5-year border bans tripled in the last year, U.S. customs data shows
VANCOUVER -- When Trevor Yamamoto was stopped at a U.S.-B.C. border crossing and sent for a secondary inspection, he had no idea what would happen next.
He was on his way to New Mexico to visit his girlfriend and help her family when he attempted to pass through the Sumas-Huntingdon crossing.
The Canadian citizen packed his van full of his late mother's belongings, and was going to offer them up to his girlfriend's family. Whatever they didn't need, he would donate, he told CTV News.
"My girlfriend's mother, she suffers from Alzheimer's, and they're having a bit of a hard time," Yamamoto said.
But he never made it past the border.
"They inspected my car, went through everything in my car," he said.
"They interrogated me for five or six hours."
He was given an expedited removal – a five-year ban from entering the United States that includes the accusation that the recipient tried to immigrate without the right documentation.
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But Yamamoto says he was only going to be there for a couple months. He has a full time job in B.C. as a truck driver, and pays rent for an apartment in Burnaby.
"They just saw all the housewares and assumed that I was packing up shop and moving down there," he said.
Hundreds of five-year bans
It turns out Yamamoto was one of hundreds of people to get a five-year ban in 2019.
Through a freedom of information request, CTV News obtained data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection that shows how many expedited removals were handed out during each of the last five years.
From 2018 to 2019 the number of five-year bans tripled, from 91 to 309, for borders in B.C. and elsewhere that report to the U.S. CBP's Seattle field office.
"A 300 per cent increase from one year to another is unbelievable," immigration lawyer Len Saunders said. "It seems to be getting worse."
CTV News reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for comment, but officials declined the opportunity for an interview.
A spokesperson emailed a statement which said, in part, "While there has been a recent increase in the issuance of expedited removals in the Seattle Field Office area of operations, there has not been a policy change within CBP. The percentage of expedited removals is minuscule when compared to the overall number of travellers allowed to enter the U.S. In accordance with law, CBP officers issue expedited removals to individuals who are inadmissible to the U.S. and fall within the parameters for expedited removal as established by the Immigration and Nationality Act."
The CBP's field office in Seattle provided the total number of crossings for their borders, which include all B.C. crossings.
In 2018, there were 19,307,941 crossings, the data suggests. Last year, that number dropped to 18,814,991.
"The Americans have denied there's been a policy change. I beg to differ," said Saunders. "About a year ago the Seattle field office, which administers the northern border from International Falls, Minn. to Point Roberts, Wash. had a change in management. And also moved actually up to Blaine from Seattle."
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Sanders told CTV News he's been getting calls from colleagues in Toronto, near a crossing popular with those heading to Buffalo, who say they "are not seeing the influx" B.C. lawyers are.
According to the data obtained by CTV, other U.S. field offices dealing with northern land borders have also seen spikes.
In Boston, the number of removals went from 36 in 2018 to 67 in 2019. In Detroit, removals increased from 52 to 65 those same years. But in Buffalo, those numbers actually decreased, from 118 in 2018 to 108 in 2019.
Yamamoto told CTV News he believes the penalty is too severe for him not having the documents at the time.
"It's just things I didn't know I needed," he said, adding he could have collected the paperwork and gone back to the border if he'd just been turned away, but not banned.
Yamamoto plans to file a waiver with the hopes someone else will review his case, and overturn the ban.
This is Part 1 in a two-part series. Read the second segment here, and watch more on CTV News at Six on Thursday.