Grandmother works to bring abandoned grandchildren out of Mexico - WSMV Channel 4

Grandmother fights to bring abandoned grandchildren out of Mexico

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A local grandmother got called by a stranger to come save her two young grandchildren abandoned in Mexico.  When she heard her grand-daughter's voice, her heart melted and she became desperate to find her.  But it's a complicated situation with international implications.

The Channel 4 I-Team talked to congressional offices, international law attorneys, and diplomats. 

None of them have ever heard of a situation quite like this.  A Tennessee mother went with her Mexican boyfriend and their newborn baby to Mexico about four years ago.  Now the mother is missing and her children's only hope is their grandmother in Nashville.

Tracy Barnhill, 13, begged her foster mom, Mary, to adopt her. She wanted some stability.

Her birth parents lost custody of her and her two sisters because of drug addictions.

"It's heartbreaking that you care so much and you try to do your best for them and it's just not quite good enough," said Mary Barnhill.

The stability did not last long.  Just a few years later, Tracy fell in love with Ivan Palmino, a Mexican citizen living in Nashville illegally.  Both got into drug-related trouble.  Instead of facing the consequences, they decided to flee from Tennessee.

"She ended up meeting someone that she was quote/end quote 'in love with' and took off for Mexico," said Barnhill.

Tracy's mother Mary heard from her every few months. 

Tracy told Mary she had both a 4-year-old daughter and a younger son with Palmino.

She wanted both of them out of Mexico.

But then...

"It's like she disappeared into thin air," said Barnhill.

A woman called Mary from Acapulco telling her Tracy left her with her two young children Nov. 24. A month later Tracy was untraceable.

"I just can't imagine her being away so long without trying to contact about her children.  I am afraid she may have met a bad end," said Barnhill.

The woman watching these children wants Mary to come take her grandchildren back to Tennessee.

"The lady that has them was concerned about them being sold.  I'm just a person who cares about kids," said Barnhill.

But Mary doesn't have the money or the means to go get them.

"I have called anybody and everybody. I don't know what steps to take from here," said Barnhill.

That's where the Channel 4 I-Team comes in. The Channel 4 I-Team's Caroline Moses contacted congressman Jim Cooper's office. One of his international case worker helped put us in touch with someone from the U.S. embassy in Mexico City. The embassy is now working to figure out how to help Mary help her grandchildren.

"This child gets on the phone. She says I love you and then my heart just melted. These are my grand babies, and I want the best for them. I want them here home with me," said Barnhill.

Because Mary is not the biological grandmother, DNA testing cannot be used.

And because Mary's daughter is missing, she cannot get copies of birth certificates for either grandchild.

In addition, her grandson was born in Mexico, not the United States.

All of these facts help further complicate the situation.  Add to that, major mistrust of the Mexican authorities, Mary has felt helpless until now.

We are in close contact with both Mary and the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, so we hope to provide more information on the situation soon.

A State Department official sent us this statement:

"Due to privacy considerations, we are unable to provide information about this specific case.

The Department of State places the highest priority on the welfare of children.  In cases where we are notified of concerns related to the welfare of U.S. citizen children abroad, consular officers at our embassies and consulates will work with the family and local authorities to visit the children to confirm their well being.

For U.S. citizen children born outside of the United States, parents or legal guardians can obtain a Consular Report of Birth Abroad at a U.S. embassy or consulate, which would be the official record of the child's claim to U.S. citizenship.

U.S. citizens can also apply for their first passport or a replacement passport at U.S. embassies and consulates. For more information about passport requirements for minors, please visit

Although we cannot provide legal advice, our embassies and consulates can assist parents or guardians in navigating foreign legal systems and provide lists of lawyers who may be able to assist them with legal matters abroad."

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