Life of Carmen, Politics & Activism

Busted at the border

I’m the one who got pulled off the bus today.

I had just spent a week in Vancouver visiting with my very sick friend Robin. I was going back to Seattle to catch my return flight to New Mexico, to finish out my time at Upaya.

What are you doing in Santa Fe?, the US Customs officer asked. “I’m staying at a Zen Buddhist Center,” I said, sure that would carry some kind of earnest credibility. “Doing what?,” he asked. “Volunteering,” I confidently replied. It transpired then that I do indeed get meals and a bed at Upaya, which might otherwise go to some deserving American. I tried to protest otherwise but was told that if I made the man angry, he’d bar me from the States for five years. And so under a gaudy pink sunrise I was escorted through No Man’s Land and placed on a Greyhound bus headed back through the Massey Tunnel to Vancouver. The plane flew away without me on it, and here I remain. This is how the Universe will pull the rug out from under your feet.

I’m feeling exhausted and shocked, but at some level ready to take whatever detour the path offers. I’ve already learned so much, so deeply, at Upaya—if this isn’t a chance to test it, I don’t know what would be. I am so grateful to be welcomed back to dear Terry’s place, and could couch-surf out the rest of the month if necessary.

But I am yearning to get back to Upaya, to finish out the Practice Period and final sweet sesshin of silence.

I am considering if it is worth another try. I could try to catch a plane out of Vancouver in a couple of days, miss only the first wee bit of Practice Period, and bring my stuff home on the train by mid-February. But I remember the feel of the custom man’s thick fingers as they rolled my own small cold fingers over the fingerprinting glass, and I am afraid that having been flagged, things could only get worse.

Can things get worse, if I make another try at crossing the border? Is that in itself a misdemeanor? Will that info (that i was refused) automatically “flag” me as soon as the passport is swiped? Does anybody know, can anyone offer legal or anecdotal support one way or the other? It is so murky and weird. This free world we live in.


8 Comments on “Busted at the border

  1. wow! that is shocking! i personally think if you fly, you will have a better chance. just don’t tell them you are volunteering. coz really, you are not. you are voluntarily there of course. but you are there studying. not sure if you’re allowed to do that either there. but i wish you the best in finding out all you need to know as quickly as you will.


  2. Oh shit! I rather suspect you have been flagged but you could try telling them that you’re just going to attend a retreat and not volunteering. Bummer Carmen. I wish I could help. Hugs, Janet

  3. I was just thinking about you at Upaya and wondering what and how you were doing, and so read your blog and found this!

    I know far more about this border crossing stuff than I wish I did. You have definitely been flagged. There’s no question about that.

    If you try to fly out of Vancouver into the US in the next couple days, I’d say there’s a 95% chance that you’ll end up barred from the US for five years. I wouldn’t try it.

    You would have the best chance by getting a ride across the border with someone in their private vehicle, but even that is risky.

    If spending time at Upaya is important to you in the long term (ie. the next five years), my suggestion would be to let it go for right now, as hard as that might be, and plan to return there in a few months.

    I’m very sorry this happened, Carmen. Good luck sorting out what comes next.

  4. Some paranoid immigration directive must have come down from on high in the last while. (Didn’t Harper just sign a borders agreement with Obama?) A friend of mine was turned back at the airport recently because of a 1960s-era drug arrest. He’s a senior, bird-watcher, and was not even going to the US, just passing through en route to a bird-watching gig in South America. He’s rather bitter about his lost trip.

    Good for you to wrestle so peacefully with such an absurd system. The Americans are really feeling the pressure in these days of collapse, and are reacting as stressed people usually do: protective and irrationally. I imagine many of us are going to be caught in this trap in days and years to come. Best to approach it, as you did, openly and with no expectations.

    I do suggest, as i did to my friend, that you report the situation to your MP, to let her/him know how our North American security perimeter plan is working on the ground.

  5. Hi Carmen, I have a similar story. All the above folks responses have good points. I unfortunately was flagged. The first time they were concerned I did not have enough “ties and equities” to Canada. Whatever the fuck that means.

    I have set my life up to not have those sorts of things. I like the lightness of being that comes from not having a fixed “career”, “employer”, “mortgage”. I am self employed legally, self sufficient, and love to travel.

    Yes, I practice Buddhism in Colorado. What I found, is the last time I had a “2nd interview”, and was denied, is that it was mainly because of the amount of time I had spent down there.

    Rule #1, remember that each individual border guard is judge, prosecutor, jury, executioner. And it seems they have been on a hiring spree for 20 somethings with limited life experience. Don’t expect them to have a clue. It sounds callus I know.

    Words like volunteer, retreat, buddhist, study, meditation will all raise flags.

    My last attempt, I was relaxed and staying calm. He did everything to try and ruffle my feathers, including accusing me of fraud and lying and “border shopping” (which I wasn’t). Opening my laptop and cell phone etc. 3 hours later, with background checks et al and him doing his best double speak to find any excuse to deny entry, the best he could come up with was to do a sworn statement and make me do a “voluntary withdrawal of application for entry”. Which means I could try to enter the next day if I wanted. I decided to give it some space. So I lost the money I’d already paid for flights and the retreat I was going on. And decided to stay in Canada for a while and contemplate what “ties and equities” means. His issue is that I did not have acceptable lease agreements, my documentation was not notarized (really?!?!), I had no car insurance, no property. I should note, that the first time I was denied entry, I did spend the next day coming up with all this documentation, and was allowed entry the following day. This time through, I decided not to fight it.

    Anyway, I am still undecided on whether I want to start making a paper trail of ties and equities. There is nothing nefariousness or illegal about the way I choose to live. I just choose to live as a citizen of this planet rather than a specific country, and with few “ties” to psychologically bind me. Hell I’m not even an activist of the sort that the establishment likes to prosecute.

    So on that note, I have had my least issues going across when I said I was just going shopping, or on vacation, or for a wedding of a friend. And having a return ticket (regardless of whether I “missed” the return flight). Avoid saying workshop, retreat, volunteering etc. It is not lying, it is just framing the truth in a way they will understand.

    Good luck,

  6. Good on kid, been there done that many times.
    But we won’t get into that.
    You will have renew that I90 after it expires on return trips to US
    Probably forever, and you can’t renew before it expires, and, when u renew, they if your a holiday/visitor/shopper, (don’t be anything else unless your rich and a registered conservative/republican) u will wait, u will in 80% of the renewals be humiliated with their questions. Keep it simple, don’t volunteer Information, it only makes it take longer.
    Have a contact # in states of someone who, if phoned says your staying there to go shopping and celebrate her birthday. Same backup for Canada, with straight job descrip; “house painter, secretary, legal secretary. ( not in entertainment biz)
    On returning to Canada, the Canuck border people don’t care about the i90 although if asked why u have one, just say it’s some ‘old education visits’ and no more. They won’t pursue more unless u do (don’t)
    It is not going to get any easier but the future i90’s will probably be for the max of 6 months and cost 6 bucks, and even the ‘cashier’ will make u wait awhile for no reason.
    So leave about 2-3 hoursfor this process.
    When u go to states with active good i90, it’s extremely fast getting in with simple answers for why do u have the i90 “for past education visits”
    They want to think you coming down to spend money, will want to know how much u have, ” oh I have just under a thousand dollars and my credit card(s)”
    They probably won’t ask to see it, especially if you seem like eager shopper.
    It’s the way it is, so…good luck

  7. all advice here is good advice, and consistent with my experience. mainly, the border is used as a class control mechanism — it’s an anti-hippy machine more than anything. but it’s not a particularly intelligent machine. it’s based on simple flags. so you just spin your story the right way before you cross, and you psyche yourself up before you cross for a couple hours (in a jedi way), and it actually becomes pretty easy. have your story fully plotted out. I remember for the Battle in Seattle we had this detailed story worked out in our whole car, and they ended up asking us the very details that we had planned out. it can actually be kind of fun. I’m all for transparency, but when it comes to the border, that transparency needs to be strategic. The more your story can be closer to your truth, the easier it is to defend and to come up with responses on the spot, and the easier it is to feel that kind of confidence and sureness which comes out in your vibe.

    Another trick is getting on their level, like how Obi-Wan did with the Storm Troopers on tatooine, ie. how they always showed the jedis using mind tricks, and a lot like how I got myself and 5 others into the sold-out Jamirioquai concert for free in Johannesburg. Talk in their tone, at their level of seriousness. Feign just the right amount of deference, balanced with the right amount of self-assuredness. Fit into their routine of checking people through. Have your passport ready and opened. Normalize their experience of you. Look middle to upper-middle class. Shed the tokens of alternative consciousness. It’s all quite easy actually and can be kind of fun.

  8. Carmen,

    I had a similar experience, but I wasn’t outright refused. I was at YVR and they made me wait in US Customs and Immigration for 3 hours while I missed my flight and my partner went on ahead. This was after I said that I was considering WWOOFing (volunteering) on a farm in Hawaii. They eventually let me go and I went through the next day without a hitch. I promised that I would not volunteer – I may have even signed something.

    I say try again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *