Thursday, May 13, 2010

Quebec student shaken by U.S. border ordeal

Nina Vroemen, right, has previously volunteered at organic farms in Europe, like this one in Portugal, where she picked figs with her friend Erin Hill.
Nina Vroemen, right, has previously volunteered at organic farms in Europe, like this one in Portugal, where she picked figs with her friend Erin Hill. (Courtesy of Nina Vroemen)

"It was a horrible experience," said Nina Vroemen, 20, who was on her way to volunteer at a California organic farm. "There was no need for that humiliation and mistreatment of a young, female Canadian volunteer."

As of Wednesday morning, U.S. immigration officials had not returned calls about the case.

Vroemen, who studies theatre at Concordia University, set off from Montreal on May 5 on a Greyhound bus. She had found the volunteer job in California through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and planned to spend a month helping run art workshops at the farm. She thought she would explore the U.S. by bus on the way there.

"You can go to a farm anywhere in the world and help out," she told CBC's Ottawa Morning Wednesday. "You gain friends and experience…you travel, it's low cost and you feel good."

The bus arrived at the Windsor-Detroit border at 2 a.m., and Vroemen was interviewed about her plans by a U.S. border guard.

"He was trying to make it seem like … because I was getting room and board, that was considered being paid," said Vroemen, who had previously volunteered through WWOOF in Europe. "He told me that I was taking jobs from American citizens because I was going to help out on this community workshop."

'I watched the bus leave'

The guard asked for official documentation. She provided her passport and WWOOF membership, but he said it wasn't enough, and denied her entry.

Nina Vroemen had to sleep at a women's shelter after being denied entry to the U.S. at 3 a.m.
Nina Vroemen had to sleep at a women's shelter after being denied entry to the U.S. at 3 a.m. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"They told me to take off all my stuff from the bus and I watched the bus leave," she recalled. "Two women came with blue latex gloves … I was just in a panic."

She was told to take off everything except her jumper and was patted down. Then she was fingerprinted and photographed.

"This photograph is me in tears," she recalled.

With that image on record, Vroemen said she is afraid to cross the border again.

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