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Congressman wants return of kids taken to Japan in disputes

HACKENSACK, N.J. — A New Jersey congressman urged President Barack Obama to raise the "unresolved and heartbreaking issue" of "left-behind parents" when the president meets with the Japanese prime minister at a Pacific Rim trade conference this weekend.

Japan has never returned a child brought there by a parent in violation of a United States custody order, according to Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.

Japanese laws do not recognize shared custody, but there have been news reports that the Japanese parliament may consider a change. Smith said Obama, who was due to arrive in Yokohama Friday morning for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, should emphasize the issue.

"You must seize this window of opportunity and let Prime Minister (Naoto) Kan know that now is the time to establish a framework for resolving current cases," wrote Smith, who is in line to become a subcommittee chairman in the House Foreign Affairs Committee next year.

Smith said "international child abduction" affects 136 American children, and he specifically cited five cases, including that of Michael Elias of Rutherford, a Marine veteran who works as a Bergen County Jail corrections officer.


Elias returned from fighting in Iraq to find that his wife, who is Japanese, wanted a divorce. While they were in court proceedings, a judge ordered the passports of the couple's two children, who had dual American-Japanese citizenship, to be surrendered. The children's mother complied, but was able to get new passports issued because she had worked in a Japanese consulate, and took the children to Japan in December 2008.


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