In May two summers ago, French citizen Cedella Roman, while on an extended visit to her mother in rural Canada, was jogging as she often jogged near the Peace Monument border marker. She had no ID with her and thought she was simply exercising on the unmarked beach as she had frequently done before.
Then she was apprehended by two US Border Patrol agents, as the Washington Post reported:
“[T]wo U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers approached her shortly after she accidentally left Canada. ‘An officer stopped me and started telling me I had crossed the border illegally,’ Roman told the [CBC] news site. ‘I told him I had not done it on purpose, and that I didn’t understand what was happening.’”
She had no papers with her but her mother, a Canadian citizen, lived a short jog from the site of her apprehension and vouched for her. Roman’s passport was at her mother’s house. Border Patrol and ICE detained her for two weeks.
“When asked why Roman was detained for two weeks, an ICE official indicated that Roman’s status as a French citizen, rather than a Canadian one, may have lengthened the time it took to process her case,” according to the Post.
“ ‘Once the U.S. Border Patrol transfers an individual to ICE custody for expedited removal to Canada, ICE must review the case and receive permission from the Canada Border Services Agency to complete the removal,’ an ICE official said in an email. ‘This can take several days, especially when the individual is a third-country national.’
“Neither Roman nor her mother, Christiane Ferne, could immediately be reached Saturday morning. Roman, however, recounted to CBC News that she was frightened after Border Patrol agents put her in ‘the caged vehicles’ to transport her to a detention center,” 140 miles away, in Tacoma, Washington.
Earlier in 2018, the Associated Press reported on wrong-turn detention at the U.S./Mexican border that had even greater potential to disrupt a young person’s life.
“Orr Yakobi, 22, is an Israeli citizen who is in the U.S. under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. The immigration program allows those who entered the U.S. as minors to stay in the U.S. with some restrictions, including traveling outside of the country. DACA recipients are also known as DREAMers,” the AP reported.
“Yakobi and his roommate, Ryan Hakim, were shopping at an outlet mall in San Ysidro Sunday when the pair got on southbound Interstate 5 instead of northbound Interstate 805.
“ ‘Once we got onto the ramp, we couldn’t turn around. We couldn’t pull over,’ Ryan Hakim said. ‘We were forced into Mexico.’ “
Yacobi was detained for five days, and eventually released back into the US, where he returned to his studies at the University of California at San Diego, only ten miles from the border.
More recently, a British family of seven was driving on the Canadian side of the border in British Columbia, in an isolated and unmarked border area. They say they swerved to avoid hitting an animal in the road and found themselves turning onto a small dirt road. Minutes later, they were surrounded by several police cars and Border Patrol vehicles and taken into custody. As UK citizens, they were not eligible for release back to Canada, according to ICE, but instead were deported to the UK after the family, including a three-month-old infant, were held for two weeks at a detention facility in Pennsylvania, where they had been sent – thousands of miles distant from their point of detention apprehension Washington State.
Each of these cases has its own complications and absurdities. ICE has raised doubts about the UK family of seven, noting that two people in the group had been denied entry visas to the US earlier, and that the car had been trailed by surveillance cameras before making its sudden turn toward the US.
The UK-citizen jogger was held up as an object lesson by ICE: always have your ID with you when in a border area.
And the young Israeli-citizen UCSD student complicates the pervasive view of DREAMers as children of the Mexican and Central-American working poor.
We can hear these stories and ask why common sense and simple discretion among border agents and administrators could not close the gap between the letter of administrative rules and basic decency. And one wonders how many stories like these unfold not at Canada among the tourist mini-vans and morning runs at the beach, but among migrants running for their lives toward refuge in America. How many times – how many thousands of times – have less telegenic, less “like us,” people without passports from close US allies had their lives altered because of wrong turns at the border, followed by punitive and unforgiving action by law enforcement?
The American legal system has always relied on officers of the law, prosecutors, judges and juries to place overwhelming evidence of innocent behavior above the letter of the law. In a climate that emphasizes imaginary invasions and fear of the other, valuing ”toughness” over decency, we have clearly made a wrong turn.