Today, nearly five years after U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) introduced his first bill to prevent international parental child abduction standing alongside “left behind” parents in front of the Capitol, Congress gave final approval to his legislation, The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, House of Representatives Bill 3212 (H.R. 3212).
Smith wrote the original proposed legislation in 2009 subsequent to his personal intervention in the fight to bring Sean Goldman home to New Jersey, years after he had been abducted to Brazil by his mother. Smith’s successful work with Sean’s father, David, and a team of lawyers—including Patricia Apy, of Red Bank, NJ—and volunteers helped bring Sean home, but also uncovered gaping weaknesses in U.S. law and the need to codify best practices so that other Americans will also see their children returned home.
“In the five-year push to turn this bill into law, we have seen a sea of change in the Congress’ and State Department’s understanding of international parental child abduction—an understanding that these abductions are a form of child abuse and a human rights violation. There are many heartbroken parents waiting for this bill to help them in their fight to see their children again.
“Many children and parents have tragically lost years separated from each other in violation of U.S. and international law,” Smith said. “They have missed birthdays, holidays, and family time—that they can never get back. H.R. 3212 ensures that they will now receive significant help from the U.S. government in their fights to recover their children. Every day a child is separated from his or her rightful parent and home in the United States brings immense suffering to both parent and child. The Goldman Act is designed to right the terrible wrong of international child abduction and heal enormous pain and suffering and bring abducted children home.”
David Goldman watched the final House approval on television today with excitement. He stood by Smith in 2009 when the legislation was first unveiled.
“It was a long road, nearly five years, thanks to a tremendous effort of Congressman Smith and his staff,” Goldman said. “It was a great thing to do. It was the right thing to do. It’s another step closer to reuniting families. Next step: the White House.”
At its core, Smith’s legislation will give the State Department a variety of tools to pressure foreign governments to send home American children abducted to overseas destinations. The bill also requires better reporting and support from the State Department so that left-behind parents are not on their own in overseas battles to win the return of their abducted children.
During his five year struggle, Smith has authored four versions of the bill (HR 3240; HR 1940; HR 1951 and HR 3212) using each to educate his colleagues and make modifications aimed at winning widespread support in an increasingly partisan Congress. In December 2013, the House passed Smith’s bill, 398-0. Smith noted the work of Foreign Affairs Chairman Bob Menendez and Ranking Republican Bob Corker when the bill passed the Senate on July 16th, with some final modifications.
Smith named the bill after David and Sean Goldman who have been reunited in Monmouth County for nearly five years. Following Sean’s return to New Jersey, David Goldman has stayed active in promoting the legislation in an effort to spare other parents and children the painful, illegal separation he and his son endured for five years.
Smith has held multiple hearings on the heartbreaking cases of left-behind parents of American children abducted to India, Japan, Egypt, Brazil, Russia, England and other countries, from which few are returned. Not all countries have signed The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the main international treaty to address parental abductions. The Hague provides a civil framework for the quick return of abducted children to their home country, and facilitation of visitation and contact between parents and children during the pendency of the case and after the resolution. Unfortunately, many Hague signatories, like Brazil, fail to consistently enforce the Hague Convention provisions.
Among its many provisions, H.R. 3212 provides eight steps the Administration should take, increasing in severity, when a country refuses to cooperate in the resolution of overseas abduction and access cases involving American children:
> a demarche (a petition or protest through diplomatic channels);
> an official public statement detailing unresolved cases;
> a public condemnation;
> a delay or cancellation of one or more bilateral working, official, or state visits;
> the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. development assistance;
> the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. security assistance;
> the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of foreign assistance to the central government of a country relating to economic support; and
> a formal request to the foreign country concerned to extradite an individual who is engaged in abduction and who has been formally accused of, charged with, or convicted of an extraditable offense.
The bill also—for the first time—urges the Administration to enter into Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) or other bilateral agreements with both Hague Convention and non-Hague Convention countries, to locate and foster the return of abducted children and protect the access of the left-behind parent to the child. In order to ensure better accountability of the Administration and to warn U.S. judges who may allow a child to visit a country from which return is difficult, the bill significantly enhances reporting on country-by-country performance. Smith noted that countries that have signed the Hague Treaty, like Japan, may still need an additional MOU to help those left-behind parents that were separated from their children prior to treaty accession.
H.R. 3212 also requires the Administration to inform Members of Congress when a child has been abducted from their districts. It also directs the Secretary of Defense to designate an official within the Department of Defense to coordinate with the Department of State on international child abduction issues and “oversee activities designed to prevent or resolve international child abduction cases relating to active duty military service members.”
“Currently, if you have a child who is illegally taken to a non-Hague country, the State Department position is that there’s nothing it can do to help,” Smith said. “That’s totally unacceptable. With this bill, for the first time ever, parents with children held in non-Hague countries can work with the State Department. They won’t be on their own, far from the United States, desperately trying to get their children back. The Act also ensures that the Department of Defense will assist our men and women in uniform who find themselves facing parental child abduction.”
More than one thousand international child abductions are reported to the State Department’s Office on Children’s Issues each year. Between 2008 and 2013, at least 8,000 American children were abducted, according to the State Department. Earlier this year, the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children reported that there have been at least 168 international child abductions from New Jersey since 1995.
Rep. Chris Smith, Chairman of the congressional panel on Africa and global human rights, today celebrated the release and freedom of the Sudanese woman imprisoned and sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.
Yesterday, Smith held a hearing as part of a series of ongoing efforts to highlight the plight of Mariam Ibrahim and give new impetus to her stalled departure from Sudan. Meriam Ibrahim, her husband Daniel Wani, and their two children were detained in Sudan on June 23rd, after originally being told they could leave the country following her release from prison.
Smith expressed relief and thanks upon hearing of the family's arrival in Rome and praised Meriam Ibrahim who he called “a remarkable and extraordinarily courageous woman.”
“Meriam Ibrahim’s faith in God and willingness to endure torture – even martyrdom – rather than recant her faith, is extraordinarily courageous and inspiring. What a remarkable woman,” Smith has said. Meriam Ibrahim’s convictions on apostasy and adultery for having married a Christian were overturned by a Sudanese appeals court in June but the family was then stopped from leaving the country. Today with the assistance of the governments of Italy and the Holy See, along with an international community that honors religious freedom, Meriam and her family are in Italy and on their way to the United States. Meriam’s husband Daniel and their two children are American citizens.
“We are all deeply appreciative to the government of Italy, as well as Pope Francis, for the role they played in helping to bring this nightmare to a successful conclusion.” Smith said. “We are delighted Meriam and family will be making their home in the United States and look forward to working with them to advance religious rights and freedoms worldwide.”
At Smith’s Capitol Hill hearing yesterday, witnesses expressed frustration and concern that, while finally together, the family was still unable to leave the Sudan and the U.S. Embassy where they were staying for fear of their safety.
Smith originally scheduled his hearing on the case for June 24th, but postponed it based on assurances that the family would soon be free. When the family was detained and not allowed to leave Sudan, Smith rescheduled the hearing for this week and announced plans for more in the future.
Click here to read Smith’s opening remarks at the July 23 hearing entitled “The Troubling Case of Meriam Ibrahim.” Witnesses at the hearing included: Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Tony Perkins, President, Family Research Council; Grover Joseph Rees, Former General Counsel, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and, Omar Omer Ismail, Senior Policy Advisor, The Enough Project.
Jose H. Velasco, Vice President of Product Management and Head of Autism at Work Initiative SAP
Thorkil Sonne, Founder and Chairman, Specialisterne
Theresa Hussman, Board Member, Autism Society
Michael Rosanoff , Associate Director, Public Health Research, Autism Speaks
Ron Suskind, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and autism advocate
What: “The Global Challenge of Autism”
When: Thursday, July 24 @ 2 p.m.
Where: Room 2200 of the Rayburn House Office Building (second floor)
Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), dean of the New Jersey congressional delegation, released the following statement on the passing of former New Jersey Congressman Bob Roe Tuesday:
“Bob Roe was an extraordinarily effective lawmaker, always fair, tenacious, focused—a true workhorse for the people,” said Smith. “As chairman of the Public Works and Transportation Committee, he made enduring contributions to the infrastructure of not only New Jersey but the rest of the nation as well. I will miss him.”
Smith noted that even after his retirement, Roe would visit him occasionally in Washington. Smith, a Republican first elected in 1980, served for more than a decade with Roe, a Democrat elected in 1969 who left office in 1993.
"Mr. Speaker, I move that the House suspend the rules and pass H.R. 4653, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reauthorization Act of 2014, as amended, authored by Chairman Frank Wolf of Virginia.
"H.R. 4653 demonstrates the strong bipartisan support that exists for religious freedom, with nearly an equal number of Republican and Democrat co-sponsors. This makes for a powerful statement in a world where we see the rights of religious minorities and conscientious objectors being trampled upon in countries where intolerant ideologies, be they of a sectarian or secular nature, seek to crush moral and spiritual thought and conscience.
"The headlines are filled with examples. A 27-year old mother in Sudan was imprisoned and faced a death sentence in Sudan because under Sharia law she was considered an apostate as the child of a Muslim father, even though the only religion she herself had ever professed was Christianity. To this day, Meriam Ibrahim remains unable to leave Sudan.
"Anti-Semitism, pervasive and lethal in the Middle East, has spread like a cancer in many parts of Europe and has resurfaced in Ukraine with a series of shocking and violent attacks following the ouster of former Prime Minister Yanukovich.
"In Communist dictatorships such as China, religious believers are imprisoned, tortured and even executed for attempting to practice their faith. In China today, there is a pernicious, escalating war on believers made worse by the wanton brutality of the regime’s ubiquitous secret police. In North Korea, the situation couldn’t be more dire, with Christians in particular subject to what human rights observers have termed genocide, dying by the tens of thousands from starvation and torture in concentration camps for daring to hold true to their consciences—that innermost sanctuary of the individual.
"Tragically, many countries of the world are a long way from achieving the human right of religious freedom recognized by Article 18 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
"In 1998, with great legislative skill, commitment and driving passion, Chairman Frank Wolf pushed a supportive Congress but highly reluctant White House into enacting a singularly important human rights law—the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
"For the first time ever, Frank Wolf’s law made the protection and promotion of religious freedom a serious priority in U.S. foreign policy by creating an Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom, by establishing the Office of International Religious Freedom at the Department of State—which among other duties, compiles the International Religious Freedom Reports on every country in the world—and by crafting the independent-minded U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the subject of today’s reauthorization.
"Importantly, Frank Wolf’s landmark law also created a system for naming and taking action against Countries of Particular Concern, or CPCs. History has shown that when the U.S. elevates religious freedom and that priority is conveyed to Countries of Particular Concern, conditions often change for the better, prisoners of conscience gain their freedom and progress is made in the free or at least freer exercise of religious liberty.
"According to the Commission, three themes guide Commissioner’s discussions on priority countries with severe violations of religious freedom: state-sponsored hostility to and repression of religion; state-sponsored extremist ideology and education; and state failure to prevent and punish religious freedom violations (impunity). Several of the CPC countries that systematically violate religious freedom fall into all three categories
"Mr. Speaker, when an Administration—be it Republican or Democrat—demotes or trivializes religious freedom to a minor talking point, human rights abusing nations construe such indifference as license to harass and exploit persons of faith.
"Since its founding, the International Religious Freedom Commission has issued 15 annual reports and 14 special reports covering 76 countries. Of these, the Commission has identified 16 of these as countries that should be designated CPCs.
"I should also point out that in the Commission has acted as a true watchdog, recommending with incisive commentary twice as many countries as CPCs than the State Department has designated as Countries of Particular Concern. This includes nations such as Vietnam, which is an egregious violator of the rights of religious minorities. The Commission, however, calls it like it is and pulls no punches.
"It is unfortunate that, while CPC designations remain, the penalties associated with the designations have now essentially lapsed. The last designations by the Obama Administration were in 2011, and as two years have passed, the sanctions directly linked to the International Religious Freedom Act’s sanctions authority have expired. This failure to implement our law on religious freedom sends a deeply troubling message to violators of this fundamental human right. It is thus even more important that we in Congress speak with a clear voice today.
"Two and a half years ago, after passing with strong bipartisan support in the House, reauthorization for the Commission got bogged down in the Senate.
"This time we hope we can avoid such a repeat. In the House there has been tremendous cooperation on both sides of the aisle. We have had excellent input from the Commission throughout this process, including testimony from then-Chairman Dr. Robert George of Princeton University, at a hearing my subcommittee held this past May 22. (On July 1, Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett was elected as the new Chair, Dr. George is now Vice Chair.) Members from religious minority communities – Muslim, Bah’ai and Christian – spoke about the importance of the work of the Commission in Iran, China and Pakistan helping shine a light on the serious abuses that take place in all three countries, and in so doing, elevated an issue that is of grave concern in far too many countries of the world today.
"I therefore ask all our colleagues to join us in supporting this fine bipartisan piece of legislation, sending an important message to the world that the United States values religious liberty, and that it should continue to be a cornerstone of our foreign policy."
2373 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Elected in 1980, Rep. Chris Smith (R-Robbinsville, N.J.) is currently in his 17th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, and serves residents in the Fourth Congressional District of New Jersey. Smith, 60, currently serves as a senior member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and is chairman of its Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organization Subcommittee. In 2011-2012 he chaired both the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He also serves as “Special Representative” on Human Trafficking for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an executive member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Previously, he served as Chairman of the Veterans Committee (two terms) and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Operations and the Subcommittee on Africa.
Smith has long chaired a number of bipartisan congressional caucuses (working groups) including the Pro-life (31 years), Autism (15 years), Alzheimer’s (13 years), Lyme Disease (nineyears), Spina Bifida (nine years), Human Trafficking (nine years), Refugees (nine years), and Combating Anti-Semitism caucuses, and serves on caucuses on Bosnia, Uganda and Vietnam.
According to the independent watchdog organization Govtrack, as of January 2014 Smith ranks fourth among all 435 Members of the House over the last two decades in the number of laws authored.
He is the author of America’s three landmark anti-human trafficking laws including The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, a comprehensive law designed to prevent modern-day slavery, protect victims, and enhance civil and criminal penalties against traffickers, as well as more than a dozen veterans health, education and homeless benefits laws, and laws to boost embassy security, promote democracy, religious freedom, and health care.
Smith is the author of the $265 million Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 which established a nationwide program for ethical research and treatment using umbilical cord blood and bone marrow cells. That landmark law was reauthorized in September 2010 for another five years.
In October 2011, Smith’s bill, HR 2005, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA) of 2011, was signed into law (Public Law PL112-32), a follow-up to his Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research, and Epidemiology Act (ASSURE) of 2000.
A lifelong New Jerseyan, Congressman Smith graduated from The College of New Jersey with a degree in business administration. Prior to being elected to Congress, he helped run a small business– his family’s wholesale sporting goods corporation. He is also the former Executive Director of the New Jersey Right to Life Committee.
The congressman is married to his wife of 35 years, Marie, and they have four grown children.
Success! Congress has passed the final version of HR3212 Sean & David Goldman Intl Child Abduction and Prevention Act http://t.co/sE4aNE6yMj
Finally! #MeriamIbrahim who faced the death penalty for not recanting her Christian faith has left Sudan safely. Stay tuned for more info