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Terrence Chan

follow me as I play poker and look for new ways to get punched in the face

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done with America -- turned back at the border
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.
Tags: ,

You may not be angry, but I am.

Idiot with previous reply

My wife (Thai) and I've (US citizen) been treated like a criminal by the border officials more times than I wish to remember. What many people don't understand is that these working the border don't operate as a helpful service but rather as a group of thugs empowered to sniff out people who want to commit immigration fraud. Their internal policy states that they are to presume certain nationalitys are commiting immigration fraud and in order to enter our "glorius" country they must prove the opposite. GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT.

We have lived in Thailand for 15 years and my wife is constantly harassed at the US border because she cancelled her green card since we have no intention of ever permanently resining in the USA. These pinheads held her 6 hours last time she attempted to enter because they couldn't believe she wouldn't want to live in the good ole U.S.of A. My stepdaughter was denied a student visa because she must first apply for a greencard that she doesnt want or need but is entitled to as my stepdaughter.

I am an attorney and poker player who is outraged for all the people that we as a nation treat so poorly. What made the USA great was that it was a cultural meltingpot.It was the land of opportunity with borders open to all. The USA is no longer great. I am sorry that they treated you this way TC but what can you expect from a gang of pea-brained thugs?

The border officials might have been brusque with you...

... but are you sure that you were acting as innocently as a little angel during this whole process, as you seem to imply in your story?

Border officials are trained not only to look at documentation, but to look at the mannerisms and the behavior of the people that they are questioning. It's not always a simple matter of, "Provide x and y and you're in."

If you're sullen and evasive, and act pissed off that you're required to jump through their hoops, not only are they within their rights to tell you to hit the road... that's exactly what they're trained to do.

I was interrogated pretty closely when I came to Canada to work for a few weeks, and even though I gave answers that were nonthreatening and pretty standard, the Canadian immigration official still looked at me suspiciously and detained me for 2 hours before letting me go on my way. I went out of my way to be deferential, though, and non-confrontational.

If you were perfectly polite, cordial, and they still told you not to let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, then that's inexcusable on their part. Something tells me that there's more to the story, however.

Re: The border officials might have been brusque with you...

I certainly understand your skepticism with regards to my behaviour. I've had no shortage of people give me advice like, "make sure you call them sir or officer" or "be up front" or "act casual" or "be polite" and so on.

I'm not dumb. I wanted very much this morning to get into the country. There's obviously no way I can prove to you that I behaved and spoke with politeness and professionalism, but... I did. I'm not going to say I haven't been a jerk. I've definitely acted like a jerk in my life. But this was not one of them. I stated my case for entry calmly but firmly, and except for the part I mentioned about being pissy on my Thursday trip when I was handed back my passport, I did, in fact, behave as innocent as an angel.

I realize you're probably fed up with thinking about ever going back right now, etc, but...

I believe that you should approach this like people who are independently wealthy (which I'm guessing is the truth or isn't far from it). Do whatever they would do.

Maybe form an LLC in Canada (or hell, the US?) that does some sort of "poker consulting". Maybe it involves coaching or customer support, or maybe just celebrity appearances. You are Terrence Fucking Chan, after all.

But seriously -- whatever really rich travelers would do.

This is a really bad idea. One of the best ways to get extra scrutiny from Immigration Officials is to tell them you're independently wealthy.

That really sucks! How stupid is the US??!! I don't blame you for not trying again and it sucks. Sounds like the only way they want you is with a plane ticket in and a plane ticket out without any flexibility. I mean seriously, you have $$, you have ties outside the US, you brought documentation - border guard is an ass as far as I am concerned.

And it sucks, quite frankly trying to enter Canada too, not just the US, that someone who is self-employed and doesn't need an employer is treated like a criminal.

Sorry - Steve and I still hope to gain a 2nd citizenship somewhere one day - possibly in Canada. We will certainly let you know if we are in BC in the future.

give it time, maybe she'll change

Sounds like you found a true asshole at DHS.

As obscene as it is, the most ridiculous thing about it is that were you to come into the US and stay, you would obviously be a huge net plus to the economy. The 'risk', given your past history of entry and exit, is so minimal that it would be laughable if it weren't so sick.

We are idiots and, I'm afraid, destined for the dustbin of history because of it.

Insofar as it makes sense, I apologize.

Bloody hell that is wrong TC. I am sorry you had to go through all of that. Something is seriously wrong with the system. Sorry that you are going to miss training and the competitions and the time with friends.

I am so sorry to hear about this. Completely blows my mind.

I went through a similar experience a decade ago when I tried to make a four-month trip through the states, so know that I mean it when I tell you I empathize with you. It's their loss, Terrence.

Do you mind if I a link to this on my LJ and Facebook?

It's outrageous, and needs publicity.

Sure, repost as much as you want. This is the kind of thing that I'd probably keep quiet if I intended on returning to the U.S. (so as not to piss them off), but i'm beyond caring now.

Does this mean you're a "yes" for the home game?

shit. sorry dude. will try to make my way up to YVR for some Canucks games this season.

What a crock of b.s. Not you, of course; having met you I don't need any convincing of your forthrightness. Rather, of the idiots you encountered and our wonderful Department of Homeland InSecurity.

You may not have anger, but I (and others) do.

(Deleted comment)
Here vis Alan Bostick.

I'm embarrassed and angry and ashamed that my country so mistreated you. How the fuck can we be so stupid?