Michael Sanchez Reunited With Daughter Emily Machado After Years-Long International Custody Battle (VIDEO)
Three and a half years ago, Michael Sanchez went to visit his two-year-old daughter Emily at her mother Nigia Machado's apartment in Berwyn, Illinois. The couple had split, but they'd arranged a custody agreement where he could see Emily two days a week and every other weekend.
When he got to the apartment on that day in March of 2008, no one was home. Instead, according to NBC Chicago, he found a note from Nigia saying she'd fled, and taken Emily with her.
After he filed missing-persons reports, the State Department quickly found that Nigia had purchased a one-way ticket to her native Brazil.
"The letter explained how she felt threatened by the courts, and that she was afraid she was going to lose custody of Emily sooner rather than later," Michael wrote on his website, BringEmilyHome.org. "She was also angry that I knew she was not a legal U.S. citizen and scared that she was going to be deported."
International law says that if a child has been abducted in violation of a custody agreement in his or her home country, he or she must be returned to that country. But the Brazilian courts were slow to take action on the case, according to the East Valley Tribune. Sanchez -- who comes from a difficult background and struggles with mental impairment -- was forced to work two jobs to pay for the legal fees required in the protracted battle.
By the time the fourth year of the struggle began this summer, Sanchez started to despair. Courts had finally served Nigia Machado papers to return her daughter; she had refused to comply. He'd even been down to Brazil to try to find the girl, but her mother had refused to let him see her. "Sometimes it feels hopeless," he said in June, according to an ABC report.
But the story took a sudden turn on Wednesday evening. According to a new NBC Chicago report, Sanchez and his former partner reached an agreement, and he was reunited with his daughter.
"Thank you all for your well wishes and support," he wrote on BringEmilyHome.org. "I will keep you updated on Emily and I."
Few other details of the agreement are available. Meanwhile, Sanchez says he'll continue his advocacy on behalf of other parents in his position. He's pushing for a law that would allow airport security to check if a parent is taking a child out of the country in violation of a custody agreement, and prevent them from leaving if so.
Last year, according to a State Department report, around 2,000 children were kidnapped by a parent and taken out of the country.