British Columbia

Uptick of Canadians hit with 5-year bans at U.S. borders called a 'troubling trend'

If you are thinking about driving across a U.S. border any time soon take note - immigration lawyers in British Columbia and Washington State are seeing an increase in travellers being issued five-year bans from U.S. border guards.

'It's very, very indiscriminate how they are doing this,' says U.S. immigration lawyer

"You don’t need to do anything wrong to have an expedited removal," said immigration lawyer Andrew Hayes. (Reuters)

If you are thinking about driving across a U.S. border any time soon take note — immigration lawyers in British Columbia and Washington State are seeing an increase in travellers being issued five-year bans from U.S. border guards.

The bans are the consequence of so-called "expedited removals" which are decided by an immigration officer and don't go before a judge, and are a "troubling trend" according to lawyer Len Saunders because of how arbitrary they can seem. 

"Until recently, I never would have expected people to get these expedited removals so randomly," said Saunders, who practises immigration law in Blaine, Wash. and has clients who have been banned.

"It's very, very indiscriminate how they are doing this." 

Canadians generally are allowed to stay for up to six months in the U.S. as a tourist but it's up to the traveller to prove they are just visiting and not planning to stay permanently. 

Saunders said he's seen more scrutiny by border guards recently over things like home ownership, a permanent job and money in the bank, which indicate ties to Canada and a reason to return.

"Any Canadian who doesn't have a full time job or are living with their parents and don't have their own residence, under these recent expedited removals that I've been seeing, they could be barred," he said. 

Flying into the U.S. instead of driving can be a different matter as some pre-clearance areas, like the one at Vancouver International Airport, aren't on U.S. soil and so travellers can't be given an expedited removal since they haven't crossed in yet.  

By law, the burden is on the traveler to prove to U.S. customs that they are entering on a temporary basis and not intending to immigrate there. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

'One a day'

Official numbers on how many Canadians have been issued bans isn't currently available but the U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed the uptick. 

"While I can acknowledge there has been a recent increase in the issuance of expedited removals, there has not been a policy change within CBP nor is there a quota," a spokesperson said in an email to CBC. 

Saunders, who has been practising immigration law for two decades, said he noticed the dramatic increase in the travel bans over the summer. 

"Until recently, it was very rare — maybe once every two or three years — that I would see a five-year bar [that seemed undeserved]," he said. 

"Now, I'm literally seeing one a day." 

Same rules, different application

Immigration lawyer Andrew Hayes, who works for a firm that has offices in B.C. and Washington, said the reason for the increase in bans isn't totally clear — but the likely cause is an overall desire by the administration of President Donald Trump to project a toughness around issues of immigration.

"The rules that apply now have always been the rules," he said. 

"[The change] is on how this is applied."

He urges travellers be as clear as possible about their plans at the border and bring all the necessary documents of proof.

"People who show up at the border that can't explain what their plan is tend to have a worse time of it," he said. 

"You have to be able to explain where you are going, what you are doing and when you are going to return."

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