U.S. Customs and Border Protection denied a Canadian man entry to the United States based on his profiles on a gay hookup app and a cruising website.
André, a 30 year-old guy from Vancouver, told Daily Xtra that he was traveling to New Orleans to visit his boyfriend. But while going through Vancouver’s airport, U.S. Customs and Border Protection singled him out for a secondary inspection. A UCBP officer took André’s phone and laptop and demanded his passwords, an ordeal he describes as “humiliating.”
When the officer searched André’s devices, he found profiles on Scruff and BBRT. These profiles said that André was “looking for loads,” which the officer took to mean he was a sex worker. So the officer refused to let him through customs.
From Daily Xtra:
“I didn’t know what to do. I was scared, so I gave them the password and then I sat there for at least an hour or two. I missed my flight,” André says. “He came back and just started grilling me. ‘Is this your email?’ and it was an email attached to a Craigslist account for sex ads. He asked me, ‘Is this your account on Scruff? Is this you on BBRT?’ I was like, ‘Yes, this is me.'”
When the officer asked him what he meant by “looking for loads,” André says he tried to explain, but the officer kept grilling him.
“I could tell just by his nature that he had no intentions of letting me through. They were just going to keep asking me questions looking for something,” he says. “So I asked for the interrogation to stop. I asked if I go back to Canada am I barred for life? He said no, so I accepted that offer.”
One month later, André attempted to fly to New Orleans again, though this time he brought what he thought to be proof that he’s no sex worker, including letters from his employer, bank statements, pay stubs, and a lease agreement proving he had every intent to return to Canada. But this time when André went through inspection at the Vancouver airport, officers didn’t even need to ask for his passwords, because they were saved in their own U.S. customs system.
André says he had wiped his phone of sex apps, his browser history and messages, thinking it would create less confusion as to him being a sex worker, but instead the officers found that to be suspicious.
“They went through my computer. They were looking through Word documents,” André says. “I had nude photos of myself on my phone, and they were questioning who this person was. It was really humiliating and embarrassing.”
“They said, ‘Next time you come through, don’t have a cleared phone,’ and that was it. I wasn’t let through. He said I’m a suspected escort. You can’t really argue with them because you’re trapped,” he says.
André says he lost at least $1,200 on non-refundable flights and hotels on the two cancelled trips.
It’s a disturbing incident that ties together much of the ugliness of the current political climate: xenophobia, loss of privacy, homophobia, not to mention our society’s hostility to sex workers.
UCBP is tightening up security, supposedly to guard against terrorism, but as we can see, the reality is that it makes life harder for anyone outside a very narrow norm.
(Header image via UCBP’s Flickr)
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