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A MIND-FULL SPOKEN©

Opinion editorials by Katey LaFrance

as seen in the Liberal Opinion Week and other publications.
Member of the National Writer's Union.

AMERICA'S OWN "ELIANS" - BOYS HELD IN ENGLAND AGAINST U.S. LAW

   In their short lives, Cameron Owens, 7, and his brother Korre Owens, 8, both American citizens, have lived through their parents', Teresa and Mitchell Owens, divorce; moving to an Army base in Germany during their father's temporary custody; and their father's death in Germany, when he was struck by a streetcar, shortly after marrying their nanny, Nicola Ann Savory Walker (Nicola Owens.)

   Following that, their stepmother took them to the States for their father's funeral. While there they met their paternal grandmother and other paternal relatives, some of whom were interested in gaining custody of the boys. In his will, Mitchell Owens had named his sister as temporary guardian of his sons. Then, contrary to the law and her own agreement, their nanny-turned-stepmother kidnapped them, taking them back to Germany, then to England, where she has since remarried and is now known as Nicola Newell.

   In the meantime, their real mother, Teresa, who regained legal custody of her sons in October 1994, almost a full year before her ex-husband's death, has spent the past five years trying to get her sons back.

   In a blatant election year maneuver, members of Congress are now dabbling in child custody, ready with legislation concerning the citizenship of the young Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez, who lost his mother while trying to reach the United States.

   In the meantime, in her continuing struggle to get her sons back, Teresa Owens has had no help from our government. In fact, she filed a lawsuit against the government in December 1999, accusing it of collusion with the stepmother in taking her boys out of the country.

   Teresa and Mitchell married in 1990 and divorced in 1993, after having Cameron and Korre. After their divorce, Mitchell, who was in the Army, was stationed in Germany. Teresa and her boys moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

   In April 1994, when Teresa was in an auto accident with her children in the car at the time, Mitchell was granted temporary custody of the boys. He flew over from Germany, picked them up and went back to Germany. When his six months custody was up, he told Teresa he didn't have the money to send them back. She agreed to wait until January 1995 for their return, as he expected to be stationed back in the States by that time.

   When that didn't happen, every attempt Teresa made to contact contact her ex-husband and children was unsucessful. Finally, in October 1995, she was informed her ex-husband had been struck and killed by a tram in Germany, in July 1995.

   When his widow, Nicola Owens, brought Cameron and Korre to Alabama for her husband's funeral, she agreed with her mother-in-law to travel to Hawaii to bury his ashes. Instead, she went back to Germany with the children, apparently with the assistance of United States Army officers.

   Criminal charges were brought against Nicola Owens for kidnapping the boys. Despite that, in her subsequent bid for custody in English courts, Cameron and Korre were given over to her care, as wards of the English court system.

   If she is ever extradited to face the charges against her, it has been said English law would most likely grant custody to her new husband. Nicola receives about $2000 per month in Social Security benefits for the boys. There is also a $200,000 trust fund which Mitchell Owens left for his sons.

   Their real mother, Teresa, is not allowed to call her sons nor know where they are. English courts have told her she may visit the boys, only if she drops the kidnapping charges against Newell.

   Teresa has filed suit against the U.S. government charging that Army casualty assistance officers and a JAG officer knew "that the children should not be taken from the United States" and "used concealment and the resources of the Army" to usurp the custody of Teresa Owens, when they allegedly aided Nicola Owens in leaving the United States, children in tow.

   So, here is an American mother, struggling against the powerful government of one of our strongest allies, unable to see or talk to her little boys. She is the only blood parent they have. She has had legal custody of Cameron and Korre since October 1994, according to the laws of the United States.

   Have we seen any outpouring of national, let alone international support, for Teresa and her sons? Where are the Congresspeople who are grandstanding over Elian? Why are they making his custody an act of Congress, while allowing England to refuse the rights of an American mother? If politicians are going to enter the family court arena, through enacting laws for one little boy, they should look to their own country and help parents like Teresa Owens, too.

   While Elian certainly deserves an equitable settlement of his case, Teresa Owens deserves to have her sons returned to her. She is not the only American parent who is struggling against a foreign court system to regain custody of her children.

   It is time for the bigwigs working on the Elian Gonzalez issue to help Teresa and others like her to exert the authority of American law and demand the return of her children, who remain American citizens in virtual exile. One cannot help but wonder if Elian's father feels the same sense of frustration and futility in his bid for custody of his son, as Teresa Owens has during her many years of struggle.

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