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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 29, 2003

MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  It's a pleasure to see you all.  If I can, I would like to start off with a short announcement, and we'll give you a longer version in the Press Office after the briefing along with, I think, some other statements and announcements that we have ready. 

But the one I thought I should tell you about is that we have closed the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico in order to conduct a thorough investigation and comprehensive examination of consulate visa operations.

The Diplomatic Security Service, in coordination with the Department of Justice and with the close cooperation of our Bureau of Consular Affairs, is investigating allegations that a number of individuals received visas illegally from this consulate.

We care very much about maintaining the integrity of the visa process, and in order to protect the integrity of the visa and visa issuance process, we've temporarily closed the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo.  We expect the consulate to reopen in a few days, but we won't resume visa operations until we're completely satisfied that all visas are being issued in full accordance with the law.

QUESTION:    As I understand it, Richard, there haven't been any arrests made.  Is that correct?

MR. BOUCHER:  It's a matter that's still under investigation, and I'm not able to give you any further information on that at this point.

QUESTION:  Can you say if the people who are suspected of wrongdoing are actually Foreign Service Officers, if they're Foreign Service Nationals or if they're some other hybrid of embassy or consulate employee?

MR. BOUCHER:  No.  I can't say.

QUESTION:  Then can you tell us just how many of each there are -- how many Foreign Service Officers are there at this consulate?

MR. BOUCHER:  No, I didn't say it was one, the other or a hybrid of the two.  I'm just not able to say who's under investigation.

QUESTION:  Well, can you just give us an idea of the composition of this?  I assume there are not a whole lot of the U.S. Foreign Service Officers stationed in Nuevo Laredo.

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't know exactly how many there are.  But I wouldn't want to put everybody under suspicion, anyway.  I'm not going to get into who's under investigation, who the allegations are against.  We're following up on allegations we heard in -- last year, in 2002, and we'll pursue those, but I don't have anything further about the particulars of the investigation.

QUESTION:  And the people who allegedly got these illegal visas were Mexicans?

MR. BOUCHER:  Again, that's something that will have to be looked at.  All the people that we know about so far who got these allegedly illegal visas have been put on lookout lists for all the law enforcement agencies.

QUESTION:  Do you have any --

MR. BOUCHER:  No.  I can't give you a number at this point, too.  That's part of the investigation.

QUESTION:  Who did you say is doing the investigation?

MR. BOUCHER:  Diplomatic Security Service and I'm sure, working with the Department of Justice.

Terri.

QUESTION:  Often you can tell how many of these people have entered the U.S. on these visas like you could with the DOHA.  Is it too early to say?

MR. BOUCHER:  I just think it's too early at this stage in terms of the investigation to know how many visas might have been issued and then to start accounting for them.  But as soon as the investigators find out about any particular visa of questionable issuance, they immediately put that name on the lists for the law enforcement agencies to watch out for.

Betsy.

QUESTION:  Can you say how sophisticated your system was at that post?  I mean, the one in Mexico City is very up to date with the latest technology.  Was this a consulate that had not yet received that system?

MR. BOUCHER:  I think, basically, all of our posts in Mexico are very high-volume visa posts; and therefore, they have always been among the first to receive new technology, so I don't know exactly, you know, how close it is, but they would have, pretty much, the best kind of technology that we use.

QUESTION:  Well, can you say approximately how many visas are issued there a year or a month?

MR. BOUCHER:  No, I was asked that.  Oh, a year or a month?  No, I can't at this point.  I might be able to get that for you, but I don't want anybody to assume that we think that any particular number of those is possibly illegal.  It's normally -- in any visa post, particularly a high volume one, when you have a visa fraud situation, it's a very small number compared to the overall total.  But we don't want anybody to get any visas without meeting all the appropriate requirements.

Let's see.  Arshad, you had one still?

QUESTION:  It was -- Betsy just asked it.

MR. BOUCHER:  Okay.  Charlie.

QUESTION:  Is there a way you can tell us how this investigation came to be?  I mean, was this a tip from someone inside or a tip from someone outside?

MR. BOUCHER:  No, I wouldn't be able to say that except that we did get allegations of visa fraud last year, and we've been investigating and following up on those and that has led currently to the closure of this consulate until we can fully explore the matter and make sure that any visa that's issued down there is issued with the strictest of safeguards.

QUESTION:  You can't say who the (inaudible) these visas were?

MR. BOUCHER:  No.  That would automatically be part of the investigation, wouldn't it?

Betsy.

QUESTION:  Would you say if this was one of the main things that this consulate did?  I mean, it seems a pretty drastic situation to close the entire consulate.

MR. BOUCHER:  As I said, it's one of the main things that any of our consulates or posts in Mexico do.  They are all high-volume visa posts.  Again, I don't have the exact numbers on Nuevo Laredo, but -- it's not the only thing that they do -- but it is one of the most significant things.  And in terms of public operations, it's probably the most public of any of the operations of the embassy, or the consulate there.

Gene.

QUESTION:  Richard, were they visitor visas or longer term visas?

MR. BOUCHER:  I can't say.  That would be a matter under investigation.

QUESTION:  Okay.

[ ... ]

[ End ]



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