The agreements varied considerably, with some much more detailed than others. The only element common to all of them was the requirement that the consulate be notified whenever the child welfare agency had custody of one of its citizens or the child of one of its citizens. Some other elements appeared in many agreements, but many provisions appeared in only one or two of them (see Table 1 for details). The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations is mentioned in the preambles to most of the MOUs examined and underlies all of the agreements reviewed. None of the agreements mentions Immigration and Customs Enforcement or provide roles for that agency with respect to these cases.
The most common obligations of the U.S. child welfare agencies provided for in these agreements are:
- to notify the consulate that one of its nationals or the child of one of its nationals is in the agency’s custody;
- to provide access to the child by a consular representative; and
- to provide periodic updates and information to the consulate about cases involving its nationals.
The most common obligations of consulates provided for in these agreements are:
- to facilitate requests for home studies on potential placements in the foreign country (e.g. a relative or deported parent);
- to abide by confidentiality rules applicable to child welfare cases;
- to provide certified copies of birth certificates for immigrant children in the child welfare agency’s custody;
- to assist in searches for parents or relatives in the foreign country; and
- to facilitate the child’s return to his or her country of origin (or to the parent’s country of origin) if that is found to be in the child’s best interests.
Beyond the more common provisions of these agreements, there were many provisions that appear in only one or two of the agreements examined. For instance, the agreement with New Mexico provides that the Mexican Consulate will collaborate on cases in which a family may have entered Mexico to evade a child protection investigation, while agreements in Illinois and Iowa note that the Mexican Consulate will facilitate requests for placement supervision by the Mexican national social services agency (e.g. the preparation of monitoring reports on the child). These less common provisions vary widely and some originate in particular past cases in which cooperation had been problematic under a particular set of case circumstances prior to the initiation of the consular agreement.