Just What Does The American Consulate Do For Us?

Well, for starters, they can’t even show up
BY: REN DRAKE HILL

Representatives from the American Consulate in Tijuana, one of nine that serves Americans in Mexico, (and the only one in Baja), met with American citizens at the monthly FRAO (Foreign Residents Attention Office) breakfast meeting. The new head honch, Brian Simmons, was a no show, leaving the packed house dissapointed. But his underlings did the best they could for us.

The Consulate, located outside of Otay Mesa, near the border crossing into California, has a staff of 28, including American and Mexican workers. The most common services requested concern passports (renewal and loss), missing persons, and problems with handling issues about Americans who have died while in Mexico.  Appointments may be made online, usually for a next-day appointment. Emergency walk-ins are accepted, usually in the cases of assault, kidnapping, or missing persons.  There is a call-in hour daily, for questions, at the main telephone number, below. Unfortunately there are no federal benefits (for Social Security questions) available at this consulate, as the location is so close to San Diego federal offices.

In the case of American citizens dying abroad, information is available for notifying the next of kin. American citizens should always have information with them at all times, including a list of names of family members who are able to identify what’s left of you in case of serious injury or death. It’s best to keep the personal information page in your passport updated at all times. Enrollment in the STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), will keep this information, and much more available to the Consulate in case of emergency. Sign up is available at http://travel.state.gov. They say this is so they know who’s in the country in case of an emergency, however, if you think they don’t share this info on your whereabouts with the IRS or child services, you are being naive.

Passports: All forms and information are available online for renewal of passports or issuing a replacement for a lost or stolen passport. Americans with Permanent Resident status are to renew passports through the Consulate, not in San Diego.  Passport renewal is $45. A first-time passport card is available for $55. General wait-time for passport appointments is one day, but you won’t get your passport for two to three weeks. The office strongly suggests that you start working on that passport renewal five or six months before expiration. (Why, when it only takes a couple weeks, you need to start that early, may best be left up to your imagination.)  Passports can be delivered via DHL to Mexican addresses for 120 pesos, or to US addresses for $26.

The American Consulate wants to know of any Mexican immigration problems Americans may be having, because the Consulate says they are buddy-buddy with the Mexican government, and may be of help. For those wishing to apply for “Residente Permanente” status in Mexico, the Consulate website has information. Note: the Consulate cannot help you fill out the list of household items being imported to Mexico upon moving here. This paperwork must be completed with the Mexican Consulate in the United States. It is strongly suggested that an expediter be hired to help with this action.

One of the biggest concerns Americans have in foreign countries is what happens if someone comes a croaker, and with good reason. It’s hard to get a dead body across the border, and there’s going to be a lot of stink associated with it before you get the papework completed.

 Notifying the Consulate should be your first move. They will issue a Report of Death Abroad, which will allow the probate administer to perform legal duties. After the Mexican death certificate is issued, no less than 20 copies of the report will be available to whoever is in charge of the diseased’s affaris.. If he, (or she), was a Mexican resident, there are additional moves to make. There should be a Mexican will listing the holdings existing in Mexico. This must be on file with the government.  Copies should also be with a trusted relative, (do most people even have one of those?) You will also need copies of titles to homes and cars owned.  As you can see, it’s imperative that if you feel your death coming on, you leave instructions of what to do and who to contact so that the Consulate can help your family.

Deaths in Mexico are listed in one of three ways: natural, accidental, or intentional. If you have a doctor knowledgeable of the condition of your health, , he will be able to sign your death certificate in the case of a natural death. There is no morgue, no autopsy (unless the death is ruled suspicious, which is unlikely because these people aren’t keen on extra work), and the body may be transferred directly to a funeral home. Spring for a hearse, a bus would be rude.

It the death is suspected of being accidental or intentional, two people must identify the remains, one of which is a relation. You might have to fake this part, who’s to know it it’s your relative or not? There will be an autopsy and they make such a mess of things that a cremation is not a viable option. It may take weeks or months to effectively solve the case, and the body is unable to be claimed during this time.

A little known service of the Consulate is that they’re supposed to help if you feel your car has been stolen while it was in the United States and you feel it may have been driven into Mexico. They will work with American law enforcement to try and catch the car before it crosses the border. If your car is stolen while in Mexico, however, they are not going to be of much help. Unless you pay them. Our boss got her truck stolen by persons unknown and she paid the police $1000 to get it back. The chief of police drove up with it within the hour. FYI, she was over anxious, $300 to $500 is the going rate.)

Traveling with prescription medication can lead to problems. All medications must be in labeled bottles with the person’s name on the labels. American prescriptions must have the doctor’s name on the label. That person must be in the vehicle if stopped while in Mexico, or crossing the border in either direction. Medications obtained in Mexico don’t have labels, so it is important to carry a copy of the printed prescription with you while transporting your medications.

The American Consulate also visits American citizens who are arrested while in Mexico. Don’t expect a cake, much less a file, or any concrete help.

 Northern Mexico and Baja are the busiest parts of the world for Americans arrested. Three to five American nationals are arrested daily in the Tijuana area, usually for intoxication or assault. In case you’re tossed in the stony lonesome for a long time, a representative from the Consulate will visit monthly with vitamins, toiletries, and necessary medications. Nope, no cake.  If arrested, the Consulate advises, do not sign forms or speak with officers before contacting the American Consulate. That is your right as an American citizen. Posters with contact information are in the jails. The Consulate website has a list of approved attorneys as well. This is easier said than done. When our boss was arrested in Baja Sur, they threatened her with great bodily harm if she did not sign 14 pages she wasn’t allowed to read. These guys can be scary. Also, the police water boarded a 68 year old American man accused of murdering his wife, trying to get him to confess to a crime he was exonerated of the next day, but our boss could not get the American Consulate to do didly squat about it. Do not be overly expecting help from these Consulate employess, as they have a long history of doing nothing. One of our reporters is  currently waiting for a call to return from them and so far it’s been three days.

Information is available at the website: http://tijuana.usconsulate.gov. This includes travel warnings and alerts; weather warnings and alerts; links to Homeland Security, California Border Patrol, Department of State, and U.S. Citizen Services. Data available under citizen services is information on STEP (the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), passports, citizenship/birth abroad reports, emergency contact information, notary services, federal benefits, and what to do in case of death in a foreign country. It is strongly suggested by officials that everyone living in or travelling to foreign countries enroll in this program, we suspect because they like to keep track of everyone who pays taxes.

American Citizen Services may be contacted in the following ways: Monday – Friday, 7:30 – 4:00: phone: 664-977-2000 (ask for American Citizen Services); Nights, weekends and holidays (Emergencies only): phone 001-619-692-2154 (from Mexico). General questions: email: TijuanaCitizenship@state.gov;  email for emergencies such as death and human welfare: ACSTijuana@state.gov. They say there is someone available or on call but many calls go unanswered. The American Consulate may also be followed on Facebook and Twitter.