Video: Interview With US Consul General Koenig

May 21, 2017 | 1 Comment

The drivers license issue, Uighurs, Stop List, upcoming America’s Cup, and the U.S. Consulate’s relationship with the Bermuda Government were among the topics discussed when US Consul General Mary Ellen Koenig sat down with guest interviewer Jeremy Deacon for our latest live interview on our Facebook page.

If you want to listen ‘on the go’, you can also access the audio only version of this interview, and all our past interviews, in the podcast section of the Bernews app.

Bernews-Podcast-with-US-Consul-General-Mary-Ellen-Koenig

 Driving License Issue

When asked about the recent issue with some Bermuda drivers licences not being recognised in Massachusetts, Ms Koenig said,”We were all surprised and taken aback and what does that all mean, and in unraveling it, it became pretty clear to me what was going on.

“The fact is that Bermuda was never a signatory to the international agreements that govern reciprocal driving rights. And I don’t know the history behind that, I’m not sure why that is the case, because if you look under, for instance, the UN Treaty on driving privileges, you’ll see the UK is on there, and you’ll see Cayman is on there, and a couple other places, but Bermuda is not.”

”So I think what happened is, in Massachusetts they were tightening up their regulations and all, and they realized that Bermuda was not a signatory, which is what governs our right to drive anywhere in the world.

“I know I was surprised when I got to Bermuda and they didn’t recognize my US driver’s license. It’s the first place in the world that that’s happened. Because typically, when you go, it’s recognized and you’re able to rent a car, you’re able to drive. So we figured out what the problem was, and I know that the Government is looking at that and trying to resolve it.”

Ms Koenig said,”It has not been resolved. I think we’ll hear about it when it’s resolved. But I know they’re looking at the possibility of becoming a signatory. I think they have to look at all the implications of that.”

Live video replay of interview with US Consul General Mary Ellen Koenig

American Citizen Services

Asked about the types and amount of services the Consulate provides in a typical day, Ms Koenig said,”It depends. We have a very busy consular staff and they’re dealing with American Citizen Services.

“They’re obviously servicing people who live in Bermuda, so there are American citizens who need to get their children passports, a new birth, for instance, or somebody who needs to register with Social Security, so there are those sort of citizen services that we do on a regular basis.”

“But we’re also dealing with the influx of American tourists, and obviously, that’s a big deal here in Bermuda, coming by cruise ships, coming by airplane. We will have deaths occasionally, which we have to deal with the officials.

“Occasionally we’ll have arrests that we will find out about, so those kind of issues, Americans who are in trouble here will turn to us and ask for assistance.”

Asked if there any particular or hard issues that occur, Ms Koenig said,”Deaths are probably the hardest one to deal with because you’re responsible for informing the families, and then working through getting them here and helping them repatriate the remains, which is always a difficult situation.”

America’s Cup

Asked if the U.S. Consulate has played any role in the upcoming America’s Cup,  Ms Koenig said,”We’ve been involved just on discussions on the security front. We’ve had military people in, just to give some thoughts and some guidance, some suggestions.

“The Government and Government House have been working very closely to prepare for that, so our role has really been in terms of a support. We’ve done a number of these large events, obviously, in the US and we have people who are experienced in these large kind of events.”

Asked if any security advisers have come in from the U.S., Ms Koenig said, “A couple have come down and they’ve been part of round table discussions, because the UK officials have been in for these discussions, so they’ve been some liaison with that. It’s been an advisory role, and not even a formal one, pretty informal.”

“I think it’s going to be a fabulous event,” she added. “I know they’ve taken a lot of precautions.”

Coast Guard To Be In Area

”We also know that the Coast Guard is going to be around in the region,” Ms Koenig added. “And that will be helpful. They will be landing, taking a port call, in St. George’s at some point during the Cup.

Asked if it is part of a normal patrol, Ms Koenig said,”They’re coming a little bit closer. It’s a normal patrol on the Eastern Seaboard, but they’re moving a little bit closer to Bermuda, so they’ll be around if there’s any need for assistance.”

”It’s part of that sort of planning and trying to think ahead and be proactive and making sure you’ve got all your plans in place.”

Uighurs

Asked about the circumstances surrounding the Uighurs, Ms Koenig said,  ”We remain interested in seeing it resolved, but I know that it’s not resolved yet. It really is a matter of getting the proper paperwork done and that does rest with the UK Government.

Asked if they will be allowed into the U.S., Ms Koenig said, “I don’t think so, I don’t know. But it’s really a matter of them getting the travel documents they need to be able to leave Bermuda, and that totally rests with the UK government.”

Asked if she is involved in any talks on the matter, Ms Koenig said,”Not really. I’m aware of the issue, but we’re not involved. It’s an internal matter for the UK at this point.”

Stop List

Speaking on the Stop List, Ms Koenig said, “This is a world-wide policy, when somebody runs afoul of crime, in their country or in the US, that makes them ineligible to travel to the US without getting a waiver of that ineligibility. So yes, if somebody is convicted of a crime here in Bermuda, that does make them ineligible.

”The good news is that there is a process for overcoming that ineligibility. It takes some time, and it takes showing that you have turned away from whatever it was that was problematic in the past, whether it was drug use or, you know, whatever the crime was.

“If you have shown that you have moved beyond that period of your life and you’re established, you’ve got a great job, you’ve got your family, there is a good chance that you’ll get off the stop list at some point.”

“It’s not going to happen, somebody’s convicted of a crime and,’Oh, well next year I’m gonna go to the US.’ I mean, you have to be able to prove your eligibility to a Visa Officer, and actually to the CBP officers at the port of entry, that you are eligible to enter the US. So that’s it.

”We have a really special relationship with Bermuda, and Bermuda is one of only two countries, Canada and Bermuda, that can travel to the US without visas or without going through some of the other programs we have, so it is a special relationship and it’s a special privilege.

“But that being said, this is US Immigration law that applies to the whole world, and when someone commits a crime in their country, they have to overcome that ineligibility to travel.”

“I know that the bulk of people who come in with these issues, get a waiver, the bulk of them are given waivers,” she added. ”Once you’ve really turned away from whatever it was, the troubles in your past, you can apply for it, many people maintain a waiver. People do stupid things in their youth, right? I mean, that happens.”

”So you make some mistakes, okay, we understand that. But there is a period in your life where you really are an established citizen and you’re not doing drugs. And at that, you apply for a waiver and you can maintain that waiver for the rest of your life. You have to come in and apply for it periodically, but people do, who have had trouble with the law in the past, are able to overcome that.”

Relationship with the Bermuda Government

Ms Koenig said,”In terms of our relationship with the Government, they’re very accessible, they’re very generous with their time, so when something comes up, we are able to get in and talk about it and try to figure out what the resolution is. It’s very amicable.

”I think it really goes back to the relationship between Bermuda and the United States. It’s 400 years of history. It’s all of the connections, the economic ties, the family ties, educational ties, there’s so much that binds us.

“In fact, I’d have to say that, for my 25 years doing this, I would say that this is probably the place where there is the warmest relationship between the host country, here, Bermuda, and the United States.”

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  1. sage says:

    Question: Why does the crime of DUI, a serious offense clearly involving a higher degree of ‘moral turpitude’ than merely possessing a joint or a seed, conveniently not qualify someone for entry to the stop list? Why are people on the ‘terror watch list’ allowed to fly (the ‘underwear bomber’ and the ‘shoe bomber’ for example) when someone on the stop list for petty ‘crime’ from “the place where there is the warmest relationship between the host country, here, Bermuda, and the United States.” is completely ineligible for entry for 99 years unless you are able to buy a waiver?

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