Representatives from the U.S., Canada and Mexico are working to make sure the AMBER Alert systems in their countries and bordering areas work seamlessly when cross-border child abduction cases occur. The 2017 AMBER Alert Symposium included a panel discussion about what is being done to return abducted children who are taken across a national border.
Blanca Margarita Niebla Cárdenas is the director of the National AMBER Alert program in Mexico. She worked with the AATTAP Southern Border Initiative to start the child abduction alert in Mexico in 2012. She said AMBER Alerts are saving lives in Mexico because everyone cooperates.
“We try to create an AMBER Alert culture so it is contagious and everyone is involved in finding children,” said Cardenas. “We are committed to families who are suffering because their child is missing.”
Mexico issues local, regional and national AMBER Alerts. The one noticeable difference in Mexico’s program is that AMBER Alerts are issued only for children under age 16.
Canada has had AMBER Alert programs in all of its provinces since 2002. In 2009, Canada created a national AMBER Alert working group to provide more coordination, training and technology for all agencies. A protocol was also created to work with all U.S. border-states.
Julie Morel is a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal with the National Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains Division. She would like to streamline the process when Canada contacts the U.S. about a cross-border child abduction case. “We are working to have a better system so we have a one-stop number for Canada available, so these lead agencies can be more closely involved.”
Maranda Everson, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Border Patrol Agent, agreed cooperation with Canada and Mexico is key to resolving child abduction cases quickly. She said her Mexican and Canadian counterparts have been great at inspecting all vehicles entering and leaving the country.
Stacy Pearson is the Louisiana Missing Persons Clearing House Manager and AMBER Alert Coordinator. Even though Louisiana is not a border state, she said she has had numerous missing person cases from Canada - even though the state is closer to Mexico. “We do not pay attention to borders,” said Pearson, emphasizing that all cases are given swift attention. “We are all going to work together and establish our own recovery railroad to return children home.”
INTERNATIONAL PARENTAL ABDUCTIONS
More parents kidnap their children from the U.S. than any other country in the world, according to Anna McGahuey, an officer with the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues. The State Department received reports of 446 parental abductions involving 629 children during 2016; yet McGahuey believes the number is much higher.
“That is a lot of children but it is likely two or three times that many because parents do not know about us,” said McGahuey.
The U.S. and 82 other countries follows the Hague Convention’s standards of practices for custody cases. McGahuey spoke about the important features of the Hague Convention, noting rules recognizing the child’s habitual residence rather than a sole focus on citizenship.
“If a non-documented person calls our office we will help them,” she said. “In this office, citizenship is blind. Whatever works to recover the child is important to me.”
REACTION FROM INTERNATIONAL PARTICIPANTS
AMBER Alert partners from Canada and Mexico said the symposium offered an invaluable experience. Winnipeg Police Service Sergeant Darryl Ramkissoon said he will take valuable lessons home. “I would like to build a better working relationship with other organizations in Canada,” he said. “We need to break down the borders like the U.S. has done in their states.”
Andrea Scott is a Detective and also works for the Winnipeg Police Service. “It is great to learn we all have similar issues but that we are all working together with the same goal, which is bringing kids home and preventing them from going missing.”
Blanca Margarita Niebla Cárdenas said the symposium was a very important way to meet with her counterparts in the other countries. “My objective is that we have a clear path to communicate with the U.S. and Canada,” said Cardenas. “We want to work like there are no borders.”