State Department does not enforce Goldman law to return children: lawyer
Twelve years after helping bring Tinton Falls child Sean Goldman home to his father David – a high-profile saga that involved five years of legal wrangling with Brazil – Red Bank attorney Patricia Apy is still asked about the case all the time.
The Goldman are OK, but as she testified at a congressional hearing last week, the law their ordeal spawned could be better.
Apy has claimed that the Sean and David Goldman Child Abduction Act, which gives the US State Department the power to lobby countries that host abducted children, is only partially working. This has a deterrent effect, but once a child has been illegally removed to a foreign country (in most cases by a fugitive parent), the left-behind parent does not receive the help promised by law.
“Every parent needs to become a diplomat,” Apy said at Tom Lantos’ Human Rights Commission hearing in Washington, DC. “These are systemic issues.”
The hearing was chaired by U.S. Representative Chris Smith, RN.J., who was deeply involved in the Goldmans reunion in 2009 and spearheaded subsequent legislation. There are at least 12,000 similar cases currently under the auspices of the State Department, Apy said, but the penalties are not being enforced as the Goldman Act allows.
“The tools are there,” Smith said by phone earlier this week. “It’s just that they don’t have the political will to implement it. Why do we have to keep saying “Do your job” at the US State Department? “
Smith and Apy both said this has been a problem under the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations.
“They don’t like the idea that something that appears to be a national and individual issue has an impact on foreign policy,” Apy said by phone. “What I want to argue is that for most Americans this is as real as foreign policy is.”
“It has become laughable”
The history of the Goldmans is well documented. In 2004, Sean’s mother, Brazil-born Bruna Bianchi, told her then-husband David that she was taking Sean on a two-week vacation to visit his family in his homeland.
When she arrived, she called David, informing them that their marriage was over and that Sean would not be returning to the United States. After Bianchi died in childbirth in 2008, his family refused to give the boy to his father.
But David’s relentless custody pursuit and a combination of diplomatic and media pressure led to Sean returning home on Christmas Eve 2009.
The key element of diplomatic pressure is largely absent in most cases, Apy said, even with countries that have signed a treaty pledging to cooperate in international parent-child abduction cases.
In 2020 alone, 25 New Jersey children were reported to the State Department as having been abducted from a foreign country.
“A lot of people just don’t understand how it’s possible that you can legally bring back a child, we have a conventional relationship and nothing is being done to insist that this happen,” Apy said. “It has become laughable. It shows that you don’t think this question is important. “
She added: “The effort it takes for a (left-behind) parent or in some cases a grandparent to rise to this challenge and to try to get the attention of their own diplomats, who ostensibly serve them, is what is frustrating. “
Apy would like to see the creation of a roving ambassador position, as provided for in the Goldman Act, to address the issue.
“I think having a roving ambassador makes a difference because it elevates the State Department discussion,” she said. “It’s not just an administrative function anymore. It is rather high to the point where, if an ambassador meets his counterpart, he should have the authority of the United States of America to be able to speak about sanctions with reality and authority. This is the message that we really need to get across.
Apy, originally from Neptune and living in Little Silver, welcomed Sean and David Goldman to his Red Bank Paras law firm Apy & Reiss in 2019 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their reunion – and to remind the public that many other unresolved cases persist. Between 2016 and 2020, Apy said, 34 children were abducted from New Jersey in India alone. Other garden-state cases concern Japan, Brazil and Argentina.
“It hasn’t gone away,” she said this week. “It boils down to this: one way or another, diplomacy is more important than the kidnapping of a single child, which in my opinion is a huge mistake.”
Jerry Carino is a community columnist for Asbury Park Press, focusing on the interesting people of the Jersey Shore, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at [email protected]