Blocked at U.S. border, expatriate lives out of his car in South Surrey

Software developer denied access to belongings, job and fiancée in the U.S.

George wants to go home.

Home to his fiancée and her 14-year-old son in Blaine, Wash.; and home to all his possessions, currently packed and awaiting transfer to Ohio, where he and his new family were planning to move last month to start a new life.

Instead, for the better part of three weeks, home for the 45-year-old Ontario native –  who asked to be identified only by his first name – has been the backseat of his Acura TL, which he’s been living in with his dog since being denied re-entry into the United States on April 16, a day after the Boston Marathon bombings.

In the meantime, George – who was contracted to start a new position as a software developer in Columbus April 22, after working similar, well-paying past jobs with companies from Ontario to Kentucky – has seen his available cash evaporate to the point that he’s wondering how long he will even be able to keep his vehicle.

“I’ve had to apply for social assistance – for welfare – for the first time in my entire life,” he told Peace Arch News last week, adding that, if approved, the $610 monthly stipend he would receive would barely cover the payments on his car, which he purchased four months ago.

“I can’t go see my family… and I can’t get through the border anyway,” he said. “And twice she has come through the border to visit me here, but they know who she is and each time she is harassed and has her car searched.

“It’s basically ruined our lives.”

The problem started with missing paperwork.

George – who has four children in Ontario with his ex-wife – had spent a few weeks in Washington, visiting his new fiancée and her disabled son. He had been applying for jobs in the U.S. and had been hired on a six-month contract by a company in Ohio; through the NAFTA agreement, computer systems analysts are eligible for TN visas, which George had acquired.

All that was left to do, he explained, was drive back into Canada with his paperwork – detailing his new position, among other things – and then turn around and return to the U.S.

When he arrived in Canada April 15, he said, he was told by border officials that his paperwork was missing a few details, and once he had the problem fixed, he could come back.

With just a few articles of clothing and his computer, he stayed in Canada for the day, got his visa papers adjusted, and returned to the border to head home. It was then that he was thoroughly questioned, fingerprinted and refused entry into the U.S.

“The (border official) pulled me into the office and told me they were not approving my TN visa, and that he didn’t really think I was a computer-systems analyst,” George explained. “He’d looked at my resumé and nowhere was that job title listed – it was always something similar, like application developer or software developer. But it’s all the same thing.”

Dismayed, George abandoned his job prospect and returned to customs to gain entry for a week.

“I just wanted to get my belongings and move back to Ontario,” he explained. “But the border official got really mad – just livid. He said, if I ever tried to come back to the United States I’d be banned.”

George said he was told that if he wants to return to the U.S. to work there temporarily, he must show “ties and equity to Canada,” to prove he’s not planning to stay. Such ties, he was told, include months’ worth of Canadian mortgage statements and utility bills.

“I don’t have that – but I have four kids in Ontario. How is that not a big enough tie?” he said.

“I’ve never had a record, never had any problems. I’ve worked on a TN visa before in Kentucky, so I just don’t understand it. It just seems really unjust, just crazy.”

George figures the Boston bombings – and subsequent heightened border security – played a role in his being denied entry.

However, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the April 15 terror attack would not have had that impact.

“People who have been denied entry are generally given information on what they need to obtain to be eligible for admission to the U.S.,” said Michael Milne, adding he could not comment on any specific case, citing privacy laws.

“Many obtain the services of an immigration lawyer to assist them in the process.”

But George said he cannot afford to hire a lawyer to help him.

Making matters worse is that George has limited help available from family. His former sister-in-law has tried to help where she can, he says, but he has no blood relatives in North America, aside from his children in Ontario. His 73-year-old father lives in Greece, and last year was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

“I was hoping that starting the contract in Columbus would allow me the funds to visit him with my fiancée while he is still alive,” George said. “That seems like a very remote possibility at this point. He’s not sleeping now, knowing his son is homeless.”

George’s plan now, he said, is to find employment and eventually save enough money to either move back to Ontario, or to hire a lawyer and try again to move to the U.S. to be with his fiancée.

In the meantime, he will live in his car with six-year-old toy poodle, Cocoa – though he admits the situation gets tougher by the day.

“I’ve been searching for work since I arrived,” he said. “It’s tough to find a job when you don’t have a permanent address.”

In addition to applying for social assistance, he also checked out homeless shelters but none that allowed pets or provided parking.

“One gentleman… told me I was safer living in my car,” he said.

George also made contact with local MP Russ Hiebert’s office, which directed him to outreach and social-assistance programs.

“Every now and then, we do run into situations like this with people trying to cross the border,” Hiebert told PAN. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any influence over the decisions of the U.S. (border officials), but if there are other ways we’re able to help, we’ll certainly look to do so.”

George said his situation has caused stress to his fiancée and her son in Blaine, who don’t understand why he can’t come home.

“He’s very angry at the U.S. border officials for taking his dad away, and because he sees how unhappy his mother is as a result,” George said. “Our lives have been completely wrecked.”