Guilty until proven innocent at the border

Someone related to me the other day an interesting discussion they had with a European who had run a business in Canada for some years.  He owned a Canadian business and held a Canadian residence permit.  He had clients to visit in the US.  At the US border, he was told that he must be a Canadian citizen or have a visa to visit the clients.   He said that he was only visiting the clients of his company; he was not going to take up employment in the US.  The answer of the border guard was that he “could” be entering the US to break the law by taking up employment.   After 6 hours they sent him back with no explanation of what laws he had “broken”.    Guilty until proven innocent?

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14 thoughts on “Guilty until proven innocent at the border

  1. I remember one time that I had flown from Heathrow to the US twice in two weeks (on a US passport) and the immigration guy started to drill me on trip number 2 entering the US on a US passport –

    Q: Why are you travelling so often between here and London? Answer: I get more “vacation” time than most people here I thought I’d come back again. His face went blank.

    Q: What is your date of birth? (I thought of the movie Frantic scene at the US embassy in Paris Harrison Ford. I recited my date of birth out and added “just like it says on my passport”

    Q: What do you do for a living? Answer – I’m employed with a medical marijuana company in the UK – it’s legal there. (not my real profession – I was just in a bad mood after the flight)

    He starts to examine his screen more, but because I haven’t filed income taxes for years his information is a bit thin on the ground. He rattled off my last UK address which I hadn’t lived at for years and that made me realise the IRS is passing on info to the immigration (a single 1040 filed years ago with that address and it was the only contact I had with the Federal Gov’t for years so I was able to isolate where the address came from) and I said I still lived there (how’s he going to know).

    Q: Where am I staying in the United States? Answer: My parent’s house where I grew up. I then started asking him what the point of these questions? You can’t deny me entry as a US citizen, you can search me if you want. His face screwed up a bit and to my amazement let me go through (this before all their fingerprinting scan machines about 10 years ago).

    Why do you they have to make you feel “guilty” of doing something before entering the US? US immigration always feels like if they don’t grill someone they’re not doing their job. This attitude pisses me off particularly when I travel through Europe on an EU passport and never feel like a criminal when showing my passport (that’s if you interact with a human as much these days with all the automated machines at EU airports),

    On closing I’d been away from the UK for about 2 years (in fact stayed in the US), and returned to the UK went through immigration at Heathrow on my EU passport, the immigration guy looked at it, waved me through and said “welcome home.” I doubt US immigration could ever be so friendly.

  2. Meh. While the six hours of delay and frustration seems about five hours and fifty-five minutes too long, the overall outcome seems both plausible and defensible to me. Being a Canadian resident doesn’t give you any special rights of entry to the US. For that you have to be a Canadian citizen. Otherwise it’s either a visa or the “visa waiver program”:

    http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html#countries

    The VWP covers many European countries, but by no means all, and there are some substantial outages. Poland, for example.

    To get a US visa “waiver” you have to apply in advance of travel using ESTA, pay a fee for it, and it can be denied. In other words, the “waiver” is really just now a visa in disguise.

  3. Watcher is correct that one would need to be a Canadian CITIZEN to pass through the border without a visa – though still subject to questioning, search and turn back by the Immigration officer if he or she feels grouchy that morning; the “discretion” granted to these officers is powerful indeed.

    The general abuse however at various national borders is awful and is NOT restricted to just the US.

    I am disgusted by the push in today’s world to turn all of us into mere numbered slaves to a dictatorial system that cares not one iota for our humanity. I am glad that I am nearer to my expiry date (though I could not guess when exactly that might be) than to my birth more than half a century ago into a world now rapidly becoming a mere distant memory; a mere fantasy that “modern” folk (“newer models”) could never savor or understand.

  4. Last time my husband and I went through the US border (with US passports) we were asked the usual questions: our place of residence and purpose of the visit. We responded with Vancouver and vacation. I found it odd that he seemed by his questions to be concerned that we may want to work down there. So what if we did? WTF!

  5. I do not understand why a visa should be required by the US of a person who is a citizen of a visa-waver country when they enter the US at a Canada-US border crossing point any more that a visa would be required if they entered at an airport from any other country. Can anyone else shed any light on this?

    It is not out of the ordinary for immigration officers in Canada to ask Americans the purpose of their visit to Canada, My son has had this happen when flying to Canada from Washington, DC for a business meeting on several ocassions. For purposes of tourism there is rarely a question. But if you are entering one country from the other for purposes of working (business meetings) they tend to be much more vigilant to make sure you are not violating any rules on working, disguised as a tourist, that may exist.

    Before I retired when I was also flying to Canada several times per year for business meetings I was often questioned by Canadian immigration about who I was visiting, where I would be staying, where, how long I would be there, etc., but I was never denied entry. Sometimes this questioning took place in a secondary interview with a supervisor.

    One one ocassion when my Canadian boss who I had accompanied on a business trip to Canada, who was a green card permanent US resident attempted to enter the US with his Canadian girl friend (who he later married) she was questioned on the purpose of her visit very extensively by US immigration at the Toronto airport about the purpose of her visit, how she was going to pay her living expenses in the US, how long she was intenting to stay, etc. They finallay alllwed her to enter, but he had to get out of hearing range while she was being questioned. They made that very clear to him when he tried to help answer the questions they were asking her.

    This was 30 years ago. So this is not something new.

    But is is a fact, the Congress enacted legislation which obligates Immigration to “talk” to the IRS, which they never used to do. They serve to detect persons with US citizenship who are living abroad, whether entering with a US passport or a foreign passport which indicates that they were born in the US, unless they carry a Loss of Citizenship Certificate which substantiates that they no longer hold US citizenship and therefore are not subject to US income tax. I suspect that immigration officers will be more likely to be involved in tax inforcement as time goes on, given the current jihad against US persons living abroad who are not current with their US tax obligations

  6. @Roger, yes I suspect that US birthplace on another country’s passport is going to become more problematic for those wishing to enter the US. It’s commonplace to now hear border guards remind those of us who do, should be crossing with US passports. The noose is tightening, but I have never heard of an American in this circumstance being denied entry without one, have you?

  7. Thank God I was born in Spain!

    (Although once, I did confuse some Scotland Yard Special Branch plain clothes guys by returning from Northern Ireland to Gatwick:
    American Accent
    British Passport
    Birthplace Spain.)

  8. @bubblebustin, No I have noit yet heard of a person born in the US attempting to enter with the passport of a foreign country being turned back, but I am not in circumstances where I would be likely to know if it has ever happened. US law does requrie that US citizens who have dual nationaity enter and leave the US using a US passport. It could well be happening, but I just would not be aware of it. There is a member of the church I attend who is a US immigration officer, but our church has grown so much that it has been probably 5 or more years since I last saw him.

    Allowing such persons to enter and leave with foreign passports is technically a violation of US law, which if someone up the line in Immigration were to give the word could start being enforced rigidily. It is a little more difficult for Immigration to detect the US citizenship of persons born outside of the US to a US-citizen parent, but they are US citizens as well and consequently should also not be prermitted to enter or leave the US with a foreign passport either.

    Such persons are also more difficut to detect by the either the IRS or foreign banks in enforcing FATCA and other US tax laws as well.

  9. I was always questioned when entering the US on my US passport after flying over from Europe. “What do you do for a living?” “How long have you been away?”, etc. I always answered politely, but I never understood the point.

    I’m flying over at the end of May for a wedding. It will be my first time as a renunciant with an EU passport. My ESTA was approved without problems (and for the ESTA you now have to enter your country of birth), but I am still more than a little nervous. I’ll have my CLN and my cancelled US passport with me. If anyone has any advice as to how I can avoid being denied entry I would appreciate it.

  10. @Roger, and that’s one of many reasons why FATCA is utterly impractical to enforce-banks will have to screen ALL of their customers for parents who may be US citizens if they are to do a thorough job of vetting themselves of US persons. Otherwise, their actions solely target those who are “obviously” US citizens, those with US birthplaces. Although I wouldn’t want to wish problems for these children of Americans, I would object to the discrimination resulting from it.

  11. @Peg: I can (and will) travel to the USA under the VWP but the VWP does not guarantee me entry. They can still refuse me at the border; it happens all the time for people who they feel are “immigration risks”. Then again, they could hardly accuse me of being an immigration risk when I’ve just renounced my citizenship. My rational mind says I’ll be fine but the rest of me likes to worry. 🙂 I’ll let you all know how it goes.

  12. @rodgrod, at least you are not likely to be considered someone trying to illigally immigrate to the US. You will probaby have no problem. But carry your LCN with you, in case they ask to see it.

  13. Has anyone entered the US with either a consular receipt for renunciation or receipt and copy of their oath? I have a current Canadian passport.

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