I have never had trouble crossing the border before. I was under the naive impression that with a wave of the Canadian passport, we would be ushered through. No problem. As one of the border guards bluntly put, “Just because you’re Canadian citizens, doesn’t mean we are going to let you into the country. ” Point duly noted.
We spent the first weekend in Toronto, visiting my aunt and cousin.
That weekend we organized ourselves, purchasing travel insurance and registering with the Canadian government as to our whereabouts over the next few month.
Sunday January 22nd we were set to get over the Canada-USA border leaving Windsor. The plan was to visit and stay with my friend, Paul, in Detroit that night. We didn’t get to visit with Paul that night. We didn’t even get a glimpse of Detroit that night.
Rewind to the morning. Chris had set up three meetings with lawn care business owners to jump start our trip. Go big or go home. The border crossing was possibly the farthest thing from our minds. We hugged and waved goodbye to my family headed to our first meeting of the day.
The day was a blur. My day-to-day job is social by nature, but the amount of new information and insight into the lives of three very different business owners in and near Toronto was overwhelming. Thank goodness for video! It was an exhausting day but 100% worthwhile. From business strategies to insight into their personal lives, we (at least I did, from a non-business background) learned a lot about what it takes to run and own a successful business.
Our conversations with business owners took up the majority of the day. We were excited, intrigued, and by the end, looking forward to a good night’s rest.
We reached the Ambassador bridge border crossing that connects Windsor, Ontario to Detroit, Michigan at around 8:30 pm. With a roof rack on the car, and a bed in the trunk, we figured it was highly likely that the US Border Patrol would want to search the vehicle. Not unexpected.
The unexpected part was that we would be patted down, questioned, held for three hours, and then turned away back into Canada shortly after midnight.
In defense of the US Border Patrol Officers on duty that night, we had no itinerary and no proof that we had ties back to Canada (reasoning to return home). It appeared that they were also undergoing a shift change when we arrived. 🙁
The confusion and lack of respect on their end could have been omitted. I do understand their job is to intimidate. They are protecting their country.
We were directed to pull into the vehicle search area at the border crossing. Immediately upon exiting the vehicle, Chris was hounded many times about doing drugs. Had he done drugs? Did he have drugs on him? They had a man on either side of the car with giant guns. Definitely intimidating.
I, on the other hand, was asked what our purpose was, for how long were we planning on being in the states for, where we were coming from. Fairly standard questions.
Eventually they allowed us inside the building to wait while they searched the vehicle. Inside, we were repeatedly asked the same questions.
They wanted to know who we were going to see. I listed three people by name I knew on route whom we would be seeing (my friend Paul, my cousin, and her boyfriend). They wanted to know how long. An unusual time of 2-3 months. Our vague answers did not help our cause.
Our whole plan was vague. Unclear. Unspecific. And apparently unbelievable.
We had made the tentative route plan. But we did not want to restrict ourselves by definite dates. If we liked a place, we would stay longer. If we felt we had had enough, we would move on. We really wanted to hussle south. We wanted the warmer weather.
After being inside just over an hour, we were handed off to a new officer just starting his shift. We went through the whole list of questions a second time. We were both patted down in separate rooms and extensively fingerprinted.
They didn’t believe my leave of absence. Our second officer claimed he had never heard of it.
I don’t think either of us really thought we were not going to be allowed through.
Around midnight, the US Border Patrol led us outside. One had another big gun of some kind. The other officer held our passports. They stopped us just in front of our vehicle.
He simply stated, “I think you guys can guess what is going on here.” Not exactly. Neither of us had ever been rejected at a border crossing.
We were not going to be allowed to cross the Canada-US border that evening due to lack of proof of ties back to Canada.
The officer waving the gun claimed we could come back and try in 20 minutes if we wanted. Confused and exhausted from the past few hours we asked if we should or what exactly we needed to be granted permission to enter the USA. The main officer stated again that he did not believe we were going to return home and that they would not let us in if we came back in 20 minutes. Very repetitious and very unhelpful.
Chris requested a list of documentation we could provide to prove we were in fact planning on returning to our homes in Ottawa. The officer went back inside and handed us a photocopied version of the list.
Disappointed and a bit discouraged we turned the car around and headed back to Canada. Not the exact start to the trip we were hoping for.
Determined not to give up entirely and turn home, we spent hours the following day in the Windsor Library. We collected and printed bank account information, apartment lease proof, my proof of employment and leave of absence, and our travel insurance documents. Anything and everything listed on the photocopy we were given. We probably printed around 50 pages.
Equipped with a fairly large stack of documents (which our lovely officer referred to as “a pile of crap”) we headed to the border that afternoon. The vehicle was searched a second time, and a half hour later, we were accepted! Excited. Relieved. Slightly shaken. We were finally in the United States.