Wednesday January 06, 2016

Montreal woman without papers detained in Texas

Lise Ragbir was on vacation with her family when she was pulled over and detained outside Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Lise Ragbir was on vacation with her family when she was pulled over and detained outside Big Bend National Park in Texas. (Michael Knox)

Listen 8:04

Lise Ragbir, a Montrealer who lives as a permanent resident in the U.S, was on a family road trip in November to Big Bend National ​Park near Mexico when border patrol agents approached and detained her.

When the family was pulled over they were asked to provide their citizenship documents. But Ragbir had left her papers at home because she was not planning on crossing any borders. She told the agents she is Canadian with a permanent resident permit, often referred to as a "green card."

map2

A map showing Big Bend National Park in relation to the U.S./Mexican border (CBC)

'I've never been locked up. When they closed the door in my face, I was looking at a door without a doorknob and it was kind of a nightmarish thing' - Lise Ragbir

"We sat in the car while they came and went, " Ragbir tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "They told me they could not verify my status ... they had me come to the station ... t​hey asked me how I was going to prove to them that I could stay in this country and I was a legal resident."

car

Lise Ragbir's family and their car outside Big Bend National Park (Michael Knox)

Ragbir phoned a friend with a key to her Austin house and asked them to send the agents a copy of her green card. In the meantime, the agents deemed her a security risk and put her in a detention cell​.

"I asked them if I could wait in an office area and they said​,​ ​no,​ ​this was a question of security... ​and by asked, I mean begged  ...  I've never been locked up. When they closed the door in my face, I was looking at a door without a doorknob and it was kind of a nightmarish thing."

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration website, permanent residents are required to carry a green card at all times if they are over 18 years of age.

After almost five hours, the agents released Ragbir and she returned to her family. "I was happy to be back in the car," she says through tears. "I was happy to be able to hold my daughter. She asked me why I was upset and I told her it was because I wasn't sure I was going to be able to see her tonight​."

Ragbir says she doesn't know if she was singled out because she's a black woman. However, she's heard from friends and others on social media who have also been stopped at the same station. 

"These are white friends, I should mention. A Canadian friend says she was also asked to present her permanent resident card. She was told she always had to carry it with her. She said she 'didn't know that.' And they said, 'now you know. Be on your way.'"

​It has been a few weeks since the event and Ragbir has yet to file a formal complaint.

"I'm not at that point yet. ​I​ haven't let myself know where this process ends. For me, for now, it ends with the knowledge that I have to have the right ID on me at all times."