USA: The Supreme Court Strikes Down a Nationality Law That Treated Fathers Differently Than Mothers Based on Outdated Stereotypes


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In a step forward for gender equality, the Supreme Court struck down yesterday a nationality law that treated U.S. citizen fathers and mothers differently. The law — first enacted in 1940 — is one of the few federal laws that continue to explicitly discriminate based on sex.

The case centered on Luis Ramon Morales-Santana, a U.S. resident for more than 40 years, who was born in the Dominican Republic in 1962. His father, a U.S. citizen, later married his mother, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, and they moved to the United States.

At the time of Morales-Santana’s birth, the statute provided that the child of an unmarried U.S. citizen mother living abroad automatically became a U.S. citizen, so long as the mother previously lived in the U.S. for one year at any age. On the other hand, an unmarried U.S. citizen father could transmit citizenship to his child born abroad only if the father had resided in the U.S. for 10 years, with five of those years occurring after the father was 14 years old.

Because Morales-Santana’s father left the U.S. a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday and did not return until after his son’s birth, he could not meet the five-year requirement in the law, and Morales-Santana was denied citizenship. If Morales-Santana had instead been born to a U.S. citizen mother with the same history of U.S. residency as his father, the law would have recognized him as a citizen.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, held that the different treatment of fathers and mothers discriminates based on sex and violates the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution. She observed that the law was enacted in an era when “two once habitual, but now untenable, assumptions pervaded our Nation’s citizenship laws and underpinned judicial and administrative rulings: In marriage, husband is dominant, wife subordinate; unwed mother is the natural and sole guardian of a non-marital child.”

The law is one of the few federal laws that continue to explicitly discriminate based on sex.

As we argued in our amicus brief, the law is rooted in longstanding stereotypes that mothers, not fathers, are responsible for children born outside of marriage. By concluding that mothers and fathers should be subject to the same criteria, the court reinforced the principle that legislating based on gender usually results in unconstitutional lawmaking by stereotypes, particularly when there are now over two million single fathers in the U.S. Today’s opinion examined the statute under heightened scrutiny, the rigorous standard for constitutional review applicable to any gender-based law or policy, and reaffirmed that the courts can and must invalidate unconstitutional federal policies.

Justice Ginsburg’s decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana builds on her legacy of ground-breaking work toward achieving gender equality. When she co-founded the ACLU Women’s Rights Project in 1972, she litigated many of the early cases establishing that laws that discriminate based on sex violate the Constitution. In all of the cases she argued before the Supreme Court, she represented men, highlighting how they and their families were harmed by laws that stereotyped men as breadwinners and women as caretakers of children.

For example, she challenged a Social Security law that provided financial support for widows and their children but not to widowers on behalf of Stephen Wiesenfeld, whose wife died during the birth of their son. A unanimous Supreme Court extended the benefits to men in 1975, observing that the law hurt widowers who need support, children who deserve the care of their fathers, and women who contribute to Social Security through their earnings but whose spouses cannot receive benefits upon their deaths.

While the ruling advances gender equality, the court did not allow Morales-Santana’s claim to citizenship proceed under the more relaxed one-year residency requirement. Inviting Congress to remove the gender-based distinction in the law, the court explained that it felt constrained to impose the longer residency requirement on unmarried parents because married U.S. citizen parents must also meet the longer time period in order to confer citizenship. The court concluded that the longer residency requirement for unmarried fathers should also apply to unmarried mothers from this point forward. However, until Congress acts, the court observed that “the Government must ensure that the laws in question are administered in a manner free from gender-based discrimination.”

In the past, Congress has reduced residency requirements for parents seeking to transmit citizenship, so they may live and travel with their children. It should do so again. Moreover, today’s decision did not address another sex-based provision in the law: a mandate that fathers agree in writing to provide financial support for the child, an obligation that is not placed on unmarried mothers and has not yet been challenged in the Supreme Court. Congress should create a gender-neutral citizenship law that both reflects our commitment to gender equality and provides U.S. citizen parents with the ability to live together with their families.

Canada / China: Prison term upheld for mom who hid Toronto girl in China


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TORONTO – A woman who refused to bring her daughter back to Canada from China despite repeated court orders to do so lost her bid on Monday to overturn her conviction and seven-year prison sentence for child abduction.

In rejecting the challenge, Ontario’s top court ruled that Chun Mei Li was properly convicted and sentenced after a jury trial last year.

“The trial judge found that the harm caused by Ms. Li’s actions, when combined with her very high degree of moral blameworthiness, warranted a sentence that was more severe than in comparable cases,” the Appeal Court said. “This was not an error.”

The girl, identified only as M., was the daughter of Li and her common-law spouse Seyed Rezadoust. In December of 2010, when M. was seven years old, Li took her to China without telling the father, the Appeal Court said. She came back without the girl.

When Rezadoust reported the situation to police, Li responded by making several criminal allegations against her ex, resulting in charges against him. She also refused court orders to bring the child back to Canada.

When Rezadoust applied to have her found in contempt, she made further criminal allegations, leading to yet more charges against him — all of which would eventually be stayed. Li was found in contempt and jailed, while custody of M. was awarded to the father.

In December 2013, she agreed to bring M. back to Toronto but did not do so. She also lied about who was looking after the girl. She was jailed again for contempt, and charged with child abduction.

At her arraignment in 2015, she refused to answer questions, branded the proceedings as illegal, and accused Rezadoust of being a terrorist. The trial on the abduction charge began in January last year.

“The trial proved to be very challenging,” the Appeal Court said. “Of importance, Ms. Li initially refused to participate. She then became very disruptive.”

Among other things, she insulted the prosecutor and her court-ordered lawyer, was loud and abusive, and, was eventually tossed from the courtroom and forced to watch proceedings via video, the Appeal Court said. She called no defence witnesses. The jury convicted her.

Despite recognizing that Li was mentally unwell, Superior Court Justice Anne Malloy concluded Li had been fit to stand trial and that her behaviour was “intentional and likely tactical.”

In her appeal, Li railed at the legality of the proceedings, repeated accusations that her ex was a terrorist, and made assorted claims of perjury, judicial misconduct and obstruction of justice.

“There is no merit in any of Ms. Li’s claims that the proceedings, either in the family court or before the trial judge, were tainted with illegality,” the Appeal Court said. “There is no foundation for the allegation of perjury. There is no substance to any of the allegations of impropriety or misconduct on the part of any of the judges or lawyers involved in this case.”

In sentencing her to seven years, Malloy cited as a “significant aggravating” factor the fact that Li had refused to retrieve her daughter or tell anyone here where she was or whether she was safe. The Appeal Court found the punishment reasonable.

However, the higher court did make one adjustment to the sentence, saying Malloy was wrong to count Li’s pre-sentence custody on a one-for-one basis instead of on a time-and-a-half credit.

Malloy had blamed her decision on Li’s “stubborn refusal” to say where the child was, but the Appeal Court said that behaviour was already reflected in the seven-year sentence and so amounted to double-counting of an aggravating factor.

The Appeal Court said M.’s whereabouts remain unknown.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding a child abducted to China please feel free to contact us 24 / 7.  We are always available at contact@abpworld.com or by calling our offices – +1 (805) CHILD-11 (+18052445311)

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USA: Federal agents arrest Maryland man wanted for international child kidnapping


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Federal agents have arrested a Maryland man who was accused of international parental kidnapping, ending a six-year saga that drew the attention of the state’s top elected officials.

FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents arrested Faical Chebbi of Accokeek on Wednesday after he landed at Dulles International Airport, prosecutors said.

Chebbi, who made an initial appearance in court Thursday, was accused of taking his two children to Tunisia in 2011 after picking them up for a weekend visitation, despite agreeing in court that their mother would have custody.

The case highlighted the long-standing problem of international child abductions, where one parent takes a child to a country where custody orders issued in the U.S. are ignored. More than 1,000 such cases are reported to the State Department each year.

Chebbi has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Tunisia. Federal prosecutors said he faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Edeanna Barbirou, the mother of the children, traveled to Tunisia and regained custody of her daughter early on. The Maryland woman said in an email Friday that she now also has her son, Eslam.

The case drew attention from Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Cardin repeatedly wrote to Tunisian officials asking them to intervene. He met with former Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa in 2014 and discussed the case.

“Ms. Barbirou fought tirelessly to bring home both her children, and Eslam’s long overdue return finally closes this difficult chapter for their family,” Cardin said in a statement. “Like so many other international abduction cases my office sees, this case dragged on far longer than it should have.”

More than 90 nations, including the United States, have signed a treaty to expedite the review of cross-border abduction cases. Tunisia has not signed the treaty.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding a child abducted to Tunisia please feel free to contact us 24 / 7.  We are always available at contact@abpworld.com or by calling our offices – +1 (805) CHILD-11 (+18052445311)

Trinidad & Tobago: Calls for focus to be placed on parental kidnapping


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R H O N D A Gregoire-Roopchan, registry and investigation manager at the Children’s Authority says there are many options for members of the public to inform the authority of problems in a family without having to get personally involved. She said the information can be supplied with the request that their identity not be made available to the family involved. She made the comment while addressing the fifth annual meeting of the Single Father’s Association held at Nipdec Building on Wednesday last.

The event centered on the theme “Fatherhood in Society: Issues and Solutions” and the discussions focused on the absence of legislation governing parental kidnapping and parental alienation.

Gregoire-Roopchan said the authority also does psycho-social intervention to restore the child’s functioning and this focuses heavily on co-parent intervention so that the parents become aware of how their behaviour impacts on the child and make progressive steps to being the child back into focus.

One of the highlights of the session was input from Scott Berne of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, described as a survivor of parental kidnapping.

Speaking via Skype, he told participants he was abducted by his mother after the bitter divorce of his parents.

He said he was nine years old when his parents divorced and he was placed in the custody of his father.

However, on their first unsupervised visit together, his mother abducted him.

He told the meeting of two years of brainwashing, during which his mother changed his name and warned him against talking to the police if he was stopped. He said he was brainwashed by his mother to the extent that he believed that his father was dead. He said he was kept out of school for two years, had no friends and did not even know his own name.

He said that he was forced to move from place to place at short notice and even when she was caught, his mother did not surrender and had to be arrested and jailed.

Berne said he was placed in “Juvenile Hall” and his recovery was long and hard and it took him a long time to move from being a victim to a survivor.

President of the association Rhondall Feeles said parental kidnapping is an offence against a child and most children who go through parental kidnapping suffer as Berne did. He asked why parents would commit such an offence against their own child. Saying it was an act of domestic abuse, he insisted that there should be deterrence and consequences in local legislation.

Also addressing the gathering was Jennifer Alleyne of National Family Services. She said that the kidnapping of children is not the only abuse they suffer.

She said sometimes one parent wants to leave a dysfunctional relationship and may remove the child or children from the home, taking them to some other relative.

She said the parent might migrate to the United States with the promise of sending for the children at a later date.

Alleyne said children in such situations suffer loss of identity, wondering about who they are, and where their mothers were.

She advised parents to be very careful when making decisions about their children.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding a child abducted to Trinidad & Tobago please feel free to contact us 24 / 7.  We are always available at contact@abpworld.com or by calling our offices – +1 (805) CHILD-11 (+18052445311)

 

Netherlands: EXTRA SECURITY CHECKS AT SCHIPHOL TO PREVENT CHILD ABDUCTION


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A parent or grandparent traveling with a minor child through Schiphol Airport this summer, should take extra time for an additional security check into account. The Koninklijke Marechaussee implemented an additional check in the fight against child abduction, ANP reports.

If you are a family member traveling alone with an underage child, you need the permission from both parents to do so. In this additional check, the Koninklijke Marechaussee will check whether this permission is in place for each child not traveling with both parents. This check could take some time.

“If the permission is not clear, the Koninklijke Marechaussee does additional research, which happens dozens of times a day. This can not be done at the desk. We therefore advise people to leave on time, otherwise there is a chance that the flight will be missed.” Coskun Coruz, director of the International Child Abduction Center, said to the news wire.

Travelers can avoid delays by completing the center developed with the Ministry of Security and Justice and the Koninklijke Marechaussee – a policing force that works as part of the Dutch military and is responsible for border security, including airports and harbors.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding a child abducted to the Netherlands please feel free to contact us 24 / 7.  We are always available at contact@abpworld.com or by calling our offices – +1 (805) CHILD-11 (+18052445311)

Mexico: EPPD helped develop multi-national Amber Alert system used in Mexico


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EL PASO, Texas – The El Paso Police Department is being credited with helping recently expand the Amber Alert program into Mexico.

Amber Alerts allow for cross-border communication between law enforcement, the media and wireless providers to help find missing children.

The collaboration that led to “Alerta Amber Mexico” is already paying dividends for El Paso Police. It helped solve the case last week of the boy allegedly left in Juarez by his mother for more than three months.

“Your city was at the very front end of that in making this happen,” said Jim Walters, program administrator for Amber Alert with the U.S. Department of Justice, who indicated the El Paso Police Department deserves as much credit as anyone for helping expand the program across the border. “The very first meeting that we ever did to plan this program in Mexico was held in El Paso on Valentine’s Day 2012. It was hosted by the El Paso Police Department.”

Authorities from both sides of the border have met several times since then, culminating with a meeting in Mexico City last month. Sgt. Karen Kozak from EPPD was there. She’s the regional coordinator for the Texas/Mexico Amber Alert program.

“Mexico is the No. 1 destination for international abductions of U.S. children,” Walters said. “And the U.S. is the No. 1 destination for the abduction of Mexican children. The vast majority of those are parental abductions.”

This latest coordination between authorities in Mexico and the United States proved key just last week, not in the case of a missing child, but in the case of a missing parent, of a four year-old boy who was found in Juarez.

“This was not an Amber Alert, but the information came to her from an Amber conference,” EPPD spokesman Darrel Petry told ABC-7. “Once Sgt. Kozak got back to El Paso, she was able to start working with law enforcement and officials in Juarez to give as much information about what they had in regards to the case.”

After releasing a picture of the boy to the media last week, police said their phones began ringing.

“It was almost immediately,” Petry said, “phone calls started coming in almost immediately. I mean, it was great.”

One of those callers was the boy’s mother, Ruby Esmeralda Gonzalez, who told police her son had been kidnapped. But investigators found otherwise.

“Alerta Amber Mexico” links the six Mexican border states to the four U.S. border states, including Texas.

Petry said the hope is to eventually expand the Amber Alert program for missing children to other countries.

USA: Child custody fight resumes, despite disappearance


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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A long-running legal saga pitting two former lesbian partners in a child custody fight returns to Vermont this week, with the state’s highest court set to hear an appeal.

Lawyers for Lisa Miller, who has disappeared with the 8-year-old girl, are challenging a Family Court judge’s decision to award custody to former partner Janet Jenkins, of Fair Haven.

Isabella Miller-Jenkins and mother Lisa Miller, of Forest, Va., failed to appear for a court-ordered Jan. 1 custody swap in which Jenkins was to get the girl. Since then, Jenkins’ attorney has said the two are believed to have moved to El Salvador.

A contempt citation and arrest warrant have been issued for Miller in Vermont, and a Virginia court has issued a show cause order against her.

Isabella Miller-Jenkins is listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which calls her disappearance a “family abduction.”

Still, the legal wrangling — which dates to 2003 — goes on.

On Wednesday, the Vermont Supreme Court will hear arguments from Miller’s attorneys who say Judge William Cohen erred last November in awarding custody to Jenkins, who is not the biological mother.

The attorneys, who say they haven’t had contact with Miller since last September and don’t know where she is, previously asked to withdraw as her lawyers but were denied.

“From our standpoint, we have not been able to reach Lisa Miller,” said Mathew Staver, an attorney with Liberty Counsel, a conservative nonprofit law firm that provides legal aid in cases involving religious liberty, sanctity of life and families.

“We know that her desires have been to continue to press the appeal to get to the constitutional questions.”

The appeal centers on whether there were adequate grounds to strip Miller of her parental rights in the first place.

Her attorneys say there weren’t.

Jenkins, of Fair Haven, Vt., says Miller’s “deliberate, ongoing and near total sabotage of every court order of visitation” give Miller little standing to challenge the Family Court’s ruling, and that the judge in that case rightly transferred custody for the well-being of the girl.

Miller and Jenkins were joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2000, and the girl was conceived via artificial insemination. The two broke up in 2003, and have battled in the courts ever since.

Miller moved to Virginia and renounced homosexuality, becoming an evangelical Christian.

Jennifer Levi, an attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders who represents Jenkins, says the appeal is an attempt to have the court revisit legal questions that have already been decided. Under the circumstances, it’s especially wrong, she said.

“It doesn’t make sense for a lawyer unable to communicate with a client to pursue very important issues at the appellate level. Clearly, they have a broader legal agenda in continuing this legal fight, which is all but dead,” said Levi.

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