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4 min

The politics of freedom

Stuck with one foot on each side of the border

TOGETHER IN TEXAS: US customs officials won't let Rolf (sitting), who lives in Chilliwack, visit his partner Don at his home in Texas. Credit: Xtra West Files

Well, here it is 2007 and the beginning of a new year. Next month will be six years that I have been in a long distance relationship with a wonderful man from Chilliwack, BC. You might think that would be enough to make a man happy. Unfortunately you would be wrong.

I live in Texas and we are both HIV positive. We are both in great health and the only problem we seem to have is that little thing called a border between Canada and the United States.

In the beginning Rolf (in BC) flew down to Texas for a visit. He had a friend drive him to Seattle because it’s much cheaper to fly out of there rather than Vancouver. Sumas crossing is the closest and most direct way to enter the US from Chilliwack. The first couple of crossings didn’t seem to be a problem although there was one particular border agent who took an immediate dislike to Rolf for no apparent reason.

On about the third crossing, Rolf and his friend were detained and sent inside while the car was inspected. His backpack was searched and of course his HIV medications were seen. There still didn’t seem to be a problem at that point and they were allowed to continue on to Seattle. I made several trips to Chilliwack to visit, also via Seattle, and was picked up each time by Rolf and his friend. With each crossing there seemed to be more and more hassle from that one particular border agent.

The next time Rolf visited Texas he was once again delayed, searched and told he needed to have a waiver to enter the US because of his HIV status. He was allowed to continue but was told the waiver was necessary for any future visits. He was also told by the agent that seemed to be unhappy about his frequent trips to Texas: “You should tell your boyfriend that he needs to visit you more in Canada. We don’t recognize common-law marriages.”

When Rolf got back to Canada, with the help of his friend, he found the necessary forms to apply for a “waiver of inadmissibility.” The forms were filled out and sent along with the 200 some-odd dollars to an address in Seattle. It was quite a feat, finding the forms and the place to send them. They were returned with the message that they were not the proper forms with no explanation as to what were the proper ones.

In 2001 my mother and I visited Rolf in Canada for several weeks. We had reserved a rental car at the Bellingham airport with the idea to drive down along the Oregon coast as part of our vacation. Rolf was driving us to the Bellingham airport and once again we were crossing at Sumas. Yep, you guessed it. We were greeted by the same surly border agent that had been the problem all along. We were told to go inside the office while the car was searched. But we could see the car from where we were and it was never searched. We were made to wait for exactly one hour, almost to the minute, with no explanation why. My mother, who was 80 years old at the time, asked me why we were being treated like criminals, to which I had no answer.

My mother is not aware of mine or Rolf’s HIV status. I made a personal choice not to tell her. We were eventually allowed to continue on that day. The fact that we were made to wait exactly one hour with no explanation was somewhat mystifying. Its only purpose seemed to be one of incontinence.

This past October I was making another trip to Canada to see Rolf. I flew into Seattle like always. When I got to the airport, there was no Rolf. I decided he must have been caught in traffic and was running late. After an hour I started to get concerned. I tried calling but there was no one home. I think we are the last two people on earth without cell phones. After another hour I called and got Rolf at home. He had been frantically trying to get a message to me that he was unable to get to Seattle, but I was told by the airlines there was no way to get a message to me.

You guessed it. He had been stopped at the Sumas crossing and denied entry. He was photographed, fingerprinted and told if he tried to enter the US again, he could be fined and possibly jailed and banned from entry for 20 years.

At the same time Rolf was being denied entry, a young man was also trying to cross into Washington state to help his older uncle move from one house to another. Apparently there was some heavy furniture that was not manageable by the uncle on his own. The young man was also denied entry, fingerprinted, photographed and flagged. The reason given was that he was entering the US to work illegally.

I’m all for border security with all the terrible things that are going on in the world today with terrorism and such, but I live in Texas and see firsthand thousands of illegal border crossings every day.

The three weeks I spent in Canada in October 2006 were mostly used researching the proper channels to acquire a waiver so that Rolf could once again visit the US legally.

I had no idea that it would be such a difficult task and that there were so many people in official positions that had even less of a clue than myself as to the proper channels to get things done properly.

The waiver form says it should be taken to the US Consulate to be processed. After two trips to the consulate I was told that I had to go through US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). After many exhausting calls in which we were routed back and forth between the CBP and the consulate, I still do not have any clear answers as to what steps to take.

The folks at AIDS Vancouver tried to help, but were just as confused by it all as I was. I spoke to a very energetic and polite US border agent at the Vancouver airport CBP office, who took the time to consult his superiors on the matter, but in the end admitted that they had no answers for me.

So here I sit on the first day of a brand new year in Texas. Over 2,000 miles from my partner, with little hope of him ever being allowed to visit me again.

Oh, well. It could be worse. I could be that unhappy border agent at the Sumas crossing going to work daily with my only goal to make someone else’s life miserable so I wouldn’t feel so bad about my own.

Happy New Year to all.