Arrest of a U.S. Citizen

Have you been made aware that a U.S. citizen was recently arrested in Mexico?

Please ask the local authorities to notify the Embassy immediately. The Embassy can work to help protect the person and ensure fair treatment. The Embassy will visit the prisoner, provide information about the local legal process, provide a list of attorneys in Mexico City (PDF – 169KB) and a list of attorneys in the Mexico City Consular District (PDF – 287KB), and notify family and friends. The State Department has also provided Mexico-Specific Criminal Penalty Information.

Foreign Laws

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.

Persons violating Mexican laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Mexico are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. If you break local laws in Mexico, your U.S. citizenship will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is illegal wherever you go. If arrested in Mexico, a U.S. citizen must go through the foreign legal process including possible charge or indictment, prosecution, possible conviction and sentencing, and any appeals process.

The Consular Officer’s Role

When the arrestee states his/her U.S. citizenship and requests notification to their U.S. consular representatives, Mexican authorities will inform U.S. Embassy Mexico City of the detention of that American citizen without delay.  The Consular Officer will visit the arrestee as soon as possible after notification.  On the initial visit, the Consular Officer will check on the well-being of the detainee and the circumstances of the arrest, provide a list of attorneys, and ask for a Privacy Act Waiver to provide authorization for the consular officer to be in contact with others regarding the arrest.  If necessary, the Consular Officer will intercede with local authorities to ensure full observance of the citizen’s rights under Mexican law.

If authorized by the citizen to do so, the Consular Officer will notify the arrested person’s family and relay requests for financial or other assistance.  Consular Officers in the Mexico City consular district try to visit detained American citizens in pre-trial status once every three months.  For convicted prisoners, visits are scheduled every six to twelve months.

The U.S. Embassy is obliged to bring evidence of maltreatment or discrimination to the attention of Mexican authorities if the citizen so requests.

Read more about what happens to American Citizens arrested or detained abroad:

Extortion Techniques

One of the latest extortion techniques, known as the “grandparent scam,” involves calls placed by persons alleging to be attorneys or U.S. Government employees claiming that a person’s relative – nearly always a purported grandchild – has been in a car accident in Mexico and has been arrested or detained. The caller asks for a large sum of money to ensure the subject’s release. When the recipient of the call checks on their family member, they discover that the entire story is false. If the alleged detainee cannot be located in the U.S. and the family has reason to believe that the person did, in fact, travel to Mexico, contact the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate for assistance in determining if they have been detained by authorities. Further information on international financial scams is available on the State Department website.