The political climate surrounding United States immigration is quite turbulent. If you are Canadian, the drama of immigration in the United States may not only interest you intellectually, but you may wonder why or how it actually impacts your daily life.
Recent stories about Foreign nationals and Canadians’ run-ins with United States border patrol agents are indications that everyone, including Canadians should be careful when traveling near the U.S. border, and should have proper paperwork with them at all times.
Accidental Border Crossings and Checkpoints
Just this past May, a woman was arrested by United States immigration officials for accidentally crossing into the United States while she was running on the beach. She was about half of a mile from the border and did not have any form of identification on her. She did not realize she had even crossed the border.
She was arrested on the spot, and despite telling officials that she did not mean to cross the border, she was taken to a detention center 160 kilometres away. She would spend the next two weeks there. Only after her mother presented travel documentation to both United States and Canadian immigration officials was she permitted to go home.
U.S. Border patrol takes a hard line towards people who cross their borders, even if they are Canadian citizens who do so by accident. In response to this incident, officials simply said that it is an individual’s responsibility to make sure they are not crossing a border, even accidentally.
Although not as serious as being detained for two weeks, in Maine, officials detained drivers at roadside checkpoints, interrogating them about their birthplaces. Border Patrol agents stopped drivers on a crowded interstate highway and searched cars, some with dogs. Many drivers were not allowed to move on until they had disclosed their citizenship.
During one stop, which was recorded by journalists, the border agent even told someone that they could not proceed unless they disclosed their citizenship.
Be Aware of American Laws
Checkpoints on roadways have been used in the past, but rarely with the frequency that they are being used today by the United States at or near the Canadian border. Checkpoints where proof of citizenship is requested also are starting to pop up in American bus stops and train stations.
Canadians should not think that American border patrol’s authority ends at the border, either. Under American law, border patrol agents have authority within 160kilomoetres of the border. So, for example, Canadians that are almost anywhere in the U.S. state of Maine, are subject to border control searches because the entire state lies within the given perimeter of the border patrol’s authority.
Even Canadians traveling legally and with paperwork over the U.S. border should be aware that U.S. customs agents are permitted to search and seize illegal narcotics and related drug paraphernalia.
Avoiding Profiling by Customs Agents
At the Maine border patrol checkpoint where officers were detaining people and asking for citizenship, one officer told a journalist that they look for “how” people answer their questions, and whether people “have an accent.”
Although US customs policy instructs their agents not to make subjective judgments or judgments based on the language that someone speaks, agents have come under criticism for arbitrarily stopping some people and not others. Just last month, border patrol agents in Montana detailed and questioned people who were speaking in Spanish, which was “very unheard of up here” according to what the agent said on video.
Have Paperwork Handy at All Times
Canadians traveling or entering the United States should present a passport if they are traveling by air. Those travelling by land and sea can visit the United States for up to six months, as long as they have a Canadian passport, an enhanced driver’s license ID, NEXUS or similar enrollment cards. Those coming to the United States as a fiancée or as family must have a visa to enter.
United States immigration officials will often review someone’s records to make sure they are not making the United States a “de facto” home, by traveling to the United States more often than what is needed. Canadians who do travel to the United States often, and who are concerned that it may look like they plan to make the U.S. their permanent residence or that they are spending more time in the U.S. than in Canada, should be ready to show proof of residency, employment letters, utility bills, and any other documentation to show that the traveler still maintains a home and ties to Canada.
As a general rule, anybody who routinely drives or travels near the US-Canada border should always have documentation proving citizenship with them. While that may not avoid detainment if a border is illegally crossed, it can certainly hasten the time it takes to be checked out and released by United States border patrol agents.
If you have a question about Canadian immigration law, contact the Preszler Law Firm for help or for answers to your immigration questions.