Make sure James Kirkwood is last NZer abandoned in US

Foreign Minister Phil Goff is being asked by Green MP Keith Locke in writing to look into the apparent mishandling of the case of a New Zealander detained for weeks in the US over a paperwork problem.

James Kirkwood, a New Zealand aircraft engineer, was detained for seven weeks on the United States on a minor visa violation. Reacting to the case, Mr Locke called last week for NZ officials to establish a better process for helping Kiwis detained in the US for visa irregularities.

“After speaking to James Kirkwood today, it is clear to me that our Embassy staff failed him,” Mr Locke, the Green Party’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, says.

“He has told me that there was no direct Embassy contact with him, either by phone or in person, during the time he was in jail. That is inexcusable, especially when his British workmates were quickly talked to by British authorities and were then on a plane out within two weeks.

“Our Embassy went no further than talking to the lawyer assigned to Mr Kirkwood and, unlike the British, seemed to have no confidence in getting their national out quickly.

“They seemed to accept American excuses of a transport problem, when it is now clear that there was regular prison transport to Atlanta airport, which Mr Kirkwood was finally put on after seven weeks in atrocious conditions. His security status wasn’t an issue – at ‘one’, it was the lowest in the American system.

“I have asked Mr Goff to get to the bottom of James Kirkwood’s case and make sure these Embassy shortcomings are not repeated. I have also requested that his Ministry engage the American authorities to put in place a system to ensure that no more New Zealanders are treated so dreadfully.

“We should point out to them that Americans guilty of such minor irregularities would not be jailed and their cases would be dealt with fairly and promptly,” Mr Locke says.