US refusal- what not to do

Speaking to someone who has just been refused entry to the States because of their criminal record is normally a fairly dismal experience. Aside from the embarrassment that he or she has suffered at the hands of US Customs (who are not known for being terribly discreet or tactful in dealing with these matters) this person has now just lost out on a trip. For business travelers, this probably means that they will have some major explaining to do- be it to their business partners, potential clients, or worse: employers. Of course people traveling for pleasure don’t necessarily have it any easier. They have to deal with the heartbreak of missing out on a vacation that probably involved a lot of careful planning and some serious credit card deposits. They may also find themselves in hot water with spouses and children who were not aware of their criminal past (why can’t we go to Disney World anymore, daddy???). There is no denying that being found criminally inadmissible to the USA is not a pleasant experience. Of course, your best option is to avoid this happening in the first place by applying for a pardon or a waiver. But for those of you who refuse to listen to my sage advice and who continue to risk their luck at the border, here are some ways of minimizing the damage when the day eventually comes that you get hauled in for secondary inspection.

First and foremost: do NOT get angry with the US Customs and Border Protection Official who is refusing your entry. She may be the most discourteous person in the world, but telling her so is not going to gain you any points. Worse, it could land you in jail. Remember that it is ILLEGAL to attempt to enter the United States if you have ever been arrested for certain crimes. You should be thanking the officer for not cuffing you and for allowing you to withdraw your application for entry instead.

Tying in to my first point; try not to take it personally. I realize that it may be humiliating, but you are being refused because the Immigration and Nationality Act says that you are not welcome, not because the border guard is trying to ruin your day. The legislation surrounding admissibility is extremely complicated and border guards will err on the side of caution if there is any question about whether you are legally allowed to be in their country. It doesn’t matter that your conviction is 40 years old or that it was “just pot”. The law says you’re out, period. And the border guards are simply paid to enforce the law.

Finally, whatever you do, do NOT try to reenter at another border crossing if you have already been refused. All ports of entry are linked and an officer at Pearson airport can very easily see that you have just been refused at Calgary. Customs officials do not take kindly to being toyed with so attempting to jump the border in this way can bring severe repercussions. Moreover, incidents such as this are taken into consideration when Homeland Security reviews your waiver application. This could be difference between a one and a five year waiver. So don’t do it.

All in all, though it may be hard to admit, there is no one to blame but yourself if you are refused entry. Ultimately, it is always your responsibility to find out about a foreign country’s admissibility requirements before you plan to travel there. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the embarrassment of a refusal at the border. A quick phone call or email to our office will let you know if you can go ahead with your honeymoon in Maui or if you need to make other plans.


Comment (0)
audrey / November 15, 2010

I am to travel to california tomorrow and have just been notified that I may be refused entry to the usa as about 2 yrs ago I was convicted of assault, I was never incarcarated and was put on 1yr probation, this is my very first conviction I am a 55yr old female. what are my chances of entry?

Birgit Davidson / November 15, 2010

Hi Audrey,

Under US law, one simple assault conviction does not necessarily render a person inadmissible. However, you must remember that the border guard who processes your application for entry has absolute discretion regarding whether or not you will be allowed in.
Long story short: you can try to travel tomorrow and you may be allowed across but there is also a chance that you could be unlucky and be refused. If I were you, I would postpone my trip and apply for a pardon or waiver.
Please feel free to call me at 1-866-242-2411 to further discuss your case.

All the Best,


tom / November 15, 2010

Well. I think you are taking a risk if you decide to go anyways. I know someone who’s wife is a custom border guard, and to make a long story short, he told me one day that his wife (US border guard) had to refuse a couple on a honeymoon because the guy has a record. The border guards are human as well, but they have to do their job. So I’m in agreement with Birgit.

BTW, I have said many times before, I’m not part of the national pardon, lawyer, or any authority. Just a normal guy reading up on things.

tom / November 20, 2010

audrey. If you decide to get a pardon, wait until your record is cleared so the customs border guards can not see it. If they don’t see it, they do not have an excuse to stop you from crossing UNLESS you act suspicious. They have started pat-downs and xrays etc…so the procedure is becoming more rigorous…

Steven / March 7, 2012

The United States does not accept any Pardon unless it is from a US President or Governors. Dont get a pardon just to cross the border because they still can find out.

Spock / May 4, 2013


The US government cannot find out about a pardon so quit spreading inaccurate comments.

If you are pardoned and between the point of time you were convicted and you receive a pardon AND your record is sealed you do not travel into the US then the US does not and cannot know about your pardon UNLESS it is revealed by the Solicitor General of Canada … This happens extremely rarely. Canada is not some banana republic that you think the US can push around.

If you take the chance and travel before your record is sealed then your record may get copied over to the US database and at this point getting a pardon makes NO difference

Hope this clears up your confusion

Rob / February 4, 2015

I think the U.S. border officials are complete Morons myself. My wife recently came to see me. She came in October of 2014. She is a Canadian citizen. She brought my grandson with her then. The custom officials brought her in to background check her then, and found nothing. My wife recently tried to cross the border, and apparently she has some kind of crime now, and the U.S. government wants 585 dollars to possibly let her into the country. Also she works at the school, and had to have a police background check they found nothing. She also has a Passport and the CVanadian governmeant didn’t seem to concerned with giving her it. Its always about money here in the U.S. I guess it is too bad she isn’t Mexican, or Cuban.


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