Consular notification of detained foreign nationals
A letter to the law enforcement community from the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs
By Janice L. Jacobs
Across the United States, rank and file police officers face a daunting range of challenges and dangers as they work to keep the American people safe every day. While carrying out these important duties, officers also must consider U.S. relations with the rest of the world when they do their jobs.
Under international treaty obligations, citizens of other countries who are arrested or detained in the United States must be informed that they may have access to and communicate with consular officers from their country’s embassy or consulate. This obligation applies even if the foreign national is in the United States illegally. For some countries, the nearest consular officer must be contacted, even if the foreign national declines assistance.
The stakes are high. Last year, more than 3,000 Americans were arrested overseas. When police officers in the United States strictly follow consular access rules for detained foreign nationals, our government can more effectively demand the same treatment for our own citizens.
In U.S. courts, foreign nationals have sought financial damages for alleged violations, though such suits are rarely successful. Some foreign nationals have also sought review of their convictions or sentences, claiming trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by not raising the consular notification violation at trial.
The most significant consequence, however, is that the United States will be seen as a country that does not take its international legal obligations seriously.
The U.S. Department of State is finalizing a new and expanded version of the “Consular Notification and Access Manual,” which includes draft guidelines and standard operating procedures for police. We distribute training videos for law enforcement personnel, maintain up-to-date information on consular notification on our website, and we have a Twitter feed, @ConsularNotify, dedicated to consular notification and access issues.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs within the Department of State conducts outreach and training to inform law enforcement agencies about the importance of consular notification and access, and strives to assist law enforcement agencies in every way possible. I encourage you to take a look at our website, travel.state.gov, for more information, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We want to help you comply with our country’s international consular obligations and ensure that U.S. citizens overseas enjoy the same treatment.
Thank you for all the work you do to keep our country safe.
About the Author
Ambassador Jacobs is a Senior Foreign Service Officer with 28 years of experience in Africa, Latin America and Europe. She has advanced foreign policy interests across a broad range of issues including democratization and human rights, trade and investment liberalization, counter-terrorism and immigration. She served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services from 2002-2005 and as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo from 2000-2002. Her career includes a mix of Washington, DC and overseas assignments, including working in the State Department’s Visa Office, Operations Center, and Office of Cuban Affairs.
Ambassador Jacobs joined the Foreign Service in March 1980 after many years of overseas experience as a Foreign Service dependent. She has lived in Senegal, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia (twice), France, Mexico (twice), Nigeria, and Thailand. She received a BA in French and Education from Southern Illinois University in 1968 and a Master’s in National Security Strategy from the National War College in 1995.
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