'I feel criminalized': No explanation given for increase U.S. border bans handed to Canadians
VANCOUVER -- Justin Lajeunesse spent his summer working at Spirit Ridge resort in Osoyoos, B.C., but high rental rates during peak season prompted his decision to look for housing elsewhere.
Instead of living in B.C., he and his girlfriend opted to stay at her parents place, rent free, just across the border in Oroville, Wash.
"For eight weeks we were crossing almost daily and there was no problems at all," said Lajeunesse in an interview with CTV News.
- This article is Part 2 in a series. Part 1: 5-year border bans tripled from 2018 to 2019
- Read the documents obtained by CTV News
He said the commute was about half an hour door-to-door, with the border crossing.
"I went in-depth with many border guards, and we had great conversations honestly."
That is until Aug. 7, when Lajeunesse had just finished a 10-hour shift and was trying to drive home. When he got to the border, he was asked to come inside.
"I was questioned for roughly five hours – until approximately 4 in the morning," he said.
Lajeunesse was given an expedited removal, which is a five-year ban from entering the United States.
"I feel criminalized for a reason I don't really fully understand to this day."
Data obtained by CTV News through a freedom of information request shows a 300 per cent increase in the number of expedited removals being handed out from 2018 to 2019.
Lajeunesse was one of 65 people in August to be slapped with the ban. During that same month in 2018, there were just nine bans handed out at borders reporting to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Seattle field office.
"What happened about a year ago was the Seattle Field office, which administers the northern border from International Falls, Minn., to Point Roberts, Wash., had a change in management," said immigration lawyer Len Saunders. "And also moved actually up to Blaine from Seattle."
But no one at U.S. Customs and Border Protection will provide any explanation for why the numbers have changed so much.
In a statement to CTV News, officials acknowledged the increase in bans, but said there was no change in policy.
They went on to say the percentage change is "miniscule" when compared to the millions of people that travel across the border every year.
It was a similar sentiment from the Canadian Ministry of Public Safety.
"Every day over 400,000 people cross the border between our two countries, and almost all those crossings occur without incident," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The ministry went on to say, "While we won't speak to a specific case, our expectation – on both sides of the border – is that travellers be treated with respect, and in accordance with the rule of law. The United States has the sovereign jurisdiction to manage people crossing the border into their country, just as we have the same power for people entering into Canada. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has confirmed that there has not been a policy change and that their officers do not have quotas."
In Lajeunesse's case, it appeared the sticking point was that he wasn't paying rent at his parents' Cloverdale, B.C., home while he was working in Osoyoos.
"My parents aren't going to make me pay rent while I'm away for a few months," he said. "She determined that (not) paying rent at my parents' house was a factor stating that I'm not living in Canada anymore."
He said occasionally he would help out with groceries for his girlfriend's family, but the two of them were planning to save their money and go travelling.
Now he has to consider whether he's going to instead spend his savings try to fight the ban by applying for a waiver, at a cost of US$930.
To avoid any chance of getting a five-year ban, Saunders recommends people travel by air, rather than by car.
"If you're in Canada, on Canadian soil at an airport, the Americans cannot by law give out a five-year ban," he said. If flying isn't an option for you though, Saunders said, it's important to have documents proving ties and equities to Canada.
This includes "proof of residence, proof of employment, tax returns – anything showing that you live and work in Canada," said Saunders.