The world continues to change and evolve and, unfortunately, sometimes those changes are not always for the better. Things in the geopolitical landscape have undergone a noticeable shift in the last few years. One of these changes has been felt on a personal level by Canadians, and it is the border between our nation and the United States. What was once known as the longest, friendliest and undefended border in the world is now considerably less friendly. And it means that in some cases, people can be denied entry to the USA from Canada.
There are many reasons for this, but those reasons still result in one easily understood consequence. It’s no longer an easy, carefree experience to enter the United States as it once was 20 or even 10 years ago.
The Immigrant Problem
While Canada continues to be a country that is founded on drawing strength through the diversity, especially regarding the immigrants who come here, the United States has changed its mind. This difference is particularly true concerning illegal immigrants or refugees seeking asylum. Because of government organizations like the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), more stringent policies are being reinforced. What once might have been casual crossings into the United States are much more intensive, unfriendly and even riddled with suspicion at both borders and Canadian international airports with flights to the USA.
Sometimes people can even be detained by CBP or ICE groups for merely jogging into the wrong area. Just such a thing happened on the evening of May 21st in White Rock, British Columbia. In this case, Cedella Roman wasn’t denied entry to the USA from Canada she was detained. The 19-year-old tourist, from France, decided to take a jog on an empty stretch of beach with a dirt path that just so happened to run across the Canadian-US border. It was unmarked, unattended, and looked like any other wild, untamed part of the Pacific Northwest.
Unfortunately for Ms. Roman, her lapse into the American border while jogging resulted in her being stopped by ICE, and, because she had no identification on her person, she was held in an ICE detention centre for two weeks before finally being released. ICE came down especially hard on her because she was not Canadian, and her accent identified her as foreign from the North American continent, thus increasing their suspicion that she might be an illegal immigrant trying to sneak undetected into the USA.
But it’s not just foreigners that run into trouble being denied entry to the USA from Canada. Even Canadians not trying to cross the border are now being held in doubt.
Fishing May Be Smuggling
Another incident, this time with the U.S. CBP, occurred on June 24th and 25th, but this time “within” Canada itself. This occurrence took place on the other side of the country, out on the Atlantic Ocean. Within the Machias Seal Island and North Rock area, on the Gulf of Maine, two Canadian fishing boats were approached at two separate times by CBP staff. In both cases, the fishing boats were not denied entry to the USA from Canada, because they weren’t even attempting to cross the border, they were fishing on the Canadian side of the ocean, but in proximity to the border.
In these most recent instances, the CBP felt compelled to exercise their authority and cross the border into Canadian waters because they felt the presence of boats near the border was suspicious. The CBP officials told the crews, who are part of the Grand Manan’s Fishermen’s Association that they were being stopped on suspicion of harbouring illegal immigrants on their ship, with the possibility of attempting to smuggle them across the border into the USA.
While the press has only confirmed those two incidents, other members of the association claim that the CBP has stopped as many as 10 ships within a two-week period on those same grounds. Even when they remained on their side of national waters, with no intention to cross, they were stopped to be told that illegal immigrants, if present, would be denied entry to the USA from Canada, even if the CBP had to cross the border themselves to make confirmation.
So what does this mean for actual Canadians who are crossing the border for reasons both recreational, professional, and sometimes even residential?
The Border Is No Longer as Friendly
One consequence of the tension arising with illegal immigrants is the additional concern for criminals. The increased scrutiny at the border is fueled in part by a new focus on preventing criminal elements from entering the USA, and this extends to Canadians as well. However, in the case of Canadians, it is far easier to determine whether any criminal tendencies exist, at least in the past, thanks to the CBP and ICE’s authorization to conduct background checks. If a Canadian is found to have a criminal record, he or she is denied entry to the USA from Canada.
In the past, when tensions between the USA and Canada didn’t exist, the discretion of CBP staff at the border or Canadian airports was much more relaxed. A Canadian could merely present a passport at the airport, and, in years past, only a driver’s license at the border, and that was often enough to gain entry into the USA.
Today, things have changed a lot. What were once formalities that were often waived, such as intensive questioning about the purpose of a visit, are now much more frequently and strictly enforced. And background checks for a criminal record are now occurring much more often. This procedure is bad news for Canadians with criminal records who in years past may have regularly crossed the border without issue. They are now being denied entry to the USA from Canada based on things they did years ago.
Age Is Irrelevant
One of the most well-known examples of this “clamp down” on being denied entry to the USA from Canada occurred on January 22nd, 2017 with a retired Hamilton man named Ken Drake. After decades of travelling back and forth between Canada and Florida, where he owned a winter retirement home, he was forced to sell his home because of a crime committed 47 years earlier. When he was 17 years old and moving out of an apartment, he took the floral print curtains from the residence. He was later charged and convicted with theft, though he received a suspended sentence.
However, after decades with no legal issues at all, his regular routine of driving to Detroit and taking the plane to his waterfront retirement home in Florida was abruptly ended. The CBP finally ran a background check against him, saw the conviction, and he was permanently denied entry to the USA from Canada because of stolen curtains and a suspended sentence. The facts that the crime was minor, took place 47 years prior, and was not followed by any other convictions were irrelevant. Ken Drake could no longer enter the United States and was forced to sell his retirement home as a result.
The Moral Turpitude Condition
The CBP is legally empowered to deny entry to the USA for any Canadian that is convicted of a crime that falls under their moral turpitude category. This term will not affect people with traffic violations, but people with a criminal conviction are under particular scrutiny. Some types of moral turpitude crimes include:
- Drug trafficking or smuggling
- Money laundering
But it’s important to note that for Canadians, just having these convictions on a criminal record is not an absolute guarantee of being denied entry to the USA from Canada. The CBP will only bar entry if they decide to conduct a background check and a conviction appears. For many years, before the security tightened up, the CBP didn’t bother at all to perform such tests, which is why Canadians like Ken Drake were able to travel freely for decades without incident.
Today, however, that’s changed. The increasing concerns with security, illegal immigration, and criminal activity in the USA have stepped up the rate of background checks. And once a conviction has been flagged, that conviction now transfers from the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database to the American one as well.
For Canadians with no criminal record, none of this matters. Even if a suspicious CBP officer decides to run a background check, the results will come up empty, and that Canadian will not be denied entry to the USA from Canada.
For Canadians that do have a criminal record, but have not yet been flagged by background check conducted by the CBP, one option to ensure this never happens is to get a record suspension, previously known as a pardon. Record suspensions require a person with a criminal conviction to have served time, paid fines, and been free of additional convictions for a minimum amount of time. If these, among other necessary qualifications, are met, the record suspension then “seals” the sentence so that normal background checks will no longer detect its presence.
But what if you’ve already tried to cross the border recently and have had your criminal conviction flagged? You still have options.
Denied Entry to The USA from Canada: The Waiver
The sad truth of the matter is, even with a record suspension already in effect, if the CBP has already flagged a person as having a conviction, that flag remains in the U.S. National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, regardless of what happens in the CPIC database. In other words, you will still be denied entry into the USA from Canada, even with a record suspension, if the CBP has already found you out. When you attempt to cross again, their background check will first consult the NCIC records, not the CPIC database so that they won’t recognize a record suspension.
In cases where you may not be able to wait for the length of time required for a record suspension, or you’ve already been flagged and are in CBP records, you’ll need an entry waiver. This special document involves a bit of cross-agency collaboration between Canadian law enforcement and American immigration.
Entry waivers must be presented when Canadians with criminal records are trying to enter the United States. However, entry waivers are also required for people who may not have criminal records in Canada. If you have illegally entered into the U.S. before, have or unlawfully overstayed during a visit to the U.S., or have been previously deported, you will be denied entry to the USA from Canada, even without a criminal conviction.
Entry waivers, similar to record suspensions, need to have specific criteria met before they can be issued. They are also complicated by the need for the Department of Homeland Security to work in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Together they ensure that all proper documentation is legal and recognized by both countries. It may take some time, but, provided you are not committing additional crimes or other violations, you can eventually qualify for an entry waiver.
However, it is important to note that unlike a record suspension, which is a permanent sealing of a criminal conviction, an entry waiver has an “expiration date” attached to it. Waivers are issued for one year, two years, or five years, but can be renewed. It is strongly advised that if you need to travel into the USA on a regular basis, you start the renewal of your entry waiver at least six months before the waiver is due to expire.
Don’t Take Chances
Between the trade war now occurring between the USA and Canada, Mexico, The European Union and China, and the increase in border security, Canadians are now at much higher risk of being denied entry to the USA. If you have a criminal record and have so far been lucky in not having a background check conducted, you are taking a substantial risk in assuming that your luck will continue to hold. If you need help with a record suspension or U.S. entry waiver, talk to us at Pardons Canada. We can help ensure a successful application.