More than four months of heartache and anxiety came to end this January when Feliciana, a TRLA client, was reunited with her two children, Carolina and Jennifer, after their father had abducted them and fled to Veracruz, Mexico.
The reunion was made possible thanks to Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA)’s Bi-National Project on Family Violence. For the last ten years the Bi-National Project has been helping parents prevent and fight international child abduction. During that time, the project has helped more than 300 parents prevent their child’s abduction or fight for their safe return.
Feliciana’s situation was like many often seen by the Bi-National Project. Feliciana and her husband, Moises, had been together for more than ten years. Throughout that time there had been several incidents of domestic violence. But, like many victims, Feliciana stayed in the relationship hoping that things would get better. Eventually, she had to accept that she was wrong.
In August, a life-threatening incident of domestic violence led Feliciana to a revelation – she needed to get out of the relationship and she needed to do it quickly.
Moises took the two children and fled to Mexico after Feliciana proceeded to press charges against him for the violence. Though she was able to maintain phone contact with the children, those conversations were often cut short with threats from Moises that he would kill Feliciana if she ever found someone else.
“Because of our proximity to Mexico, international child abductions are an easy way for an abuser to try to force a victim to stay in a relationship,” said director of the Bi-National Project and TRLA attorney Pamela Brown. “Feliciana’s story is shared by many parents along the border.”
Not knowing what to do, Feliciana turned to Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) for help.
TRLA’s Bi-National Project on Family Violence worked with Feliciana and a private attorney in Mexico to arrange the children’s return. It was Brown herself who traveled with the children back to Felicia’s hometown to reunite the family.
“The greatest part of our work is witnessing the reunion between family members that haven’t been together in months,” said Brown.
In addition to helping parents like Feliciana, the Bi-National Project also educates parents on how to prevent child abduction. One of its tools to accomplish this is the recently released DVD “Help! He took my child to Mexico!” The DVD features information on how to identify a potential abductor, preventative steps parents can take to protect their children, and advice on what to do if children are abducted. The DVD can be viewed online and TRLA has copies available in English and Spanish.
“One of the most devastating situations any parent can face is not knowing whether they will ever see their children again,” added Brown. “If a parent suspects that their partner may abduct a child, there are steps that can be taken to protect that child and keep a family together.”
Brown’s work with the Bi-National Project is complemented by the recent addition of Mexican attorney Mariano Nuñez Arreola to the Project’s team. Nuñez first began working with the Project as a volunteer attorney while practicing in Mexico. His legal expertise in the Mexican legal system was critical to helping reunite families for several years. Now he joins Brown as a colleague at TRLA and continues helping clients like Feliciana.
Feliciana’s story not only represents another success for the Bi-National Project, but it shows how the international legal community has tools to empower parents when abuse extends across international borders. In fact, Feliciana’s family reunion was one of several that TRLA has arranged in recent months.
But not every story can end as happily as Feliciana’s. The Bi-National Project continues to work with numerous parents who are having difficulty finding their abducted children. And it is with the continued perseverance of attorneys like Brown and Nuñez that more of those families will be reunited and the links between abusers and their victims will continue to be broken.