On March 31, 2021, in Sanchez v. Sanchez, the U.S. District Court for the MD of NC, denied Mr. Sanchez’s request to return his 8-year-old daughter to Honduras stating that it would present a grave risk of harm to the child. Ms. Sanchez made three separate grave risk arguments: (1) domestic violence, (2) corporal punishment, and (3) psychological trauma. She succeeded on argument No. 3.
For the first two arguments, Ms. Sanchez presented her credible fear screening paperwork as evidence. This came from the interview she did with U.S. border authorities when she claimed asylum to enter the United States. In that paperwork, she said that her relationship with Mr. Sanchez was “seven years of imprisonment and involuntary servitude, enforced by daily beatings and death threats.” She also said that the Petitioner physically disciplined the minor child by hitting her. However, by the time Ms. Sanchez got to trial, her story “materially changed” in some important respects, which lead the court to conclude that her testimony was unreliable.
For the domestic violence to form the basis of a grave risk of harm, the evidence must include a “sustained pattern of physical abuse.” “[L]imited incidents of domestic abuse aimed at persons other than the subject child, even if witnessed by the child, have not been found to constitute a grave risk.” Spousal abuse is only relevant if it “seriously endangers the child.” Furthermore, courts have been reluctant to find that corporal punishment of a child rises to the level of a “grave risk” of harm. U.S. courts consistently permit corporal punishment, although there is a fine line between that and child abuse. A recent North Carolina court case found that “whipping that resulted in a bruise did not constitute abuse,” and therefore this federal court was not going to find that a “small number of similar disciplinary actions” by Mr. Sanchez, in Honduras, met the level of a grave risk.
Ms. Sanchez’s third and final argument was that the minor child was sexually abused by a man named Dario (and possibly other third parties), and that this abuse was facilitated and condoned by Mr. Sanchez and his mother. The court found no evidence that the Petitioner condoned the sexual assault, but the parties agreed that the assault by Dario happened. Respondent had an expert testify that the child has a trauma-related disorder, the child met four of five symptom categories for PTSD, and that the child’s symptoms would be exacerbated if returned to Honduras because she associated being returned with increased risk of contact with Dario. The court was also troubled by the fact that the Petitioner, who impregnated Respondent when she was only 13 (in a situation of statutory rape) consistently defended a sexual relationship between a young child and an older man, if it was due to “love.” The court was concerned that Petitioner would “not protect” the child from “predatory older males” if she were returned to Honduras.