And so, it came to pass, that before my 30th birthday, I am declaring myself done with the United States of America.
I had a plan for the next couple months; it was a simple one. Go down to the no-gi World Championships in Long Beach and compete. Train some jiujitsu and some muay thai and some wrestling. Rent a place, maybe on the beach, somewhere with a good taco stand nearby.
The Department of Homeland Security had other ideas.
My first attempt to cross the border was last Thursday. I figured it was no different than any of my other land border crossings, whether they were the ones for the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 or 2010 WSOPs. I expected to be pulled into secondary screening and interrogated, as I had for every trip except for the 2009 one. I parked my car, handed over the keys, and waited in line with all the other fortunate souls.
After an hour of waiting, I made it to the front, where I was asked the usual questions. Where do I live? What do I do for work? What is the purpose of my trip? How long will I be there? I answered every question with what would turn out to be the worst possible answer -- the truth. I told them that I am a professional poker player with rental property in Hong Kong and Vancouver, and that I was going down to train martial arts for two months, including participating in a major tournament. I made it very clear I had no plans to stay in the United States past December.
They told me to sit down.
About 30 minutes later, I was asked another round of questions. These questions from the same officer were much more accusatory. How could I prove I wasn't trying to stay in the states indefinitely? What ties do I have to Canada? What ties do I have to Hong Kong? What assurances can you give that you will leave the US? I answered that I own property outside of the US that I have to manage, that all my family lives outside of Canada, that I have poker sponsorship opportunities awaiting me in the Asia-Pacific region.
"But none of these things prove that you will leave the U.S."
I was told to sit back down, and waited for another 30 minutes. I was then called up again, taken to the back, fingerprinted, and told to sit back down.
After another 30 minutes, I was called back to the front, and told I was being denied entry. I was told I was welcome to try again if I could prove ties and equities to my home country. I asked what constitutes proof and the officer told me that was up to the immigration officer that was making that decision. He said I had to demonstrate to that officer I had ties to my home country. When pressed further he said I should bring title deeds, and a plane ticket departing.
I was pretty pissed to be turned away. I was enraged, really; no other way to put it. The officer told me (as he was sending me on the road back into Canada) that I was welcome to try again with my documentation but if I were attempt to try to another port of entry that I would be arrested. I grabbed my passport and snarled that I wasn't likely to come back again, ever.
A few hours later though, I cooled down. I had this plan, and I wanted to see it through. So I had my dad send me all my papers from Hong Kong -- my properties, bank statements, even water and electric bills. I collected as much stuff as I had on hand in Canada with the same. I did my research online and was told by a dozen people that if I had all my shit in order there was "no way" I'd be denied a second time. I even allowed myself to be confident that this time, they'd (perhaps grudgingly) let me in.
We were all quickly proven wrong.
My trip today was pretty much the same as the one on Thursday. But it was apparent their mind was already made up, even with me having put together all my paperwork. They went through every piece of paperwork I had and found something wrong with it in one way or another. I had last month's internet bill in Vancouver and my electric bill in Hong Kong; they now told me I needed six months of bills. They said I needed credit card statements with activity to prove I was spending time in those places. They said I needed a job with pay stubs, and they said that that job had to be where I was physically present, such that it would not be possible for me to do it in the States. They didn't like that my plane ticket from Vancouver to Hong Kong was only for two months, even though neither of those places is in the United States. He even tried to twist my words of "I'm going to train martial arts" as meaning that I was going to work illegally. "If you don't have a visa for that, you can't come in."
Quite simply, they never had any intent of letting me in the country, no matter what I showed, said, or did. There is no conceivable way that I could have convinced them otherwise. I was fingerprinted again and once again shown the door.
Could I try one more time, get all six months of documentation they want, hell, hire an immigration lawyer? Yeah, I could do those things. I could continue to jump through their hoops. But I have no assurances the hoops will not just be higher and farther back every time, and I have no desire to spend five hours at the border just to find out. I am a law-abiding, honest, wealthy and mobile Canadian who wanted to come for two months, rent a property, buy groceries, pay fees to a school, spend money on entertainment, and leave.
For this, I get treated like a criminal. Well, no more. I'm done with the United States.
When I said it on Thursday, I said it out of anger. But when it was apparent I was getting turned back today, I felt no anger. My primary emotion was sadness. I already knew what decision I was going to make. I knew I was giving up going to Canucks playoff road games, giving up big jiujitsu tournaments, giving up the WSOP, and most importantly, giving up visiting my American friends. That'll be the toughest part. I have people down in that country whom I adore; people I wish I could see every day, people that I planned on seeing and having fun with. I'm going to miss seeing these people, a lot. Missing the WSOP is going to be very hard for me, but I feel like it's something I have to do. For the most part, my friends are also mobile people, so hopefully I can see them in Canada, Hong Kong, or on neutral soil. But some of my friends are going to have very valid reasons for not being able to travel. Others may simply not want to leave the comfort of their homes. Time will tell.
I've got no anger now, just disappointment and sadness. This isn't a knee-jerk reaction of anger. This is me saying that I cannot in good conscience support this country with my tourism dollars. As I was driving back I wonder how this decision and this day will ultimately affect my life. I do know people -- including American citizens -- who have sworn not to go to the United States, for various but similar reasons. I know two who even relinquished their passport. They've gone decades without going to the U.S., and they seem to do just fine. From Hong Kong or Vancouver, I don't really even need to transit through the United States except possibly to Latin America, but even then I can often transit through Toronto.
Goodbye, America. It's been fun, and I'm sad it had to come to this, but we're through. It's not me -- it's you.
- done with America -- turned back at the border