Since the newly-minted Donald Trump Presidency, many stories have surfaced of Canadians complaining that they could not enter the United States. But an immigration lawyer who handles hundreds of cases of people who have trouble entering the US says he’s not seen anything out of the ordinary.
Len Saunders, who works for Immigration Law Firm in Blaine, Washington says, “Often when you see things in the media, there’s an important detail that is being left out,” when asked to comment to The Crossing Guide on recent stories in the media about Canadians being sent back at some border crossings, mostly at Quebec ports of entry.
“Look,” he says, “Canadians coming into the United States, just as Americans going into Canada, have no rights of entry. Border officials are given absolute discretion to deny entry.”
I explained to him that appearances of racial profiling are coming up in the Canadian Media regularly. He denies this has suddenly changed since President Trump has taken office.
So, if you are planning to enter the United States, you need to be ready for any question you are asked.
What if you are asked if you have ever consumed Cannabis, currently illegal Federally, but legal in many states in the United States?
“That’s none of their business, but if asked there are repercussions for answering yes, so you need to be aware of those repercussions,” says Saunders who cites two clients, one high-profile Canadian Cannabis advocate who was denied entry last year, and another who was travelling back and forth over the border while working at a Cannabis retail operation on a permanent resident visa and was subject to deportation proceedings as a result of his answering the question in a way that Border Officials said proved he is breaking federal laws regarding a controlled substance.
“I’m not encouraging people to lie to authorities, but certainly if you know that it might undermine your ability to enter, or worse, bar you from entering in the future, why would you tell a federal official that you have consumed a federally illegal substance?”
So, what happens if you are turned away?
- It is always a good idea to get clarity on what you need to do. Good questions to ask are: What’s the problem? What information is supporting your decision? (they don’t have to tell you, but they might).
- What do you have to do before I try to enter again?
- Are you sure the information you are using to make this judgment is correct?
- Can I speak with a supervisor to get clarity on why this decision has been made?
- Write everything you hear down on paper and try to make note of who is saying what?
- Do not argue, or get aggressive with border officials. Try to make your case calmly and assertively, but take the fight to the procedural level: that’s where you will get movement on your file. Arguing and yelling at officers will only make it more difficult later. Impeding with an investigation remains against federal law and being belligerent or aggressive towards an officer can be perceived as impeding an investigation.
Don’t try crossing if…
You are guilty of a felony or are in Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) for any reason unless you have a letter that gives you a waiver. You can also apply for a waiver, which is renewable on an annual basis, but sometimes having proof that you have paid your debt to society and that you are not seen as a threat can help get you through, though again, you are not guaranteed to cross at any time. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and again this goes both ways since Canadian authorities do not need to allow you to enter their country. For example, if you have a charge of drinking under the influence, Canadian Authorities frequently deny people who have this on their record from entering Canada, but the US does not restrict entry for Canadians who have such charges on their records.
If the Trump executive order passes? Contact officials at the port of entry where you intend to cross and ask them directly what you need to do to be able to enter the US. You may not like what you hear, but ask anyway and pursue avenues whereby you can enter. If it is a matter of business, an immigration lawyer can sometimes find ways to help you get a waiver to enter.
If you get sent back?
Do NOT try to enter again on the same day at another port of entry. In fact, if a port of entry sends you back, return to that same port of entry to attempt to cross again on another date. It doesn’t hurt to speak to a Director of the Port to ensure you have clarity on what you need to be reassessed for entry.
“Often, if someone is being turned back repeatedly, it’s because they feel that the person that is trying to enter as a visitor, is actually crossing to stay longer than is allowable under the law. If this happens, you need to provide something called ties and equities to Canada. This includes a job (pay stubs), permanent residence proof (a lease, mortgage, utility bills in your name, receipts of major transactions over the last six months or less). Basically, anything that proves that you are coming back to Canada regularly and not trying to illegally immigrate to the United States.”
And this goes without saying, consider hiring a US-based immigration lawyer to help pursue avenues to be able to enter.
What has changed since Donald Trump became President?
“You know what I see more of these days?” says Saunders. “I see business relocating to the Pacific Northwest who are doing business with US clients and may soon have to be able to put “made in the US” on their products. That’s the big shift I see with a Donald Trump presidency.”