In about two weeks, a San Tan Valley man embroiled in an international custody battle hopes he will get to see his 5-year-old daughter for the first time in 3 1/2 years and negotiate a custody agreement with the girl’s mother who took her to Brazil.
Michael Sanchez said he is nervous and cautiously optimistic that he will get to see his daughter, Emily Machado, when he visits Brazil on Aug. 16-17 — and that his daughter remembers him.
Sanchez did not get to see Emily the first time he flew to Brazil in October, because the girl’s mother, Nigia Machado, said she was busy with school and could not bring Emily to meet him. Machado took the girl to her native country in March 2008 in the midst of a custody battle when she and Sanchez lived in Illinois. She feared that authorities in the U.S. would penalize her for living here illegally.
“I just want Nigia to come to the table so we can negotiate an agreement that’s in the best interests of everyone, and so we both can be a part of Emily’s life,” Sanchez said. “Emily needs a father and needs to know she has a father who loves her and wants to be a part of her life as I was before Nigia took her to Brazil. This has gone on too long.”
Now, in addition to hoping to get to see his daughter, Sanchez is collecting names on an online petition he hopes will become “Emily’s Law” that aims to prevent parents involved in custody agreements from wrongfully traveling with their children. The petition’s supporters are calling on legislators in Illinois to implement a law that would permit airport security personnel to search National Crime Information Center files to see whether a parent is violating a custody order by traveling out of the state or the country with a child. If a parent is known to have abducted a child and that violation is reported to authorities right away, it would show up in the NCIC database, and the child would not be permitted to board the plane while law enforcement is contacted.
Since Sanchez began collecting names on the petition on July 21, more than 800 people have signed on.
“It’s really just a matter of time before it takes off,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez also said when he travels to Brazil this time for the pending custody mediation involving Emily, he will be better prepared. Each side will be permitted to have three people on it, including an attorney and a representative from the State Department.
Brazil is not taking steps to abide by the Hague Treaty, which requires countries to return a child to the country where they were born, according to information from the State Department. Machado could be facing federal kidnapping and abduction charges. Emily is among 60 children living in Brazil who are not being returned to parents, among them about 20 American children, according to the U.S. State Department.
A spokesman at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington said Wednesday that there are about 70 Brazilian children in the U.S. under the same circumstances.
“It’s a universal problem,” said Fabio Fiederico, spokesman for the Brazilian Embassy. “The majority of these cases go through the judicial system to be adjudicated. Once the cases begin going through the courts, they take some time. We’ll have to see what the outcome of the mediation hearing in Brazil is involving Emily.”
Countries that are a party to the Hague Treaty have agreed that a child who is habitually a resident in one party country, and who has been illegally taken to or kept in another party country in violation of one parent’s custodial rights, shall be promptly returned for a custody hearing, according to Rosemary Macray, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs Office of Children’s Issues.
Sanchez was permitted by a court in Illinois, where he lived in 2008, to see his daughter every other weekend and two days a week. But when he arrived at Machado’s apartment in March 2008, he found it empty with a note from Machado saying she was leaving with Emily.
Sanchez has chronicled his ordeal on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website, where Emily’s disappearance is listed as a family abduction, and on a Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/daddyandemily. The ordeal also is chronicled on the website bringemilyhome.org, where the online petition can be accessed.
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