The plan was simple. Montrealer Sasha Dyck and some friends would drive to Washington to join the Women's March. But when the six Canadians and two French nationals reached the border at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, in Quebec, they ran into trouble.
U.S. border agents asked what they planned to do in the United States. “We said we were going to the Women’s March on Saturday and they said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to pull over,’ ” Dyck told the Guardian. Agents then searched their car and examined their cellphones, according to Dyck. Each member of the group was fingerprinted and had their pictures taken.
Finally, after two hours, the agents told Dyck and his friends to turn around. “They said, ‘You’re headed home today,’ ” Dyck told the Guardian. Officials warned that they’d be arrested if they tried to cross at a different spot this weekend, Dyck said. “And that was it, they didn’t give a lot of justification.”
The two French citizens were told that they’d now need a visa if they wanted to enter the United States. French and British citizens can enter the United States without a visa if they apply for clearance through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. But if your ESTA application is denied, or if you’re turned away at the border, you’re required to have a visa to enter the country in the future.
Dyck says he has traveled to the United States before without incident. In 2009, he drove to D.C. for Barack Obama’s inauguration. When he crossed into New York, Dyck said, the agent gave him a high-five.
Other travelers reported similar struggles this weekend.
British national Joe Kroese and a Canadian were turned away from the same border crossing on Thursday as they traveled with two American friends.
Kroese, 23, was asked by an American border agent why he was traveling to the United States. He told guards that his friends planned to attend the Women’s March, though they hadn’t worked out all their plans yet. At that point, Kroese and the Canadian were fingerprinted, photographed and denied entry. Agents allegedly told them it was because they wanted to attend a “potentially violent rally,” according to Kroese.
Although the two Americans were granted entry, agents told Kroese, who is studying at McGill University, that he’ll now need a visa to travel across the border. The Canadian was told not to try to cross into the United States again for a couple of months.
Montreal resident Joseph Decunha said he was also turned away on Thursday. A border agent asked for his political views, Decunha told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.” The first thing he asked us point blank is, ‘Are you anti- or pro-Trump?’ ” he said.
He was then fingerprinted and photographed. “They told me I was being denied entry for administrative reasons. According to the agent, my traveling to the United States for the purpose of protesting didn’t constitute a valid reason to cross,” Decunha said. The guards also asked why he disapproved of Trump, whether he’d ever visited the Middle East, and whether Dechunha believed in violence.
“I’ve never been denied entry at any border crossing before. I have no criminal record. I’ve never done anything illegal in Canada or in any other country,” Decunha said. “It felt like, if we had been pro-Trump, we would have absolutely been allowed entry.”
In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that they don’t discuss individual cases. But they said border officers have the discretion to deny entry for a variety of reasons, including improper travel documents, interest in participating in prohibited activities, smuggling of contraband or prohibited goods and a history of criminal activity or immigration.
“We recognize that there is an important balance to strike between securing our borders while facilitating the high volume of legitimate trade and travel that crosses our borders every day, and we strive to achieve that balance and show the world that the United States is a welcoming nation,” spokesperson Carlos A. Diaz wrote.
About a million people cross into the United States from 330 land, air and sea ports around the country each day. On average, just 600 people — less than 1 percent — are denied access daily, according to Customs and Border Protection, for “a varied list of reasons that include prohibited activities or intent as well as national security concerns.”