EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Luis Alderete is still searching for his son that he says has been taken to Mexico by his ex-wife.
Alderete was the primary caretaker for his son, Luis Jr., while his ex-wife had visitation rights. When Luis Jr. was three years old, he went to visit his mother, but was never returned.
Alderete’s case is an example of International Parental Child Abduction that prevails in the region due to its proximity to Mexico’s border.
“We’re in the process, but the reality is that I don’t have my son,” said Alderete referring to the process of the Hague Convention, which is an international treaty meant for retrieving children who have been taken to another country by a parent who is breaking their custody rights.
Alderete has been fighting for five years now, once having located his son in Mexico City. Still, with the lack of cooperation between Mexican local authorities and the U.S. Department of State, he says he right back where he started.
At one point, he found himself overwhelmed with the paperwork and procedures of retrieving his son from a foreign country, he said he was lucky enough to find Rosalba Pena.
Pena is a grandmother of an International Parental Child Abduction victim, but her retrieval story was successful.
She had full custody of her granddaughter, who had been a victim of domestic abuse. During a visitation with her mother, her granddaughter was taken and never returned.
“I’m just a grandmother. I never thought I would have to earn these things,” she said. “I had to become a lawyer, a police officer, an investigator.”
She says she had to find her own way to navigate through the Hague Convention to get her granddaughter, then two years old, returned.
After 10 months of searching, her granddaughter was located in Spain. Rosalba said that the successful retrieval was a product of cooperation between both countries.
Now, nine years later, she volunteers for National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where she helps parents like Alderete.
“When they put all the resources to find the kid and they found it … that’s why I can tell Luis, ‘yes, we can do it,'” said Pena.
She explained that parents often lack resources and don’t know where to begin with their case.
Pena warned about another issue that goes much deeper than the system itself.
“There are people behind, they have something and they want something in return,” said Pena, explaining how there are often “people in the shadows” who use the vulnerability of parents to lure them into situations that can be dangerous for the child.
Alderete fears that something like that could have happened to his son.
He said he had a private investigator who located his son in Mexico City, but he was already moved to an unknown location after less than a day.
Rosalba claimed that such fast moves can often be a red flag that the parent is not coordinating the abduction by themself.
Shanna Beaulieu, a special agent with the FBI, said parents are advised to notify the authorities about the child’s disappearance as soon as possible.
“If there is no custodial right, then it’s a civil case,” explained Beaulieu, because oftentimes the FBI cannot open a case if there are no custodial rights set that could be broken.
She explained that the FBI’s role is to direct the parents into filing the Hague Convention application with the Department of State to provide them with resources and further guidance.
“We are bound to the U.S. as far as actions we can take, but we can issue a warrant in the United States,” she explained, adding that if the parent responsible for abduction enters the U.S., they will be arrested.
However, if child is a dual citizen, the situation gets more complicated.
Beaulieu explained that the country wants to protect its citizens and it has the right to, so often, the parent’s custodial rights will be different in a foreign country, especially if the child is a citizen in that country as well.
She said that these cases often don’t get investigated further because parents fail to provide a custodial agreement that would prove the breaking of the same and deem it an abduction case.
She advises the best way of prevention is establishing custodial rights early on, looking for signs that might show the other parent is looking to relocate, such as quitting their job or selling their house.
“I will tell him that I pray for him every day and that I think about him every day,” said Alderete about his son.
With Pena’s help in his case, he is still hopeful that he will tell a different story soo — one of reunification and celebration.