About the Author: Constantina Patronas serves as an incoming abduction officer in Overseas Citizen Services, Office of Children.s Issues.
My job as an abduction country officer in the Office of Children’s Issues is rewarding and challenging. International Parental Child Abduction (IPCA) cases are usually complicated, often heartbreaking, but also gratifying. Much work is involved in ensuring the return of a child, which may even be through a voluntary resolution between the parents. This is a snapshot of my “average” day.
The mission of the Office of Children’s Issues Abduction Division is to assist in the resolution of international parental child abduction cases. In many countries, the Hague Abduction Convention is the primary vehicle to do so. Our office serves as the United States Central…
Authority (USCA) under the Convention. In this role, we oversee the implementation of the Convention in the United States, and we connect individuals in other countries to various resources in the United States.
I handle cases of children who have been abducted from another country into the United States, and I work with the “left-behind parents” who reside in other countries. I hear many heartbreaking stories from parents about the reported abduction, but they all have one similarity: one parent — the “taking parent” — has reportedly left with the child and the parent calling me — the “left-behind parent” — wants the child returned. Not long ago, I received a call from a mother who was terrified that she would never see her two children again. The mother is a Mexican citizen and her children are dual citizens of the United States and Mexico, where they have lived their entire lives. She told me that the father went on vacation with the girls to the United States and never returned. I listened to her story and gathered the facts of the case to determine what assistance our office could provide. I explained to the mother the basics of the Convention and the steps in filing the Hague Convention application, which is a formal request for the children’s return.
The mother submitted a Hague application alleging the abduction of her daughters by their father. Shortly thereafter, I learned that the father was living in the United States. I confirmed his address, determined that the children were attending school, and discovered that a custody petition was pending in a U.S. court. I immediately sent the court an Article 16 letter (the article in the Convention that requires a court to stay, or not decide, on custody until the Convention matter is resolved) to inform the judge that a Convention case was pending. After these matters were taken care of, I worked on the mother’s legal assistance request, as our office maintains a list of volunteer attorneys who are willing to assist in these cases. Processing the mother’s Hague Convention application, reviewing her paperwork, coordinating with the government of Mexico, confirming her children’s location, forwarding the Article 16 letter to the judge, and submitting the file to the Legal Assistance Coordinator all took one day. In this case, we were lucky because we were able to locate the father and children very quickly. In other cases, it can take months and even years to confirm the location of a taking parent and child.
Let’s fast forward to the next steps and end result of this case: I sent a letter notifying the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City about the hearing, and they adjudicated the visa application through normal procedures. The mother was granted a non-immigrant visa to travel to the United States to participate in the hearing, where the judge ordered the return of the children. The following day, the mother and children returned safely to Mexico.
This is just one example of the types of abduction cases my colleagues and I see every day. In this particular case, the process was efficient with very few obstacles. Unfortunately, no two international parental child abduction cases are alike. As abduction officers, we must be ready for any curve balls that might come our way and determine the best ways to facilitate the movement of a case as expeditiously as possible. Our job is not to advocate for the taking parent or the left-behind parent. Rather, our job is to ensure that for incoming cases, the Hague Convention works properly in the United States and for cases of children leaving the United States that our treaty partners abide by the Convention’s principles.
In recognition of National Missing Children’s Day on May 25, the Office of Children’s Issues and U.S. embassies and consulates around the world will hold special programs and events to raise awareness about international parental child abduction. Visittravel.state.gov for more information about IPCA and available prevention measures.