Getting from Canada to USA while having a criminal record.
February 7, 2009 3:58 PM   Subscribe

Hello My father is deathly ill from a stroke in Mission, TX. Me and my mother are in Montreal, Canada. My mother has a criminal record from a few years ago from marijuana growing.

I'm thinking flying to Mexico, and taking a bus through the border, but I don't know what's implied with having a criminal record.
This is going to happen early next week, so there is no time to send out faxes and papers unless it takes less than 48 hours.

Can metafilter think of any way for her to get to Mission to see my father?
Are there any special recourse for such emergencies?

Any info would be greatly appreciated.
posted by PowerCat to Travel & Transportation around Canada (15 answers total)
What's your mother's citizenship?
posted by phoenixy at 4:03 PM on February 7, 2009

My mother is Canadian. Never had any other citizenship and never traveled in the USA.
posted by PowerCat at 4:28 PM on February 7, 2009

To clarify, my father was traveling by himself there. He is also Canadian citizen.
"snowbirds" they call them.
posted by PowerCat at 4:29 PM on February 7, 2009

I am not recommending lying. But she'd have to have really bad luck to get caught. There's a form you have to fill out entering the US that asks if you have ever used drugs or committed a crime of moral turpitude or have a communicable disease or are a terrorist or were involved with genocide.

If the person says that she didn't use drugs and didn't commit such crimes and isn't a terrorist and they don't check (and they wouldn't check the vast majority of middle aged or older women: they aren't high on the list of criminal types) as long as she is not on any Interpol lists (again, unlikely unless this was international trafficking on a large scale), nothing at all will happen.

If they did check, the crime would have to have been entered by Canada's keepers of criminal records into the database used. I don't know how advanced that system is in Canada, but in many places these are not up to date with regard to old crimes.

If she hasn't posted about being a drug user or dealer online and the arrest records aren't googleable in terms of a media report about it that contains her name, again, them finding it even if they looked is unlikely. If she has a common name, this also causes problems with finding it and linking that name to that person.

The people who have gotten caught (about several thousand a year out of millions of border crossings) were either extremely unlucky or decided to be honest and didn't realize the consequences.

If she wants to be absolutely sure (but risk getting rejected), she could apply for a Visa, but that would take months to get and she could be rejected. There may be an emergency procedure and money/contacts may speed things up-- but I don't know.
posted by Maias at 4:41 PM on February 7, 2009

I'm thinking flying to Mexico, and taking a bus through the border

Surely it would be vastly simpler to just drive to Burlington or Plattsburgh and fly to McAllen or Brownsville from there.

Canadians don't fill out I-90s when driving across, so it'll just be you two briefly chatting with a border agent. And if you're driving, your mom probably doesn't have to say anything. The golden rule is DON'T VOLUNTEER ANYTHING. Answer the questions you are asked and no more; neither biscotti nor I have ever been asked if we had a criminal record in either direction.

If they ask why you're driving across instead of flying from Montreal, it was cheaper.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:58 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

You know, I've got to sound a dissenting opinion here. This is a VERY bad idea. Your mother's name is in the system with her conviction and as a result until/unless she can get it wiped from her public record with a pardon (not a special one, just with the help of some record clearing service), she will not be able to get into the US if they check her ID.

At best she will be turned away from the border crossing after a few hours of being held for attempting to enter the US, which happened to a former coworker of mine as we tried to drive from Vancouver to a meeting with a client in Seattle, and all that was on his "record" was a bar fight when he was 19.
At worst she will be taken into custody on the spot until she can be officially deported days or weeks later. This happens every so often and is written up in the Vancouver papers when it happens as one of these "Can you believe this happened?!" type stories.

IF (very big if) you can figure out some way of going through a checkpoint without your mother needing to give out her ID you may be OK. But honestly, that hasn't been possible here in western Canada for years, so short of doing an illegal crossing I have no idea how this could succeed. And if you do an illegal crossing and get caught, you'll be in even deeper crap.

And a final note on those pardon clearing services: They work, but they are slow and expensive. That former coworker of mine took years to clear his record enough to go south again.
posted by barc0001 at 7:44 PM on February 7, 2009

It's not a good idea to lie about a past criminal conviction; it's better to follow the rules.

Is there any practical reason for your mother to travel to Texas? Will your father be returned to Canada anytime soon? Can you go yourself?

Or is your father really near death?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:20 PM on February 7, 2009

I am not a lawyer, but I used to work as a paralegal in the immigration field a number of years ago. Your mother should talk to a lawyer before attempting to enter the US.

I'm so sorry about your father, but you may need to go without her. The last thing you need when your father is so ill is to have legal complications for your mother.
posted by immlass at 8:49 PM on February 7, 2009

How long ago is "a few years?" That could be important (conjecture alert). Pre-September 2001, maybe it doesn't make it onto the list. Since then, record-keepers have been considerably more anal.

Also, if she decides to risk it, make sure you won't be caught up in the silliness. If she's denied entry I don't know what that means for the other people in the car (ie, you). It's one thing for her to risk her own freedom for the hours or days that she'll spend being processed back into Canada, quite another to jeopardize yours as well. If time is of the essence and she's willing to take the chance, you might want to think about traveling across the boarder separately.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:08 PM on February 7, 2009

And being denied entry will absolutely complicate future visits to the US. She may or may not care about that, but immlass's suggestion to call a lawyer would probably be worth the time and expense.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:13 PM on February 7, 2009

Is a passport required for travel within the US by canadian citizens?
If my mother makes it through borders by car, can she safely flies within the US by plane?
I know that I can fly within Canada without a passport, but I am not sure about the regulations within USA.
Conviction was made in 2004 or so, fyi.
posted by PowerCat at 9:17 PM on February 7, 2009

There is no passport checking for domestic travel. You are required to have some form of identification, so her passport will be used, but it is not checked for any criminal activity.
posted by fireoyster at 9:50 PM on February 7, 2009

christopher hundreds, I can tell you that 2001 is no cutoff for these things. My aforementioned former coworker's bar fight took place in the early 90s. Surprised the hell out of both of us when the border guard handed back his passport, then got out of his booth with his hand on the butt of his pistol and asked my coworker to get out and come with him.

Regarding getting caught up in the silliness, it *probably* wouldn't be an issue, they just hauled him out of my car, detained him for 4 hours while I waited, and then asked me to please take him back with me to Canada as he wasn't allowed in the US at all.

As far as I can tell, it hasn't affected me with additional trips across the border, though for a while I was wondering if there would be something on my record for associating or something of that nature.
posted by barc0001 at 9:58 PM on February 7, 2009

I was on a dive boat operating in the 1000 islands (Ontario) and we were diving a wreck in US waters. Post-911 that involves stopping at Bolt castle and registering with the customs office. No big deal and usually the boat skipper just takes all the passports in.
This particular time he came out and asked one of the divers to come into the office because he hadn't declared his record (drunken disorderly and posession back in the early 90s). We had to go back to Brockville and drop him off. The officer was very, very specific when he told him that he would have been allowed in if he had declared the record but was being booted out for lying by omission. Not all convictions will get you denied access it appears.

Based on that I see two options - drive across the border at Vermont and book a ticket from Burlington if you get through OK. If she is denied entry you are home in 90 minutes and not sitting at the Mexico/US border. The second is to simply call the LOCAL border crossing to you and tell them you would like to cross in two days, this is her situation and will she be allowed through.

Good luck.
posted by Umhlangan at 8:07 AM on February 8, 2009

Thanks a lot for all the good info. We'll try.
posted by PowerCat at 8:13 AM on February 8, 2009

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