Robin Matthewman, the new United States Consul General in Guadalajara, advises U.S. citizens who are traveling or living in Mexico to do themselves a favor by registering with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
“It’s important and only takes a few minutes,” Matthewman told the Guadalajara Reporter in an exclusive interview programmed during her November 29 visit to the Lake Chapala area.
STEP is a free service that allows Americans traveling abroad to be in contact with the U.S. embassy or consulate closest to their destination. Register at https://step.state.gov/step.
Persons signed into the program enjoy multiple benefits. They receive valuable information about safety conditions in the country where they are located. The nearest embassy or consulate is able to make contact in case they are in peril or require evacuation assistance due to natural disasters or civil disturbances. Consular officials can also serve as go-betweens for dealing with family emergencies or incidents when a relative goes missing abroad.
Asked whether personal information provided to STEP is protected, Matthewman replied, “We take the privacy act seriously. Data is not shared with other government agencies unless it is critical in life and death situations.”
She says that there are about 16,000 citizens already registered in Guadalajara’s consular district, and the numbers are constantly on the rise.
Matthewman and Rachel Schofer, head of Guadalajara’s American Citizen Services Unit (ACS), also talked about matters that section of the consulate handles.
ACS Guadalajara is in charge of organizing monthly outreach offered to lakeside residents, with visits to American Legion Post 7 in Chapala and the Lake Chapala Society (LCS) in Ajijic, the only places in Mexico where passport renewals and notary services are provided off-site on a regular basis.
The outreach program is usually scheduled on the second Wednesday of the month, with a stopover at Post 7, Morelos 114, 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., and set up at LCS, 16 de Septiembre 16-A, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Note there will be a day change for the last visit this year, set for Thursday, December 13.
Inside the Consulate, the ACS unit handles a broader range of social services for citizens abroad. “We are oriented towards helping people,” Schofer explains.
In addition to notary and passport services, the agency takes care of birth and death registrations, guidance and welfare for persons afflicted by illness, destitution or death, victims of crime, and those who run afoul of the law while in Mexico.
To dispel common misconceptions, Matthewman stressed that Congress doesn’t give the consulate a budget to cover expenses for citizens in trouble. “We don’t lend money. We can’t pay for transport or Medivac services to help people get out of the country,” she said. The ACS can assist in getting in touch with family members who are able to cover expenses for healthcare, travel back to the United States and other needs. If relatives aren’t found, other avenues are churches, social organizations and friends that may pitch in or set up Go-Fund-Me accounts.
A follow-up article will delve into what the consular officials had to say about handling criminal matters and deaths of U.S. citizens.