vendredi 1 novembre 2013

How To Stop International Child Abduction - Dual Citizenship and Dual Passports

Dual Citizenship, Dual Passports And International Parental Child Abduction Prevention
If you are a parent targeted to have your child internationally abducted by their other parent and that parent is a U.S. Citizen or possesses dual citizenship, there are many ways you may protect your child from abduction in great part due to the United States Department of State's proactive stance to stop international child abduction of American child-citizens. 

For any parent, lawyer, or stakeholder who is involved in attempting to prevent an international child abduction originating from the United States whereas the suspected taking parent may possess secondary passports issued from a foreign country for the targeted child, I urge you to contact the indefatigable, dedicated team at the United States Department of State's Office of Children's Issues Abduction Prevention Unit.

If you are an at-risk parent who believes your child's other parent is planning or in the process of international parental child abduction, contact the United States Department of State's Office of Children's Issues Abduction Prevention Bureau to discuss potential measures that may be available to you to ensure the individual parent suspected of an international child abduction threat does not illegally depart the United States and remove your child in violation of a court order or in breach of your right of custody.  Additionally, please contact the Office of Children's Issues Prevention Bureau to discuss if there are potential prevention techniques unique to your case that may allow the Department of State to work with other federal agencies so to secure your child is not a victim of international parental child abduction.

The United States Department of State
Office Of Children's Issues
Abduction Prevention Bureau

                                                                   SA-17, 9th Floor  

Washington, DC 20522-1709 
                                           Phone: 1-888-407-4747   or   202-501-4444

To contact the I CARE Foundation concerning abduction matters including possible methods available to stop international parental child abduction please email us at

Many U.S. citizen children who fall victim to international parental abduction possess dual nationality. Being aware of the child's other parent's possession of a secondary passport issued from that parent's country of origin is critical in preventing abduction because children abducted abroad usually travel outside of the country on their foreign passport. Preventing the issuance of your child's secondary passport to a foreign country is possible, but not guaranteed, based upon the country of origin of the child's other parent and their laws.

In the United States, it was apparent that parents intending to illegally remove a child in a foreign country knew that if they possessed dual citizenship, that it would be rather easy to depart America using their foreign issued passport that they have had issued for them and more than likely, the child they are intending to wrongfully remove.  In part, this belief appears to have been circulated because it was commonly believed that the United States does not have exit controls, and, existing policies such as the Prevent Departure Program (discussed herein) does not apply to individuals who posses a right of American citizenship.

Well - I am here today to tell any individual who is thinking that you can illegally remove an American child-citizen from the United States using a secondary passport issued from another country in your and in the child's name - you better think again. 

For all parents, lawyers, court officials, policymakers, policy administrators, child advocates - and to any person who is thinking of aiding or abetting a person intent on committing the crime of international parental child abduction - here's what you need to know: The United States Department of State's Office of Children's Issues and the branch's Child Abduction Prevention Bureau is deeply committed to stopping the abduction of American children.

Want a little proof?

Well, let me begin by saying that due to a host of factors, the global international parental child abduction rate appears to be growing at over 20% per year. Except in the United States of America, where the international parental child abduction rate declined by over 15% in 2011, declined by over 16% in 2012, and is expected to decline further in 2013.

Why is this happening?

Many reasons - first and foremost - it is because the Department of State has committed necessary resources to the Office of Children's Issues and their Abduction Prevention Unit. In turn, their has been real cooperation between the Department of State and other federal agencies who have the ability to assist in stopping a child's international abduction.

For those of you who may be a target of abduction, it is important to know the majority of international parental child abductions that occur are carefully planned schemes that attempt to catch the targeted parent off guard. A parent intending to snatch a child may use an assortment of reasons in order to obtain the secondary passport. Certain countries require signatures of both of the child's parents, while many require only the signature of the parent that possesses citizenship to that country.

In scenarios where only the parent who possesses citizenship to the country the child has a right to secondary citizenship to can apply for their child's passport, the grave risk and reality is that if abduction is planned, the abducting parent will attempt to conceal the existence of the secondary passport from the other parent. Additionally, in cases where dual signatures are required, it is possible that the taking parent can fraudulently submit the other parent's signature to the passport bureau of the other country as generally there are limited documentation controls in place set up to validate the application request.

While the Department of State will make every effort to avoid issuing a U.S. passport if the custodial parent has provided a custody decree, the Department cannot prevent embassies and consulates of other countries in the United States from issuing their passports to children who are also their nationals. 

All is not lost if you act thoughtfully. For example, you can ask a foreign embassy or consulate not to issue a passport to your child. On numerous occasions I or one of the attorneys associated with the I CARE Foundation have accompanied a targeted parent and personally visited a foreign embassy or consulate and requested that a secondary passport not be issued in the name of the child due to an abduction threat.

If traveling to an embassy or consulate is not a possibility, I suggest you contact the consulate, locate a supervisor who oversees their passport issuance program, and speak to them about your concern for abduction and specifically state you do not want that country to issue a passport. Immediately after that telephone call, you must submit a written request, along with certified complete copies of any court orders addressing custody or the overseas travel of your child you have. From experience, I strongly suggest you also include your marriage certificate, your child's birth certificate, and any other relevant documentation that establishes your marriage or legal partnership and establishes that you are the parent of the child or children. In your letter, inform them that you are sending a copy of this request to the U.S. Department of State

If your child is only a U.S. citizen, you can request that no visa for that country be issued in his or her U.S. passport. No international law requires compliance with such requests, but some countries will comply voluntarily.

With respect to your requests to a foreign country, there is one thing I would like to share from experience: you are likely to get more cooperation at times if you or your legal representative schedule an appointment in person. This is something I have seen first-hand in my capacity as a director of the I CARE Foundation.

What is dual nationality?

The concept of dual nationality means that a person is a citizen of two countries at the same time. Each country has its own citizenship laws based on its own policy. Persons may have dual nationality by automatic operation of different laws rather than by choice. For example, a child born in a foreign country to U.S. citizen parents may be both a U.S. citizen and a citizen of the country of birth.

A U.S. citizen may acquire foreign citizenship by marriage, or a person naturalized as a U.S. citizen may not lose the citizenship of the country of birth.  U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship or another. Also, a person who is automatically granted another citizenship does not risk losing U.S. citizenship. However, a person who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose U.S. citizenship. In order to lose U.S. citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship.

Intent can be shown by the person's statements or conduct.  The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. citizens may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist citizens abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person's allegiance.

However, dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries. Either country has the right to enforce its laws, particularly if the person later travels there. Most U.S. citizens, including dual nationals, must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States. Dual nationals may also be required by the foreign country to use its passport to enter and leave that country. Use of the foreign passport does not endanger U.S. citizenship. Most countries permit a person to renounce or otherwise lose citizenship.

Information on losing foreign citizenship can be obtained from the foreign country's embassy and consulates in the United States. Americans can renounce U.S. citizenship in the proper form at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.

Two Parent Signature Law for a Passport

U.S. law requires the signature of both parents, or the child's legal guardians, prior to issuance of a U.S. passport to children under the age of 16. To obtain a U.S. passport for a child under the age of 16, both parents (or the child’s legal guardians) must execute the child’s passport application and provide documentary evidence demonstrating that they are the parents or guardians. If this cannot be done, the person executing the passport application must provide documentary evidence that he or she has sole custody of the child, has the consent of the other parent to the issuance of the passport, or is acting in place of the parents and has the consent of both parents (or of a parent/legal guardian with sole custody over the child to the issuance of the passport).


The law does provide two exceptions to this requirement: (1) for exigent circumstances, such as those involving the health or welfare of he child, or (2) when the Secretary of State determines that issuance of a passport is warranted by special family circumstances.

Prevent Departure Program

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. CRITICALLY -  as I stated earlier, if  you are an at-risk parent who believes your child's other parent is planning or in the process of international parental child abduction, please contact the United States Department of State's Office of Children's Issues Abduction Prevention Bureau to discuss potential measures that may be available to you to ensure the individual parent suspected of an international child abduction threat does not illegally depart the United States and remove your child in violation of a court order or in breach of your right of custody. The Office of Children's Issues Prevention Bureau may be able to determine if there are potential prevention techniques unique to your case that may allow the Department of State to work with other federal agencies so to secure your child is not a victim of international parental child abduction.

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 (remember: the Department of State may be able to assist a parent targeted by another individual who is in possession of dual citizenship and find issues unique to your case that may enable them to work with other federal agencies in cases of American or dual citizenship), 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 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.

What To Include When Contacting The Department Of State's Office Of Children's Issues:

Individuals seeking to Department of State assistance and implementation of the Prevent Departure Program should make sure that they have the following information ready to submit to the Office of Children's Issues:

1.      Full name, date, place of birth of Potential taking parent.

2.      Full name, date, place of birth of Potential left behind parent (and PLBP’s contact info, including a surface address).

3.      Passport number and issuing country (if available, and not U.S.) for both parents.

4.      Full name of child.

5.      Date, place of birth of child.

6.      U.S. passport number of child.

7.      Passport number and issuing country of any dual national passport of child (if available).

8.      Copy of court order with travel restrictions.

9.      Full contact details, including a 24/7 phone and email (to email court documents, we do not have after hours fax access), for law enforcement contact.

10.   Details of potential travel plans.
The contact information for the Department of State is as follows:

The United States Department of State
Office Of Children's Issues
Abduction Prevention Bureau
SA-17, 9th Floor  
Washington, DC 20522-1709
                                           Phone: 1-888-407-4747   or   202-501-4444

In the United States, International Parental Child Abduction is clearly beginning to be taken as a serious crime against innocent children. The incredible efforts by the Office Of Children's Issues to protect American children from abduction has produced real, measurable, and impactful results. As the world's abduction rate spirals out of control, an anomaly is occurring in America: children are being protected from kidnapping. 

From our vantage point in the battle trench fighting abduction, and from our own measurable history of protecting a large number of children who have either been abducted or were targeted from abduction, the I CARE Foundation is fully aware that none of the successes we have had assisting targeted children would be possible if not for the Department of State and the tremendous cooperation protecting children provided by other agencies.

I think it is important to point out that in all cases where a secondary passport is a concern, one of the legal strategies the attorneys associated with the I CARE Foundation have successfully implemented is to seek an emergency order from the court possessing jurisdiction of the child whereas, the petition requests that 'responding parent' (parent believed to planning an abduction) provide formal documentation from the consulate or embassy of their country of origin that grants the consulate or embassy permission to answer a court subpoena concerning the issuance of a passport (the consulate or embassy is not required to do so even if a subpoena is issued), or, that the court order the responding parent to provide an official letter from their country of origin stating that neither a passport for the child has been issued from that country and no application for a passport has been submitted.

During the emergency application, the targeted parent (the 'applicant') has sought a host of measures, including seeking for the court or the applicant to take possession of the child's American passports; and, for the child being placed on the United States Passport Issuance Alert Program; and, for either removal of child access or limited, supervised access of the targeted child by the parent suspected of child snatching. If the Prevent Departure Program is applicable, attorneys have previously sought for the court to request that the U.S. Department of State petition the U.S. Department of Homeland Security place a person considered a high-risk child abductor on the secure screening list to ensure that person does not travel outside of the country with the child unless permitted to do so by court order.

However, as stated previously - each abduction prevention case is different. It is imperative that at-risk parents contact the Department of State.  Should a parent or attorney have questions they would like to address with the I CARE Foundation, they may do so by email at:  

I think it is also worth sharing the concern that a parent traveling by land or sea across international adjacent borders (For the United States this means travel to Canada, Mexico, or certain Caribbean island-nations) with a minor under 16 years of age does not need to present a valid passport for their child at the border-crossing (valid passports are required for all travelers regardless of age only when traveling abroad by aircraft) as established by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Thus, a parent planning to abduct a child could do so by boarding a closed circuit cruise, or by simply driving across the border. It is critical that an attorney attempting to prevent abduction familiarize themselves with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative loopholes and present these issues to the court they are litigating over. One other good idea is that they present to the court the statistical realities of child abduction return, including whether a country that appears to be a likely inbound country is a member of the Hague Convention, and whether or not they are a complying country. Of course, that's not all that should be presented to the court. A few other important issues include the potential for severe abuse to the child; and, the severe abuse to the targeted parent, the cost to litigate; and, the ability for the taking parent to disappear abroad, including departing the country they initially 'landed' in, and travel to another country; and finally, the likelihood that a child will be returned.

I invite you to read Summer Vacations and International Parental Child Abduction and to visit the official website of the U.S. Department of State, I CARE Foundation and Chasing The Cyclone for more information about abduction.

One little word of advice: the majority of parents who have had their child abducted never saw it coming. Do not stick your head in the ground and think this cannot happen to you. Educate yourself.

And for anyone who is thinking of either illegally removing an American child-citizen from the United States or who is planning on wrongfully detaining a child abroad, remember, international parental child abduction is a federal crime called kidnapping. Click here to read more about the International Parental Kidnapping Crimes Act.

- Peter Thomas Senese -
- Executive Director-
- The I CARE Foundation-