The Canadian-US border is supposed to be ‘the world’s longest undefended border.’ But every single day, people experience emotional and sometimes physical hardships whlie just trying to cross to shop or travel. If you would like to share your terrible experience of crossing the Canadian-US border, please write us. Originally published June 2014, Updated May 2019.
Holiday on Orcas Island Ruined
View from Orcas Island [Public Domain]
I had a terrible time crossing the Canada/US border.
I am a British Citizen but have spent the last two years in New Zealand under the Working Holiday programme. Whilst there I met a girl, an American citizen, and after travelling together for a while she invited me to spend the summer with her in the States – during the summer months she lives and works on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington State. The accommodation was to be a yurt, on a friends farm, and in return for the accommodation, we would help out for four hours a week, weeding, harvesting etc. I was looking forward to a relaxing summer on a beautiful island.
Not so simple.
I flew to Vancouver because it was cheaper, simpler, and a more direct flight. I was surprised at the level of interrogation from the Canadian immigration officials but, eventually, I was let through. Said American girl picked me up from the airport and we confidently made our way towards the Peace Arch border crossing, looking forward to the coastal drive and picnic we had planned for the other side of the border. Obeying rule 7 of the do’s and dont’s, I removed my sunglasses and we both tried to be as open and friendly as possible.
As the driver, she did most of the talking and when asked what I was planning to do in the States, she openly explained the situation with the accommodation and in order to make it easier for the border guard to understand said ‘kind of like wwoofing‘. ‘Yes kind of like wwoofing’ I nodded in agreement. ‘Oh ok’, he replied and handed us a slip of paper indicating we would have to go into the main building.
Feeling like nothing was amiss we took our place in the line but after a few minutes, an officer came out and indicated for us to step out of the line and talk to him at a separate desk. We should have known we were going to be in for a rough time when we noticed the name on his badge – ‘Harms’.
We were asked in more detail about our plans and again we responded with openness and honesty. Then we were alternately questioned; then I was taken into a separate room, questioned under oath, fingerprinted and finally allowed to rejoin my girlfriend.
Finally’ we thought, ‘it’s over and we can carry on with our trip’, late but no harm done, excuse the pun.
Harms called us to the desk, ‘I’m refusing you entry because you have intent to work illegally, taking jobs from Americans.’
Utter disbelief. ‘I’d like to speak to a supervising officer’ – not possible.
This doesn’t have to be the plan, I can pay rent instead’ – not possible, intentions cannot be changed.
You’ll now have to apply for a visa, like everyone else in the world’ he almost said with a smile.
I was made to sign a written ‘statement’ about what my plans were which I assume they have kept although I was not given a copy. They also ‘ten-printed’ me. My passport was stamped on the last page with:
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection
Refused in accordance with INA section 217.
Date: 07/08/14, Port: 3004
The number on the stamp was also written along the side of the emergency contact page of my passport. It’s unclear what all this means and whether a ban has been effected.
We were escorted out of the building, to my girlfriend’s car and then given our passports back at the entrance of a road which only led back to Canada. After a few hairy moments at that border – the Canadian border guard wasn’t sure for a few moments if he was going to let us in, we were heading back to Vancouver in an emotional mixture of shock, anger and grief.
I immediately set about applying for a tourist visa through the US Consulate in Vancouver. When the interview came around I explained the situation fully, the only difference being that I described my girlfriend as a friend as many people had advised us to downplay the relationship.
To my surprise, the immigration officer told me she intended to issue me with a visa but she couldn’t see on her screen what had happened at the border because the computer system was down. She said she would have to review that before she could make a final decision but as long as my account ‘broadly matched’ what happened at the border, I would be issued a visa.
As I say, the only difference in the accounts was that at the consulate I described my girlfriend as my friend, which, you could argue, is fundamentally true. I was tentatively hopeful but also not hugely surprised when, the next day I went to pick up my passport and found a letter stating that my visa had been denied – officially due to me being unable to prove proper ‘ties’ to the UK.
Dear Visa Applicant:
We regret to inform you that you have been found ineligible for a nonimmigrant visa based on section 214(b) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)…A denial under section 214(b) means that you were not able to demonstrate that your intended activities in the U.S. would be consistent with one of the nonimmigrant visa categories established under U.S. immigration law, or, more commonly, that you were unable to satisfy the requirements of the particular nonimmigrant visa category for which you have applied today…You have not demonstrated that you have the ties that will compel you to return to your home country after your travel to the United States.
Again there is no mention of a ban period and I imagine this is a fairly standard rejection letter.
Shortly after being refused at the border I received an email stating that my ESTA status had changed. On following the link to the DHS website my application had changed to ‘Travel Not Authorized’ which is how it currently stands.
In the end I have had a pretty lovely time in Canada and my girlfriend also spent almost a month here so that we could travel together but of course it was not the summer we had planned and, as we always knew it would, the relationship has now ended.
The ironic and frustrating thing about this situation for me is that I can see no benefit gained by the US; I spent all my money, money I would have spent there, in Canada instead. My girlfriend worked in the States to earn money then travelled to Canada to spend it. My image of the US has been seriously tarnished and it seriously makes me wonder what it must be like for someone who is not from a friendly country and an ‘ally’. Pure hell I imagine. I also wonder what this means for my future travel to the US, am I banned for entering for a while? Or can I, once my situation changes and I’m back in the UK, just apply for a visa? Does describing my girlfriend as a friend constitute ‘lying to a US government official’?
Now I am back in the UK and these questions seem academic rather than pressing realities. However I do hope in the future to travel to the US again only this time rather more successfully than the last.
This was my nightmare
I am a US Citizen naturalized-Latino who grew up in Seattle, WA. Got married and moved to Georgia with my new bride to start our lives together and settle in that lovely state.
Years later, I got divorced and my parents made me realize that I had all my family and friends back in Washington and I should consider my options. They offered me their home and my old room without any compromises. I never cared about Georgia nor did I have any roots to hold me back anymore. So I decided that for the time being it was a great idea to move back with my parents and enjoy their company for a while.
I had traveled all over and visited lots of countries around the world prior to this trip home. I love the excitement of going places, and enjoy myself on the road. Previously, I’ve sent most of my stuff in boxes when I have moved, but since I had recently bought an SUV, I filled it with the rest of my personal belongings to drive back to Washington state. I had always wanted to visit the Niagara falls, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to go to Buffalo on my ‘way’ to move back with my parents.
Once there I met a few nice Canadians tourists and they told me the view was awesome from their side. So I thought it was a great idea to do just that: the Canadian border was just a few short miles away, and maybe once there I could drive through the country instead of taking the US roads to get to my parents that way. I knew the US roads very well, and the Canadian roads are amazing in the summer. I wanted to experience the beauty of driving through Canada at this time of the year.
I had been in Canada (the West Coast) a couple of times before with my ex-wife and we had no problems whatsoever. On this occasion I had lots of money in my wallet to enjoy my long drive through Canada.
Well, that was a bad idea.
The guards were Anglo Saxon-looking men that treated me like the dirt under their nails. They looked at me from head to toe and told me I looked like a person who was going to stay in their country.
I was shocked and explained myself: I told them the story I just told you. But still they did not believe me or even listen to me. Five of them came around and humiliated me. I was not the only person; inside their office where I waited to be booked like a criminal they had a lot of other people but we were all “only minorities” and they immediately accused me of many things.
They told me that a US passport was not going to help me to invade their country. They diminished me in front of these other startled people waiting, like me, to be thrown like garbage back to the USA: orientals, Hindus, middle easterners, Africans from the Caribbean, and other Latinos like me.
Don’t get me wrong: I do understand I was suspicious because I was traveling with my belongings in a brand-new vehicle. But the way they insulted me was a real abuse of authority. They made sure I knew I was a stinky Latino invading their country. Although I am the preppy type, clean cut and educated, their assumptions were based on my appearance (skin color that is).
Furthermore, when I asked to see a supervisor, the supervisor (another caveman), only confirmed my suspicions: I was here because of my skin colour. He also insulted me some more and, together like a pack of wild animals, they warned me that they could throw me in jail and confiscate my car and property for my suspicious behavior.
Suspicious behavior? What were they talking about? I hadn’t done anything.
I was sent to a seemingly less aggressive human being (I thought): a female officer who turned out to be just another beast. She booked me with the help of two fat and huge headsmen. She was so impolite and cruel just like them.
I would like to add that I am a docile person; I am not an angry man who lashes out stupidly or acts immaturely. Nor am I someone who yells obscenities at the authorities. I am not a nasty dude with a big mouth who curses or gets into trouble with anyone. I am the kind of person that prefers to lose a battle if there is an aggressively violent person trying to fight me.
I remained silent but tears invaded my face. The humiliation I received by these officers was such that I was traumatized for months.
Well finally they threw me to the USA. On the other side, the US immigration officers asked me what happened; why had I been deported when I was not a person that fit a suspicious profile to be kicked out like that. I told them my experience and they replied “Damn Canadians, I wonder who wants to stay in their stinky country.” They explained that when you live in the best country in the world and when someone is “a proud American” with such a clean record like mine they don’t need to go to a country like Canada. “Canada sucks” they said angrily.
(Well personally I didn’t agree Canada sucks, but I knew they were trying to make me feel better, and it worked!)
The men shook my hand and told me not to worry, “Welcome home and spend your money here, don’t give it to those [email protected]#$%ers” they told me broad grins across their faces – the best thing that happened to me after that horrible and humiliating experience.
I decided to share my story to accuse the Canadian Border Services Agency (Niagara Falls region). They are unfriendly-savages. I want you to see them as “the intransigent neanderthals,” for what they really are! No better than third-world, ignorant and abusive officers like those at the borders of some Latin American countries, where I come from. I lived through that during my youth when I traveled as a tourist with friends or family members. I remember they ripped us off and they did the same with most people often being nasty and cruel, but the Canadian officers were just as cruel. The difference was that in Latin American countries, the border guards rip everyone off fair and square. They didn’t care about how I looked, or the tone of my skin; they would steal your belongings from you and on top of that they asked you if you could spare money for their lunch. The Canada Border Services officers in the border next to Buffalo are a good example to compare to these Latin American guards. These officers share the same cruel attitude. I lived through the same ordeal during my youth when I traveled through some Latin American countries. (Not all of them were the same, but most of them had guards like this.) I thought my clean record and my own image and my hard work were enough to be treated with the decency a respectable human being can expect in their lives, but now I can see that it wasn’t enough. I left a horrible past behind, and never expected to find the same abuse in “a civilized country.”
This is something that needs to be told and reported. I never did anything before because I tried to forget the most humiliating moment in my life; it was embarrassing at the time. I felt discredited and stripped off my basic human rights.
Riley Haas has been a leading expert since 2011 on immigration matters, with hundreds of publications online. Published author of three books about political philosophy, the Beatles and the Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. BA from Bishop’s University, MA from McMaster University. You follow Riley on Substack https://rileyhaas.substack.com.