Border Hijinks

There are many strange things that happen at international borders. It seems like many politicians and bureaucrats make up rules for some purpose known only to themselves. Let me fill you in on some of those that happen at the US-Canada border.

For many years a white woman who lived in eastern Canada was hassled every time she crossed the line into the US. The reason was that a black man with the same date of birth and a similar name had done something in the US to attract police attention. Apparently it took her over half an hour every time to convince the border guards that she was not the bad guy. How long does it take you to tell the difference between a white woman and a black man?

The Canadian border guards will usually refuse entry to anyone who has been convicted of impaired driving. This created a problem once when a man who was in charge of the FBI for a couple of states came to Canada, with an invitation from the prime minister’s office, and was refused entry because of an impaired driving conviction. Going the other direction, a Canadian with a conviction for shoplifting was refused entry to the US.

In the US the right to bear arms is guaranteed under the constitution. The same does not apply in Canada. Many US citizens drive into Canada without realizing that it is illegal to transport guns across the border. Please be careful about this. Check the glove box of your car before entering Canada.

My friend George had several problems at the border. He was a citizen of India. He had taken part of his education, including his CPA and a Master’s degree in taxation, in the US. I could not imagine how a CPA could make such a stupid mistake but he let his visa lapse. He drove into Ontario on a vacation and tried to re-enter the US. He was told that since he had overstayed his visa he would not be allowed to re-enter the US for a set period, five years I think.

For some reason that was not clear to me he was really upset that it was a female officer who gave him this message. I do not believe that a male officer would have treated him any differently. I am not sure how he got a Canadian work permit but apparently he did not have a problem doing that. Eventually he applied for and received a waiver on the bar, which cut his exile time from about 5 years to about 3. He also applied for and received Canadian citizenship.

There is a type of visa that is usually referred to as a TN. It applies to the NAFTA countries. It allows entry for anyone who has a job offer in one of about 120 different occupations, generally those that require a bachelor’s degree. George got one as a Canadian citizen. On the north border these are given out at the border.

A little later he was working in California as a CPA. His visa was near expiry so he went across the border to Tijuana and attempted to return and get another TN visa. He was not allowed to do so. I do not know where he should have gone, possibly Mexico City. After a day or two he got a permit allowing him to go back into California, pick up his gear, and drive north to Vancouver. He arrived one evening and we had a nice chat. The next day he went to the border and asked for a TN visa. They gave it to him with no problem and he went back to his job in California.

A couple of times I prepared US and Canadian income tax forms for a Canadian man who was working in California as a Chief Operating Officer of a software company. Sometime after this job ended and he had returned to Canada he tried to enter the US using his Canadian passport. He was told that this was incorrect, since he had a green card and was supposed to present it. They stated that this was entering the US under false pretenses. They kept him at the border while his wife went back to their home in Vancouver to pick up his green card. They processed it and let him go. He was told that if she had not brought his green card he would have gone to jail.

Another Canadian man was not so lucky. He was a client of the company I was preparing income taxes for but I never met him. He went across the border to the US on a Sunday morning. At the border he told them that he and his wife were going shopping in Bellingham, a small town just over the border. Then he drove to the Bellingham airport. The border people had someone on duty at the airport and they closed in on him because this did not match what he had told them at the border. They searched him and discovered that he had scheduled a job interview in California. They were going to take him to jail in Seattle but my employer intervened and persuaded them to send him back to Canada. I am not sure if he got a 5-year or a 10-year bar from entering the US but he definitely could not take the job that he wanted to interview for.

Several years ago they ran a bus every week. It started at Seattle and went all the way to the Mexican border. At every stop along the way they picked up illegals from Mexico and Central America. At the border they told them all not to come back. We all thought that it was hilarious that sometimes some of the passengers were back in Seattle before the bus came back the next week.

Two different people made the same totally idiotic mistake. One had moved from the Deep South, say Alabama, to Canada many years before. He began driving into the US frequently. He saw that some people went right across, bypassing the lines of cars that were waiting at the border. About 2006 he inquired and was told that if he wanted to join them he could fill in a form to get approved. He filled it in and sent it off. Sometime later he got a message telling him to come to the US Customs office to pick up his certificate. He arrived and was told that he was on his way to a murder trial in Alabama. He was to be the defendant.

A few years later another man made virtually the same mistake. There are charter airlines that take Canadians to Mexican beach resorts. They usually go once a week. It is a direct flight. One man was on this and missed his return flight. He decided to take another flight, and selected one that changed planes in the US. As he went through Immigration he was informed that his travel plans had to be changed because the state of Washington was going to put him on trial for murder.

I cannot imagine what these guys thought they were doing. In both cases the charge was about 28 years old but no law enforcement agency writes off a murder.

I am passing them on to you because I thought that some of you might be interested. I do not want you to make the same mistakes.

As stated in another post here, I prepare US and Canadian income tax forms and would appreciate the chance to do yours this year.