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Minor Criminal Offenses Prevent Border Crossing

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Minor Criminal Offenses Prevent Border Crossing

U.S.

Minor Criminal Offenses Prevent Border Crossing

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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.

If you're traveling north - way north - this summer, take note. Crossing a border isn't what it used to be. Thanks to improved technologies, border guards can call up records of crimes and indiscretions more easily now.

And that, as Tom Banse with the Northwest News Network reports, can make passing between Canada and the U.S. a lot trickier.

TOM BANSE: Once upon a time, not that long ago, a trip across the northern border involved a few easy questions.

Unidentified Man #1 (Border Guard): Howdy, sir. Welcome to the United States. Where do you live?

BANSE: The border guard checked your license plate and typically waved you onward in under a minute.

Unidentified Man #1: Anything you want to declare? Have a nice day, sir.

BANSE: Recently, Canadian psychotherapist Andrew Feldmar(ph) had quite a different experience. He says he was headed to Seattle from Vancouver to pick up a friend at the airport. But at the U.S. border crossing, the immigration officer pulled him aside for further questioning.

Mr. ANDREW FELDMAR: While they were searching the car, the officer googled me or at least consulted his search engine, typed my name in it and got very interested in something that came up, and then turned it towards me and said, did you write this article?

BANSE: Felmar answered yes. His article for a Web journal described several acid trips he took early in his career. Feldmar says he stopped experimenting with psychedelic drugs around 1974. He says he has no criminal convictions but the border authorities decided the psychologist was an admitted drug user. They barred him from entering the U.S. permanently.

Mr. FELDMAR: Two of my children, my son and my daughter, live in the United States, so I think it's totally inhuman to cut me off from them.

Mr. BANSE: Last year on the northern border, Homeland Security refused entry to 71,000 foreigners. Canadian border guards turned away large numbers too, mostly Americans. Overall, denials have gone up 12 percent since 2004. U.S. Customs and Border Protections spokesman Mike Milne says it's not that the rules have changed.

Mr. MIKE MILNE (Spokesman, U.S. Customs and Border Protections): The main difference is the fact that people attempting to come in to the country are receiving greater scrutiny than they did prior to 9/11. And by our officers using intelligence information, using our updated computer systems, and our questioning techniques…

Mr. BANSE: And something as simple as the Internet.

Mr. MILNE: …all makes it more difficult for people that are not admissible to get into the United States.

Mr. BANSE: Milne says there are nuanced differences in how the two countries used shared criminal records. Americans are sometimes surprise by the tough line Canada takes on drunk driving. One DUI is enough to ban you from Canada. But then Canadians express surprise at the tough line the U.S. takes on smoking a joint. Border officers have some discretion. You'll be glad to know neither country counts parking tickets against you. The increased frequency of exclusions is making phones ring in lawyers' offices, like here with Seattle immigration attorney Bob Free.

Mr. BOB FREE (Immigration Attorney, Seattle): It is possible to apply for a waver of this, based on if someone has basically rehabilitated, no longer is a problem, would not be a threat or a danger in coming to the United States. But it's a costly legal process.

Mr. BANSE: And that Canadian who experimented with LSD long ago, he balked at the cost and says he's pinning his hopes on a future change in policy. In the meantime, Andrew Feldmar says he decided to go public to warn people about spilling their secrets on the Internet.

Mr. FELDMAR: I don't think I'm punished because I use psychedelic substances in the '60s, I think I'm punished because I wrote about it. So the conclusion is do, dare, and be silent.

Mr. BANSE: Immigration lawyer Bob Free says the U.S. and Canada have the most sophisticated coordination of databases. But he notes, other countries around the world are also gaining the tools to look deep into your past.

For NPR News, I'm Tom Banse in Settle.

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