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Custody Hearing: Web Testimony Helps Deported Couple Regain Kids

The long saga of a child custody battle pitting the state of Pennsylvania and an economically challenged and deported Mexican couple concluded last week with the couple's two children -- girls aged 4 and 8 -- being reunited with their parents in Mexico City.

Both American and Mexican attorneys say that the case is likely novel for being the first case -- or one of the first cases ever -- to feature testimony offered over the Web via Skype voice and image conferencing.

The parents were undocumented migrants working in Pennsylvania when their legal troubles began in 2009. Allegations of physical abuse were made against the mother concerning her husband's children from an earlier relationship. Although those were later proved false and there was no other history of parental abuse, the state took away the couple's children. The parents were then challenged on their legal status and subsequently deported.

There are estimated to be hundreds of such cases pending, with the majority of deported parents being unable to challenge the results. Because many of the parents are initially ensnared in the U.S. legal system owing to their unlawful status, they are seldom able to obtain visas once deported to return to the United States to fight for their children. Even if they can get a visa, the costs of air tickets, hotels, food, legal and other expenses are often prohibitive.

And thus the use of Web-based technology such as Skype is being lauded as a practical and low-cost vehicle for offering testimony. Advocates hope it can be routinely employed in the future.

"That's what we're hoping, that this has opened a door," said the Mexican couple's attorney. "I think that this can be used as a model."

Related Resource: Bloomberg, "Mexican parents recoup kids via Internet testimony" July 20, 2011

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