March 3, 2007 5:03 PM   Subscribe

AWOL from the US Navy. How to get into the US from Canada?

So, a friend of mine has a nephew who is AWOL fron the Navy, and is currently working in Canada. His sister is dying of cancer and he would like to say goodbye. His grandmother plans to smuggle him across the border (to the US) under blankets in the back of her sedan.

Please explaine why this is a very bad idea...
posted by hllclmbr to Law & Government (40 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
With his sister dying of cancer, the last thing his family needs is having to deal with him on trial for desertion, and his grandmother on trial for smuggling him across the border.

It's a reason, anyway. What an awful situation.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:13 PM on March 3, 2007

US/Canada border checks have gone up (a lot) recently, including requiring passports and things. As such, I'd imagine right now is the worst possible time to try and smuggle someone across. Not that I would encourage doing it at any time, but, you know...

How about phone or video calls instead?
posted by anaelith at 5:27 PM on March 3, 2007

Well, is he AWOL or is he a deserter?

10 USC § 886 states:

Any member of the armed forces who, without authority--
(1) fails to go to his appointed place of duty at the time prescribed;
(2) goes from that place; or
(3) absents himself or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty at which he is required to be at the time prescribed;

shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

10 USC § 885 states:

(a) Any member of the armed forces who--
(1) without authority goes or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to remain away therefrom permanently;
(2) quits his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service; or
(3) without being regularly separated from one of the armed forces enlists or accepts an appointment in the same or another one of the armed forces without fully disclosing the fact that he has not been regularly separated, or enters any foreign armed service except when authorized by the United States;

is guilty of desertion.

Please explaine why this is a very bad idea...

If it is desertion, consider that 18 USC § 1381 provides that:

. . .Whoever harbors, conceals, protects, or assists any such person who may have deserted from such service, knowing him to have deserted therefrom, or refuses to give up and deliver such person on the demand of any officer authorized to receive him--

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
posted by mlis at 5:31 PM on March 3, 2007

I'm not an expert on border crossings, but surely you could find a much better way to get him across. Aren't there some crossings that are unguarded? Or couldn't he just walk across somewhere in the middle of nowhere and meet the grandmother somewhere?

As for whether or not this is a very bad idea, I think that depends a whole lot on where his sister is. Barely inside Washington would be a lot less risky than, say, New Mexico. If I were in his place, I might consider trying it if she was close to the border, but certainly not otherwise, and definitely not under a blanket in the back seat!
posted by equalpants at 5:32 PM on March 3, 2007

i agree that walking across (not at a road) seems safer, if he is determined to do this. if i recall correctly there might be some native american territories that extend into both canada and the us that might be worth investigating if they allow visitors...
posted by lgyre at 5:41 PM on March 3, 2007

Have you (or has he) considered internet teleconferencing instead? A couple of webcams with the right software and any kind of half-way decent internet connections could permit him to talk to her without risking the law.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:47 PM on March 3, 2007

I understand needing to see his sister, but he should find a way across that doesn't involve the grandmother.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 7:45 PM on March 3, 2007

1000 officers, 5222 miles. It's only a bad idea if he's unlucky or stupid.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:47 PM on March 3, 2007

Just avoid southern Ontario and the Great Lakes.

See, I was thinking that a boat crossing across the Great Lakes, or through the San Juan Islands near Seattle, would be just the thing. Perhaps I don't know much about patrols on the Great Lakes?
posted by frogan at 8:04 PM on March 3, 2007

There may not be a lot of border guards, but they're not quite so bloody stupid as to not notice a man-sized pile of blankets in the back seat of someone's sedan. That's not exactly the most creative scheme. I'm going to bet it's been tried before.

The last time I crossed, they were pretty cursory, but they did shine a flashlight around the car and had us pop the trunk. I suspect if there had been anything big enough to conceal a person, they would have taken a closer look (or at least poked it with a flashlight/baton/stick).

It's a 5000-mile border; you'd have to be insane to choose one of the few locations that's actually guarded to try and cross.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:04 PM on March 3, 2007

Americans do not need a passport to get into Canada (we trust youse guys). Americans and Canadians need a passport to (re)enter the States by air. People traveling by car into the United States will not need a passport until sometime next year. So, if your friend is serious about visiting his grandmother, he should just drive. If he wants to desert and then try to claim refugee status in Canada, he is out of luck, because we no longer accept such claims from former American soldiers. At the same time, while his refugee claim is being processed (before being summarily turned down), he will can not be arrested and deported by Canadian authorities.

It's not a good idea to try cross at some "undefended" out of the way place, either. The border is now militarized. American border services have deployed drones to monitor all of the likely places, because you guys like out pot so much.

Just rent a mini-van and say you're going shopping.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:15 PM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Actually one of the easiest ways is to cross at Niagara Falls. Its a pretty heavily traveled walkway and is not guarded as tightly due to the tourist value and the fact that its a walkway, not a roadway. Have someone meet him on the NY side and drive him home.
posted by wile e at 8:34 PM on March 3, 2007

I've crossed the border both ways (through Washington; Seattle-Vancouver) several times in the last couple years with no more than my drivers license and no hassel.

Is being AWOL similar to having a warrant of arrest? If they run your driver's license a warrant will appear, is it the same case with military affairs?

Perhaps your friend should consult with a US based lawyer. He may have answers in regards to if your friend's AWOL will turn up on running a driver's license.

My advice, like so often on AskMeFi, get a lawyer.
posted by ASM at 8:43 PM on March 3, 2007

If he's crossing in a car, be aware that the examiner will have run the plates before you talk to him.

As such, if he's going to passenger with somebody it probably shouldn't be family.
posted by PEAK OIL at 8:58 PM on March 3, 2007

The biggest unknown here is whether he is located near population centers (coasts, Great Lakes), or closer to the central plains areas. Location will/should figure heavily into the options that everyone is proposing.
posted by davidmsc at 9:01 PM on March 3, 2007

And not to recommend something terrible, but does he have any friends/cousins who look like him?

They could visit, and he could steal their ID and cross on it.

They'd just need to trust that he would stick to the story that he stole their ID, and they had no idea what his plans were.
posted by PEAK OIL at 9:13 PM on March 3, 2007

I think it needs to be pointed out that all whom are giving advice to help this scheme succeed; you are aiding someone with a felony and so might be liable yourself.

My advice: When the nephew left the Navy under the circumstances you described, he should have realized that there would be consequences to his decision. This is one of them and no one, not you or your family, should try to get him illegally across the border. If he really wants to come back, he should face the music. Contact the Navy itslef and work something out. But there probably will be prison time involved.
posted by Dagobert at 9:21 PM on March 3, 2007

unless he commits a crime, he'll be ok. There are nearly 5 million people in our services. NO one is looking for him. the guys i know who get dragged back to the post are the ones who get caught speeding or buying dope. trust, there isnt a nationwide manhunt. but if he gets caught speeding, he will get sent upstate.
posted by Davaal at 9:32 PM on March 3, 2007

I was going to post waay early in the thread but;

Is there any reasonable way for the sister to visit Canada?
posted by porpoise at 9:55 PM on March 3, 2007

I highly recommend contacting the GI Rights Hotline. They are a group that provides servicemembers with information about obtaining discharges, as well as giving advice to those who find themselves AWOL. They won't help your friend's nephew get across the border, but they will be able to help him assess the risks of returning to the U.S. They have very accurate and up to date information about how AWOL and desertion cases are actually processed by the services, which has very little to do with what the regs and the law quoted above suggest.

Back in 2003 I spent a few days in the Personnel Control Facility in sunny Fort Sill, OK with 30-odd AWOL soldiers and deserters. The lucky ones like me, who hadn't even completed Basic, accepted administrative (not bad conduct or dishonorable) discharges in lieu of court-martial, basically meaning we can never work for the federal government, and were sent on our way. The rest got slapped on the wrist and sent back to their units for I'm sure a fairly chilly reception. Nobody got court-martialed, though, and I don't know -what- you'd have to do to actually get prison time.

The G.I. Rights folks told me where and when to turn myself in, what to say and who to say it to, and how long the whole shindig would take - to the day. I can't guarantee dealing with the Navy would be as painless, but this is the best source of info for your friend's nephew to make a fully informed decision about returning.

Also: although the Army was supposed to have a warrant out for me as of 2001 (routine for anyone failing to report), nobody ever followed up on it, and in the meantime I was pulled over twice with nothing showing up when my license and plates were run by the police. If you have a friend in law enforcement, it might be worth having them check the kid's record - the Navy might never even have bothered with a warrant.

(Tangentially: I wonder if sneaking across the border is still illegal if you're actually a citizen, and not carrying contraband?)
posted by a young man in spats at 10:22 PM on March 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

Smuggling people across international borders, especially into the United States, is not a good idea.
posted by oaf at 10:38 PM on March 3, 2007

I remember a fairly recent news story, - it was about an American who deserted the US military during the Vietnam (?) War and went to live in Canada. He lived a pretty much normal life and crossed the border fairly regularily but got picked about within the last year or so. It was a pretty big story in the Canadian media and received quite a bit of press but what ended up happening was that he was taken to a military base, detained for a few days, signed some papers and went home. Taking his lumps here may be worth it.
posted by Deep Dish at 10:44 PM on March 3, 2007

This is the link to the story
posted by Deep Dish at 10:45 PM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Border guards aren't trained to spot AWOL soldiers crossing the border. They are trained to spot people hiding under blankets in the backseat. This is a very bad idea.
posted by donajo at 11:29 PM on March 3, 2007 [4 favorites]

i've never actually tried this, but if i were keen on penetrating a loooong border like us-canada illegally, i'd probably do it on foot way out in the boonies rather than under a carpet in someone's sedan. there's also a dignity component to the way you get arrested...
posted by bruce at 11:33 PM on March 3, 2007

I've never crossed the border with Canada, nor do I wish to aid someone in violating the law. That said... How likely is it that the authorities at a busy crossing would cross-check every single entering individual with the list of AWOL/deserted soldiers/sailors? Seems unlikely to me but I don't know and am honestly asking. I was always under the impression they just checked your license/passport, made sure you didn't have anything illegal (like pot), and moved you along.

The blanket thing, though? Horrible idea, even if he weren't in the situation he's in.
posted by SuperNova at 11:37 PM on March 3, 2007

through the San Juan Islands near Seattle, would be just the thing.

High-traffic route for shopping, tourism and prescription drug buying.

But I'm with the consensus here: he chose to sign up, he chose to skip, it's his choice what to do next, and regardless of the morality of previous acts, involving anyone else is plain shitty, even if they're willing to assist.
posted by holgate at 12:33 AM on March 4, 2007

I agree with dagobert, but here's my answer to your specific question:

This is a very bad idea because 1) it's against the law, and 2) a lot of people who had nothing to do with this man's decision to go AWOL, yet decide to help him commit this crime, could be hurt by it.

My sympathies go out to the family.
posted by aberrant at 3:22 AM on March 4, 2007

I live in the Buffalo area and have been over the Peace (Buffalo) Bridge, Rainbow (Niagara Falls) Bridge, and Lewiston-Queenston Bridges several times in the past few years. As a US citizen with gov't issued photo ID, the process is reasonably simple.

Just about everyone crossing the bridges is asked their citizenship, why they're crossing, for how long, and to show (hand over) a driver's license. I don't really pay too much attention to what they do with my ID but they do look at it.

I've noticed that the Rainbow and Lewiston-Queenston bridges have tall doohickeys for sidescan views of vehicles (to catch folks hiding in the bananas, I imagine). Suffice it to say that the border folks have a pretty good idea of what's in your car.

From what I understand, Canadian boaters are supposed to check in with someone when they land on the US shore. My experience in kayaking on the lakes and rivers has been that I haven't noticed anyone monitoring that too closely. For instance, I get the distinct impression that boaters regularly go from Niagara-on-the-Lake (Ontario) to Lewiston (NY) for dinner at some of the restaurants there.

Similarly, friends who go to the thousand island region regularly boat to and fro. I don't know if they check in or not.

When I lived up in Plattsburgh NY, a friend up there told me about a friend of his who'd designed motion detection sensors for the unpatrolled section of that border. There are border checks on the small roads up there (Champlain NY area, the popular route to Montreal). I've taken the main road (87) and the smaller roads. I've seen acres and acres of unpatrolled border and I'm under the impression that that border has some kind of hidden gear to detect people walking across. How they differentiate from deer or other large animals, I don't know.

My point is that in my small experience, the border is pretty well monitored.
posted by jdfan at 9:03 AM on March 4, 2007

Crossing the border in "the plains" is not always the best idea. I have friends who work on oil fields in Montana; they have, in the past, mistakenly wandered across the border to get to a rig they saw in the distance.

They have been consistently met by trucks on their way back, or later in the day. You can't assume you're safe on the notion that you're in a less populated area.
posted by fake at 10:34 AM on March 4, 2007

Funny, the phrasing of the question makes me think the poster is possibly looking for support in an effort to dissuade his friend's grandmother from doing this, not looking for advice on how it can be done.

That said, this is a very bad idea because:

(1) It is highly unlikely to succeed. I've crossed the US/Canada border several times by plane and car during the past few years. I have encountered border guards who were highly trained, asked very specific questions, and cultivated an air that made me feel nervous even though I was doing nothing illegal. I doubt that this grandmother could do this with ease; she is needlessly putting herself at risk.

(2) The potential drawbacks might outweigh the potential benefits. Yes, I know that the opportunity to see his sister before she dies is priceless. But, as others have pointed out, the amount of hassle and suffering and distraction it could cause his family might well be greater. He is enlisting family members to put their future at risk to abet him in an illegal activity. Given the obsessive security-consciousness of the U.S. right now, don't underestimate the negative consequences of this action for all involved.
posted by googly at 11:02 AM on March 4, 2007

Here's an idea: Find some pot growers in B.C. and ask them the best way to get across the border. My impression is that they're pretty laid back.

You could also fly to Mexico and hire a coyote to smuggle you across. They could probably set you up with a new identity if you wanted, as well.

Otherwise I would try the GPS in the forest option. Just hike across the border, or take a mountain bike and meet up at pre-defined time. I wouldn't want to do that in the middle of winter, though.
posted by delmoi at 11:19 AM on March 4, 2007

See, I was thinking that a boat crossing across the Great Lakes, or through the San Juan Islands near Seattle, would be just the thing.

I've had my sailboat boarded by US coastguard several times passing from Canada into America waters. They don't fuck around - fully armed boarding parties. There is a lot of smuggling through the islands -- I've seen it myself on remote islands at dusk, and during night sailing -- unlit speedboats screaming up behind freighters in Haro Strait, a quick idle moment, and off they race - some sort of transaction later. Since the LAX wannabe-bomber tried to pass through Port Angeles the ferry security has been tighter.
posted by Rumple at 11:30 AM on March 4, 2007

This is a bad idea because it is illegal. If the question is why is this a bad idea to smuggle in this particular person, the answer is because it is illegal and he is AWOL. You may be participating in his crime. If the question is "Why is this a bad idea to smuggle someone into the US who is AWOL under a blanket in the backseat of a car?" then the answer is because he will be easily caught with that method. Try another method like walking across the Peace Bridge.

If the question is, "Is it ok to break the law to see a dying sibling?" then the answer is only what each individual thinks and is willing to live with if caught That includes both the AWOL nephew and the grandmother. This man went AWOL from the Navy and does not want to accept the consequences such as not being free to cross the border back into the US without risking potential ramifications. Based on past patterns, I would say that this is a bad idea because the nephew of your friend does not seem willing to accept the consequences should he be caught.

I think it would be terrible if he never got a chance to see his dying sister before she dies. I think it is terrible that his sister is dying of cancer. I suggest a webcam, figuring out if it is possible to bring the sister to Canada or, based on an estimate of her life expectancy and the consequences he faces being AWOL possibly turning himself in knowing his punishment will be up (see above poster) before she dies.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:42 PM on March 4, 2007

MeTa per Dagobert.
posted by mlis at 2:25 PM on March 4, 2007

It's a terrible idea. If he's hiding under blankets in the backseat, he's going to get caught. Border guards may not catch everything coming into the country, but they're going to notice the two-hundred-pound pile of blankets back there.

If he absolutely, positively is going to cross the border, finding an unmonitored spot out in the boonies is the way to go. I have a friend who spent some time in Canada as an undocumented resident. She found a likely place on the border, stopped her car, dragged her belongings across, left them there, crossed legally, and came back on the Canadian side to pick them up. It can be done, but Grandma shouldn't be involved. It's not fair to her.
posted by EarBucket at 2:34 PM on March 4, 2007

For what it's worth, when I was in the military just a couple of years ago, the Rubicon that seperated UA (or AWOL, as we're calling it in this thread) from desertion was intent to return.

If you left your unit and but returned before 30 days had elapsed, then you were generally charged with UA, which was a big deal, to be sure, but nowhere near as dire as desertion.

If your friend's nephew is busted and has been away from his unit less than a month, I would advise him to try and persuade the higher-ups that he intended to return. Tell him to bring some uniforms with him and to get a haircut before he goes, just in case he needs to convince someone that he meant to come back all along.
posted by CRM114 at 2:37 PM on March 4, 2007

Please explaine why this is a very bad idea...

Because that method of smuggling has an extraordinarily high chance of catastrophic failure. And even if there are no warrants on him or anything, all parties are going to be detained until they figure out why such an absurd scheme was being tried.

He'd be safer in the passenger seat, among numerous other places.
posted by PEAK OIL at 4:09 PM on March 4, 2007

"The border is now militarized. American border services have deployed drones to monitor all of the likely places, because you guys like out pot so much."

That's a really silly thing to say. Canadian border posts have been turning away American tourists for minor criminal records that were 25+ years old... stuff that we consider minor and forgettable. Link.

I took a driving trip to Vancouver, BC about 10 years ago, and the Canadian border guards treated me like absolute shit. I'm not a pothead at all, but they sure treated me like one. They also threatened to not let me in unless I had something like $150 in cash for each day I was going to be there.

The nephew in this case is going to be taking a really big risk in trying to cross the border from either direction.

And these days, even the "unprotected" posts are very likely monitored 24/7.
posted by drstein at 9:09 PM on March 4, 2007

So what happened?
posted by thilmony at 7:28 AM on March 18, 2007

« Older USB Memory Stick: How to password protect and sync...   |   Moving to cold-weather climate! Help! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.