January 1, 2016
An international battle over the alleged parental abduction of a Mexican boy is playing out in a federal courtroom in Knoxville.
The case involves the Hague Convention, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Mexican government, Facebook, Knox County Juvenile Court, Chief U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan, a Mexican father, a Mexican child and a Mexican mother illegally living in Knoxville.
The basics as outlined in court records are these: Eugenio Garduno Guevara and Alma Soto Soto had a baby boy out of wedlock in Mexico in 2010. For three years, the couple lived together and jointly raised the boy. In March 2013, the parents split up, but the father didn’t go far. He insists he continued to visit the boy and provide financial support. A month later, the boy and his mother disappeared.
Since then, Guevara has been on the hunt for his son, engaging Mexican police and the Mexican government, scouring Facebook and, ultimately, invoking the Hague Convention of 1980 on international child abduction and engaging the State Department and the U.S. judicial system.
Two years later, Guevara finally found mother and son via a photograph posted on Facebook, showing Soto and the boy at the Wichita Falls Park in Wichita Falls, Texas. He notified the State Department, which sent Soto a letter in April to the Wichita Falls home of her brother. The letter advised Soto about the provisions of the Hague Convention invoked by Guevara that require the return of the boy to Mexico.
Soto and the boy again disappeared, according to court records. The pair resurfaced — on paper, at least — in late May when Knoxville attorney Tom Slaughter filed a petition in Knox County Juvenile Court seeking to establish custody of the boy by the mother and listing an address for mother and son on Suburban Road in Knoxville.
The petition did not allege either were here legally and instead also invoked the Hague Convention’s international child abduction provisions. Slaughter argued the Hague Convention tenets don’t apply anymore because the boy has “habitually resided in the United States with (Soto) for over two years” and, therefore, is no longer a resident of Mexico subject to the international child abduction agreement, by which the U.S. and Mexico agreed to be bound.
Slaughter contended in the petition Guevara did not financially support his son when the parents split as Guevara insists — although the separation had spanned only a month when mother and child disappeared. He sought child support on behalf of Soto.
The State Department once again stepped in, serving notice on Knox County Juvenile Court of the father’s claims under the Hague Convention and provisions of the agreement that usurp the court’s authority. A Memphis law firm specializing in immigration issues then filed a federal complaint in U.S. District Court in Knoxville on Dec. 11 seeking emergency action to bar the mother from again fleeing with the boy and a finding by Varlan that the boy must be returned to Mexico.
Earlier this week, Varlan issued a temporary restraining order against the mother and ordered the Marshals Service to track her down and serve her with all the court records filed in the federal case so far, including a notice that she and the boy are required to appear in his courtroom Jan. 12 for a hearing.
“Based upon the allegations in the verified complaint, the court finds there is a risk that defendant could continue to conceal the child’s location, and thus (father Guevara) will likely be irreparably harmed in the absence of the requested relief to maintain the status quo,” Varlan wrote.
Noting it is unusual for the court to issue a restraining order before Soto has been located and the father’s complaint formally served on her, Varlan cited as just cause the danger Soto would flee once informed of the federal court action. That flight risk also serves as the basis of his justification in turning to the Marshals Service for help.
“Notice would defeat the purpose of the relief plaintiff seeks,” Varlan wrote. “The court finds that the risk that defendant may leave the jurisdiction once she has notice of plaintiff’s verified complaint warrants issuing a (temporary restraining order) without notice.”
The Marshals Service, although primarily known for its fugitive-hunting duties in criminal cases, plays many lesser-known roles in the federal court system. The agency, for instance, is a key player in the civil process of seizing property and goods acquired through illegal means. But it is rare for the agency to be tasked with serving court records in a lawsuit between private parties.
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