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Child Abductions By Parents Into Mexico Rising

Aired 10/5/11 on KPBS News.

International child abductions are on the rise, and Mexico is the number one destination.

Trevor Richardson shows a photo of Andrew, his six year-old son who was abducted.
Enlarge this image

Above: Trevor Richardson shows a photo of Andrew, his six year-old son who was abducted.

— At 9 a.m. on a recent Friday, Brian Duzet crossed the border from San Diego to Tijuana by foot. Blonde, with blue eyes, Duzet wears baggy jeans and flip-flops, even on a chilly Fall day. But he wasn't in Tijuana for fun, like many other Americans who come on foot. He had come to see his daughter, Sam.

Three years ago, Duzet and his Mexican girlfriend split up, with shared custody of Sam. But one morning, she picked the little girl up and disappeared. Hours passed. Duzet began to worry. He left multiple messages on his ex-girlfriend’s cell phone. By the next morning, he suspected the worst: Sam had been taken to Mexico, without her father's permission. She was abducted.

With the help of Mexican authorities, the FBI, and the U.S. Department of State, Duzet was able to locate his daughter. U.S. authorities pressed charges against his ex-girlfriend. He has spent more than $100,000 in travel, legal fees and other paperwork to try and get Sam back. Other parents without the means, he said, would have given up already.

“They walk away, and as hard as that might be, they wouldn’t see their kid until their child is old enough to seek them out," Duzet said. "That is the sad reality of the situation. You can’t put a price tag on the hidden costs as well.”

Hidden costs like anxiety, and depression, the father said, both of which can be common among so-called "left-behind parents."

“Someday I’m going to have to explain this all to her," said Duzet, standing outside his ex-girlfriend's Tijuana home, preparing himself to go in for his weekly court-mandated meeting with Sam.

"I don’t think now is appropriate. My daughter is smart enough to know there is something wrong," the father said. "Sometimes kids act more adult than adults do.”

An international child abduction occurs when one parent takes a child to a foreign country and keeps him or her there without the other parent’s permission. If that parent refuses to bring the child back, it’s considered a federal crime in the U.S.

Of all transnational crimes, child abductions can be among the most difficult to resolve. Among the issues are different types of judicial systems, lack of jurisdiction by law enforcement agencies, and things like the rights of a minor, or the legal definition of custody, all of which can vary from country to country.

Thirty years ago, there was hope that an international treaty, the Hague Abduction Convention, would alleviate the problem. It has not, even though it has been signed by the U.S., Mexico and 70 other countries.

Richardson has printed flyers chronicling his son's abduction case, which he hands out to people outside the Mexican Consulate in San Diego.
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Above: Richardson has printed flyers chronicling his son's abduction case, which he hands out to people outside the Mexican Consulate in San Diego.

In 2008, 300 American children were abducted into Mexico. In 2009 and 2010, that number grew to 500. In response, the state department has boosted its staff dealing with abduction cases from 18 to 65.

"I think there are obvious reasons for that," said Scott Renner, branch chief for outgoing abductions to Mexico and Canada for the state department. "Our very strong cultural and social and economic ties with Mexico, lots of cross-border relationships, lots of immigration back and forth, and a very long border.”

In the last three years, Mexican officials dealing with abductions have also made a greater effort to work alongside law enforcement and the U.S. government to return abducted children as promptly as possible.

The Mexican Consul in San Diego, Remedios Gomez Arnau, does not think it is fair for parents to blame Mexican authorities for unresolved abductions. From her perspective, the answers to abductions must come from the courts, not from diplomacy.

“There are already a very specific set of procedures in place to try to prevent abductions and reunite kids with their parents," Gomez Arnau said. "We help guide the parents through the Mexican court system, but our consulate does not intervene in this process.”

Trevor Richardson, another San Diego "left-behind parent," said he has reached out to the Mexican Consulate, the state department, and the FBI to no avail. His son was abducted four years ago, and he remembered thinking he would be able to get him back in a matter of months.

“I also remember thinking to myself that somehow I would be protected," Richardson said. "Protected by our laws, and our courts, and our law enforcement, our government, the FBI.”

Over the years, Richardson has met other desperate parents who took matters into their own hands, going as far as paying for a reverse abduction. But ultimately, he has come to believe his only option is to continue working within the proper channels.

“We have the laws right now, they are there, they just need to be enforced," said Richardson, holding on to a photo of Andrew, his son. "Maybe when it comes to dealing with immigration policy with Mexico, child abductions kind of fall through the cracks a little bit, because there is bigger fish to fry."

Richardson said he holds on to hope. But he cannot help but feel that in relation to other bi-national issues, his son’s abduction is at the bottom of a very long list.

Comments

Avatar for user 'trueblue'

trueblue | October 5, 2011 at 7:26 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

Correction: they were not married. Thank you.

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Avatar for user 'sbcabello'

sbcabello | October 5, 2011 at 9:43 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

I fear that this headline is sensational in a way that Ms. Guidi did not intend. Children are very rarely kidnapped at random and taken to Mexico. This article refers to custody dispute-related abductions. A better headline would be: Parental custody abductions into Mexico on the rise.

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Avatar for user 'SageDad'

SageDad | October 5, 2011 at 10:34 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

@sbcabello

Heaven forbid the news would "sensationalize" international child abductions by calling them child abductions. There is no custody dispute here. Your comparison of a child abduction to a custody dispute is akin to my walking into a bank heavily armed and making a large "withdrawal" of money that I feel entitled to while, after the fact, referring to the whole incident as my simply "having some unpaid debts."

If you loan someone your car for a day and they don't bring it back will you balk at saying they stole your car or spend years saying they "just borrowed" your car and haven't brought it back yet (and this when the car itself has no opinion of its own or intrinsic human rights that differentiate it from a piece of personal property.)

"Ugly custody battle" or "nasty divorce" are, themselves, euphemisms that can gloss over some hideous situations that, in any other context, would be taken much more seriously. Nonetheless, calling abductions to Mexico some variant of a "custody dispute," is fallacious because a custody dispute implies, among other things, a civil legal dispute rather than the commission of multiple State and Federal felonies where a vast array of children's rights are grossly violated (rights to family, language, culture, identity, nationality, etc.) Not to mention that there exist basically no effective mechanisms for the "left behind parent" to ever "win" custody of abducted children once their taken across the border by a Mexican parent.

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Avatar for user 'SageDad'

SageDad | October 5, 2011 at 10:49 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

"Mexican Consul in San Diego, Remedios Gomez Arnau, does not think it is fair for parents to blame Mexican authorities for unresolved abductions. From her perspective, the answers to abductions must come from the courts, not from diplomacy."

It would seem that Consul Gomez doesn't seem to understand that the courts in Mexico are "Mexican authorities" and that those courts interpret and apply laws written by Mexico's Congress which are signed and enforced by the Mexican executive branch.

Perhaps she was misquoted but she appears to be just another person in a large circle pointing her fingers at the people next to them with no one willing to take responsibility or do anything about the wholesale abduction of American children into Mexico.

When you compare the news coverage and attention paid to children abducted to countries like Japan or Brazil, when the numbers of children abducted to Mexico in a single year dwarf those abducted elsewhere across decades, you begin to appreciate a sort of soft bigotry of low expectations. We are not willing to call Mexico to the same standards of other countries because, well, Mexico has enough issues. Nevermind that these are American children who should have the full advocacy of the American government. These children are often pejoratively referred to as simply being Mexican and, in a not so uncommon display of racist intolerance, told that they belong in Mexico along with all the other Mexicans.

Such sentiments, combined with there being other important bilateral issues between the US and Mexico, give US and Mexican officials enough political cover to do absolutely nothing for these children -- a cover they are more than willing to hide behind rather than spend political capital advocating for these Mexican American children.

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Avatar for user 'eksthompson'

eksthompson | October 5, 2011 at 3:56 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

@sbcabello--

It seems you either have a very strong opinion on an issue that you know very little about in reality, or you have a biased reason to suggest that this article is "sensational," when it in fact, is far from it. Perhaps you are a kidnapper yourself, looking to somehow justify your selfish act???

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | October 5, 2011 at 4:02 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

It seems neither parent has the right to simply take their child without the other parent's consent. Married or not, they have an obligation to respect the parental right of the other to have a say where their child is raised. Seems like the bigger problem is too many people with a different perception of what's right versus wrong.

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Avatar for user 'trichard7760'

trichard7760 | October 5, 2011 at 4:03 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

You are right about the Mexican Consulate. Their attitude and comments are misguided and only highlight the problem with Mexico's understanding of its responsibilities with international law.

These abduction cases are about each country respecting the others courts and jurisdiction. Mexico fails to see this and fails to abide by the treaty it signed with the US.

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Avatar for user 'rescueachild'

rescueachild | October 5, 2011 at 6:05 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

@sbcabello

You are wrong, Children are kidnapped from America and abducted to Mexico all the time for the child sex trafficking trade. You really don't know much about this issue and it should be sensationalized, it is a severe issue where both parents should be raising their child, and International child abductions are at all time high ~ parental and not.

Although I have to say American courts are not much better because they are making decisions based on falsehoods and third party hearsay without any evidence to back it up, this problem is not just a Mexican problem. It is a worldwide problem of International child abductions and it doesn't seem to be getting any easier.

I am glad to see an article detailing the issue and making people more aware of the issues. The news is sold out now and we don't hear often enough about these issues that truly matter.

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Avatar for user 'LeftBehindParent'

LeftBehindParent | October 5, 2011 at 9:19 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

First off I want to give a heart felt thank you to Ruxandra and Neal for their work on this story. It is an ugly topic but one that needs to be addressed over and over again until there are better laws both domestically and internationally to prevent this from happening to our children. Child abduction in any form is child abuse. Plain and simple. The notion that a parent can actually abduct their own child in incomprehensible to most of us. Even I was ignorant to the plight until it happened to me.

The laws are very specific...when a child is wrongfully taken or retained by a parent, the term parental kidnapping is appropriate. Because child kidnappings are also frequently committed by other family members, the term family abduction more accurately describes the action. When a parental kidnapping occurs, the government may pursue criminal process against the abductor if a criminal law violation has occurred. Law enforcement, prosecutors, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are part of the criminal-justice system. The left-behind parent’s lawyer and family court are part of the civil-justice system. The left-behind parent, with or without the help of a lawyer, may use the civil-justice system to prevent an abduction or recover an abducted or wrongfully retained child. It is important to understand that both criminal and civil remedies can be sought at the same time.

Mexico did sign the Hague Treaty...but to date has yet to recover a single child that was brought to Mexico illegally. Not one. Their court systems are inadequate; lacking resources for recoveries among other things. Corruption throughout the system can bog down cases for years. I have seen it first hand. Mexico still acts like this is the Wild Wild West where possession is 9/10ths of the law.

The United States is not without blame here. We are known as "paper tigers" in the Latin America countries where child abductions are most prevalent...all bark and no bite. I have had to fight a bigger battle domestically than in Mexico because I did not drink from the Hague Kool-Aid. The State Department is divided on whether or not to pursue the Hague...my State Department contact told me it would be a waste of time in Mexico and even add years to the process. On the other hand if you don't pursue a case with the Hague, Federal support is almost non-existent - in fact they will go out of their way to make sure you do not have access to certain services.

And so it goes...

I applaud Ruxandra, Neal & KPBS for shining a bright light on this topic. The question is, how do we keep the light on so Washington will get off their and stop treating our children like sacrificial lambs for the "greater political good".

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Avatar for user 'LeftBehind_Grandparents'

LeftBehind_Grandparents | October 6, 2011 at 11:35 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

Thank you KPBS Radio News for airing this program!!! We are the grandparents of Andrew Richardson, who was abducted from his home in the U.S. by our ex-daughter-in-law, Mariana, and taken to Mexico in August 2007.

In Andrew’s case the first judge in Mexico ruled in October 2008 that Andrew should be returned to Trevor in accordance with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which Mexico acceded to in June of 1991 and entered into force with the U.S. in October 1991. Mariana did not like this 2008 ruling of the Mexican judge, just as she didn’t like the ruling of the American judge in 2007. She has used both “amparos” and “appeals” to prevent enforcement of both, American and Mexican, judges’ rulings right up to the present day, October 6, 2011.

Yes, as your title says, “Child Abductions to Mexico Increase”. Mexico has the most cases of child abductions from the U.S., and has been declared non-compliant with the Hague Convention by the U.S. State Department.

We want Andrew returned to Trevor now! We also want all of the other children who have been abducted returned to their American families and homes. We ask that the Congress and the President unite to pass H.R. 1940, the “International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2011” introduced into the current 112th Congress by Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey. This law would ensure the compliance of Mexico and other signatory countries with the Hague Convention. This law would help victims of international child abductions.

Andrew Richardson’s Left-Behind Grandparents,
Robert and Sharon Richardson

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Avatar for user 'LeftBehindParent'

LeftBehindParent | October 6, 2011 at 1:01 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

@ LeftBehind_Grandparents

Mr. & Mrs. Richardson, with all due respect, if you are relying on our government and the Mexican government to return Andrew on their own you are going to be in for a great disappointment. The statistics speak for themselves and you are not taking them very seriously. The Hague is a dismal failure in Mexico...ZERO children have been recovered in Mexico under the Hague...ZERO.

There are other ways to get Andrew back. I have some knowledge of Trevor's situation none of those other options have been pursued. Every stone has to be over turned...every one. You can accomplish a lot more going down the private route than you will with Uncle Sam's route.

Congressman Smith has been working his rear end off to help, no doubt. If you have read David Goldman's book you will know exactly how he has been involved. I applaud the monumental effort. However even he has met major opposition along the way. Ask yourself this...what assurances do you have that HR 1940 is going to work? How exactly is this going to ensure the return of our kids, even in Mexico? Remember, "paper tigers"...all bark and no bite...that is the view Mexico has of the United States. Sadly, they are right.

So, now what?

I have been living and breathing this 24/7 for the last 3-years; I know this is a horrible time. Andrew has been gone longer than my daughter. Putting pressure on Andrew's mother privately will give Trevor much needed access to his son. Not to mention, keep her contained and on the defensive. Believe me, under stress and pressure she will crack and do so in stunning fashion...in front of judges no less. The one thing Trevor has going for him is that he's a father fighting for his son in Mexico. Let's face it Mexico is the number one deadbeat father country in North America if not the planet. They love nothing more than to see father's fight for their kids.

My point is, you start this process privately and you will be surprised how many people down there will open doors for you. I am not blowing smoke...I am speaking from experience. I have gone down the road of the falsly accused and spent time in prison down there for it and I have not waivered...not for a second. In fact, that seems to have been the big break I needed to make the strides necessary to see this to the end.

Andrew needs you all. I am here to help in anyway I can.

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Avatar for user 'sbcabello'

sbcabello | October 7, 2011 at 9:59 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

Insult me all you want. I am the one person who has worked on all sides of this issue. While I feel strongly for the left-behind parents and family of children who have been abducted, it has nothing to do with my point. My point is that children in America are NOT being abducted at random and taken to Mexico. The point made by a commenter above that children are kidnapped from the US all the time and taken to Mexico to work in the sex trade is ludicrous. You made up that allegation based upon your own fears and jingoism. My sole point in making the comment is that this article is about parental custody abductions - or as another commenter added, family custody abductions. These have nothing to do with random children being stolen from the streets of the US and taken to Mexico - because the cases of that happening are almost zero. Your responses to my comment are based wholly in fear - not in any semblance of reality. Regardless of your emotions, the point stands as a fact (based on real data), exactly as I wrote it.

Regarding the parents and families of these custody abductions - other commenters are right. You cannot rely upon either government to return your child. It is something you will need to effect on your own. And there are plenty of ways to go about it.

Challenge me with facts. Not with insults.

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Avatar for user '071267mom'

071267mom | January 31, 2012 at 3:05 p.m. ― 2 years, 2 months ago

Please this is urgent I need advice

I am pregnant and due any day

I currently reside with the father, however i am concerned because he has said very seriously that if we ever split up he would take my kid with him. And that he probably would leave to mexico..he is a resident in california. I am very concerned because he's smirked out little comments as well like "i'm going to go with my kid to tijuana to show him off to all the girls" I tell him if you want to take him down there it has to be with me but he refuses..so i feel he has a sneaky agenda...Im just very worried that as soon as my child is born or in any circumstance even if i to split up with him, and arrange child custody and visitations he will still take the kid to tijuana.. I feel he is very capable and i am very scared.. I want to something to prevent this...maybe make an agreement of some sort...I am not married to him... so I thought maybe i could make an agreement saying he cant leave the country with my child without me.
I am just very desperate and worried...I dont want to deny him his child..its just i am scared he will leave one day without notice..

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Avatar for user 'Natalie Walsh'

Natalie Walsh, KPBS Staff | January 31, 2012 at 4:38 p.m. ― 2 years, 2 months ago

Dear 071267mom,
Thank you for sharing your story. San Diego County's Child Welfare Services may be able to give you some assistance.

Website: http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/hhsa/programs/cs/child_welfare_services/index.html

Telephone: 858-694-5191 -OR- 1 800 344-6000

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 31, 2012 at 6:21 p.m. ― 2 years, 2 months ago

The story and comments hint to this but don't really spell it out - is this a problem only for *unmarried* people in this situation, or is it a problem for both married and unmarried couples when one is a foreign national or has ties to another country?

This problem is not unique to Mexico. I have heard of several cases where American women have had children with Iranian or Saudi men, and they split and never see their kids again when the father takes them to the other country.

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Avatar for user 'lovingmother'

lovingmother | September 3, 2012 at 11:25 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

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Avatar for user 'ResponseToLovingmother'

ResponseToLovingmother | October 14, 2012 at 12:26 a.m. ― 1 year, 6 months ago

I am writing this to Lovingmother in Spanish so that she can read it.

lovingmother,

el problema con lo que hisiste tu es que no respetaste la ley de los EEUU. Mexico tiene la misma ley de no sacar un menor del pais sin permiso de ambos padres. Mexicanos se esconden atras de un systema quebrado adonde los leyes del pais estan inutiles porque no tiene ningun manera de enforzar la ley, no tiene respeto a los leyes de otros paises y es basado en diciendo mentiras a los juezes en mexico.

no conozco la situacion en que se encuentra ud en particular, pero la policia magistral tiene tantos impedimientos en cumplir sus obligaciones bajo el acuerdo internacional de la Haya sobre sustraccion de menores y los mexicanos se esconden atras del hecho que la policia no estan capacitados con los recursos necesarios para hacer su trabajo efectivamente.

entiende Ud que hay unos diez personas mas o menos responsable por la busqueda a mas de 300 sustracciones de menores americanos a mexico? todos tiene que pedir permiso para salir del DF y buscar un menor?

Entiende Ud. que hay acuerdos entre los EEUU y Mexico para enforzar el suporte financial (no se como decirlo en espanol) de padres o madres que estan supuesto de pagarlo? Entiende Ud que el pago es enforzado por los juzgados en los EEUU pero en el caso de mexico, los autoridades en los EEUU dicen que se debe olvidarlo si el pago debe de venir de un mexicano a una persona en los EEUU? Porque mexico no va a hacer nada en enforzar el mandato del corte.

La verdad es que tu deberias haber cumplido con tus responsibilidades y respectado la ley. Tu supiste muy bien que no fue permitido cruzar una frontera de los EEUU a Mexico ni de Mexico a los EEUU con un menor sin permiso del otro padre del menor.

Si cruzas a los EEUU, hay agentes para checar los documentos. A Mexico, no hay nadia para checarte. Lo supiste. Y por eso lo hisiste. Autoridades en los EEUU te hubieron ayudado pero en vez de hacer lo correcto, tu cambiaste a un criminal.

Tu primer responsibilidad era al menor. Tu, con tus actos, ha perjudicado el bienestar de tu hijo por el simple hecho de que tu no estabas comoda. Lo has dañado. Deberias haber pensado en tu hijo no en tu mismo.

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Avatar for user 'WeAreWatching'

WeAreWatching | October 15, 2012 at 9:02 a.m. ― 1 year, 6 months ago

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Avatar for user 'lovingmother'

lovingmother | October 15, 2012 at 9:04 p.m. ― 1 year, 6 months ago

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lovingmother | October 15, 2012 at 9:20 p.m. ― 1 year, 6 months ago

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