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Feds working to bring stranded Americans home, Pompeo says

Updated April 4, 2020 - 12:53 pm

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that he hopes to get nearly all Americans stranded in Peru home “over the next handful of days,” as part of a concerted effort to repatriate U.S. citizens stuck in countries that have shut down borders and air travel in response to the global coronavirus outbreak.

The State Department has returned 37,000 Americans from more than 69 countries in a “24/7” effort, Pompeo said during a conference call with the Las Vegas Review-Journal and regional newspapers. The State Department has identified 21,000 more Americans who may need help getting home.

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., worked for the return of Cheyenne Snider, the daughter of Twisted Sister lead singer Dee Snider. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., contacted the State Department to win the return of Magaly Sofia Toledo-Kelly, 49, a Clark County interpreter, and her 12-year-old son, Jake.

Both lawmakers coordinated their efforts with the State Department.

“Our office has been communicating with State Department personnel on a daily basis,” Titus spokesman Kevin Gerson told the Review-Journal. “In these uncertain times, working with U.S. Embassies around the world to reunite our constituents with their families is a priority for us. Helping Southern Nevadans return home has been an all-hands-on-deck effort.”

On March 15, Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra announced a national state of emergency that shut down the border and international airports, leaving thousands of international tourists unable to get out of the country and appealing for help on social media.

Some Americans set up a Facebook page under the headline, “Stranded in Peru, President Trump — Where are you, Air Force One?”

As Pompeo spoke, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., announced the arrival of another group of Americans, including a New Jersey resident, who had been under a mandatory 28-day quarantine at the Pariwana Hostel in Cusco, Peru, after two guests tested positive for COVID-19.

Menendez had been critical of the State Department’s repatriation efforts. But in a statement, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said, “While it should have never taken this long to help evacuate our citizens, my sense is that the State Department is in a much better place to finish evacuating the thousands of Americans waiting to come home. The scope and scale of this unparalleled challenge — and the obligation we owe our fellow citizens — demands our continued attention.”

Pompeo noted the tricky logistics needed to bring home Americans from hard-to-reach places, including the mountains of Peru, where only a handful of aircraft are licensed to fly.

Foggy Bottom has a tradition of returning Americans stranded abroad, Pompeo said. “What’s different here is the order of magnitude” of Americans “who have been stranded often through no fault of their own.”

Earlier in the week, Pompeo spoke to reporters about the first efforts to bring Americans home — it began on Super Bowl Sunday in Wuhan, China.

A member of the medical team emailed his colleagues, “While the whole country enjoys the game in the comfort of home or a pub, most will have no idea that a small group heads into the heart of the global outbreak with the singular focus of bringing their fellow countrymen out of hellacious conditions. No matter how it turns out, we happy few have dared greatly and given ourselves over to this worthy cause.”

Rosen provided assistance to dozens of Nevadans traveling or living abroad, including some in Peru, Honduras, Guatemala and Morocco, according to spokesman Jorge Silva, who recommended that any stranded Nevadan contact Rosen’s office and immediately sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at www.step.state.gov.

Titus “has already helped 13 individuals return to Las Vegas from Peru,” said Gerson, who encouraged constituents with family members abroad who need help returning home to contact the congresswoman’s office.

The State Department probably will not set a date after which the government will stop trying to repatriate Americans, but Pompeo urged those who want to come home to “be expeditious” about it, because “many of these countries are not getting better, they’re becoming more challenging.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

A previous version of this story misstated the name of Dee Snider’s band.

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