cases,” Collins said. “Our children remain collectively trapped in Japan and cut off from us. They are not resolved, yet the State Department in their initial release of their ICAPRA compliance report unilaterally and without explanation decided to downgrade them to access cases. To say this report is an insult and a slap in the face of every parent of an abducted child is an understatement. The numbers do not add up in any way you try.”
Collins said the Japanese family courts have proven time and time again, they have a bias against Americans.He criticized the State Department, and its treatment of Japan in the 2015 report.
Smith—author of the Goldman Act—has been critical of the law's halting implementation by the State Department, particularly of the report's failure to name Japan, a country with more than 50 long term abductions, to a list of sanctionable worst offenders, as required by the Goldman Act.
“The report is supposed to be compiled based on facts and results,” Collins said “There are no facts to support this report regarding Japan. The facts are that no American child has been returned. For anyone to make any sort of assurance or to accept Japan's explanation to give it a favorable rating in the report is outrageous. This report must be amended to show Japan as non-complaint. There have been over 400 abduction cases to Japan registered with the State Department since 1994 and no child has been returned by the Japanese government. There must be change. Nothing State is doing or has done has created the return of a single child.” Click here to read Collin's testimony.