A federal court battle is brewing between the United States and Brazil over a 5-year-old girl whose father has not seen her in 2 1/2 years and wants the child’s mother to return her to the United States where she was born.
Michael Sanchez of San Tan Valley flew more than 5,800 miles to Brazil on Oct. 10 hoping to see his daughter, Emily. Her mother and Sanchez’s ex-girlfriend, Nigia Machado, took her to Brazil in March 2008 in the midst of a custody battle when she and Sanchez lived in Illinois.
Sanchez, 25, a full-time student at Central Arizona College, was informed by the U.S. State Department in September that Interpol had located Emily in Brazil, where Nigia Machado is from and now lives again. Sanchez hopes that he’ll get to bring Emily home based on provisions of the Hague Convention on the civil aspect of child abduction, involving children illegally taken from the country in which they were born. Brazil is part of the international treaty.
But during his 10-day stay in Brazil, Sanchez did not get to see his daughter, only talk by phone with the girl’s mother, who Sanchez says has continued “playing the same games” she did in Illinois where she was not a legal U.S. resident.
“I want to see my daughter, and work something out with her mother where we both can be a part of Emily’s life,” said Sanchez, who returned from Brazil on Wednesday. “My intent was not to go there and argue, but to see my daughter. Nigia just came up with more excuses to not let me see her. I went there expecting the worst, and that is what is happening.
“It’s time to end this.”
Sanchez said that Nigia told him that she was busy with school and did not have time to let him see Emily, claiming she was 600 miles away from where they met.
Emily Machado’s whereabouts again are unknown and the Central Authority in Brazil, which is similar to the State Department in the United States, told Sanchez that a federal court case now is pending against Machado to see whether she will abide by the Hague treaty and let him be reunited with Emily.
Once Emily was located, Sanchez applied for her return. Sanchez now is applying for access to Emily and plans to return to Brazil in December to see her. If Machado does not cooperate with his request to have access to Emily, Machado could be facing federal kidnapping and abduction charges.
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. She said she was tired of battling in the courts and afraid of what could happen to her custodial status because she was not living in the country legally.
Sanchez, who last saw Emily when he had dinner with her and gave her a toy earlier that month, reported her missing on March 27, 2008.
Although Sanchez was relieved to hear Emily was located, he now lives with the burden that he could face a drawn-out legal battle to get her back and that his daughter might not remember him.
Machado, who is wanted on an outstanding civil warrant in Illinois, asked Sanchez to drop a civil lawsuit against her seeking $10,000 to help cover the cost of his legal fees in an attempt to get Emily returned to the U.S. She also wants full custody of Emily, Sanchez said.
“I am not going to drop anything until I see my daughter,” Sanchez said. “There’s no running from this anymore. Nigia needs to start cooperating. I went to Brazil to try to work something out with her, but I can’t do this alone.”
Countries that are a party to the treaty have agreed that a child who is habitually resident in one party country, and who has been 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.
“Parental child abduction is a tragedy — and a federal crime — that not only jeopardizes children but has substantial long-term consequences for the ‘left-behind’ parent, the family, and society,” Macray said in an e-mail to the Tribune. “Children who are abducted by their parents are often suddenly isolated from their extended families, friends, and classmates. They are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems. Similarly, left-behind parents experience a wide range of emotions including betrayal, loss, anger, and depression. In international cases, they often face unfamiliar legal, cultural, and linguistic barriers that compound these emotions.”
Sanchez has chronicled his ordeal on the website www.bringemilyhome.org. On the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website, Emily’s disappearance is listed as a family abduction.
“In my mind, Nigia is an abductor,” Sanchez said. “I will continue to fight until I get to see my daughter and get her returned to the United States. I will not give up.”