Husband working to get wife back across border

Paperwork, misdemeanor deny Canadian woman re-entry to United States

Husband trying to get wife back across border

December 19, 2004|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Lisa Davis, a Canadian, crossed the border to visit her dying father two weeks ago. Now, with her new husband waiting for her in Baltimore, she's stuck in Toronto, the victim of strict, post-9/11 border regulations and a minor crime she committed six years ago.

Faced with arrest if she tries to re-enter this country, Davis, 41, spends her days riding buses to and from diplomatic and government offices. She eats and sleeps at a women's shelter because she doesn't have money for a hotel.

"It just seems like everyone wants to shut the door and pretend I don't exist," Davis said in a telephone interview. "I wanted our first Christmas together to be a wonderful one in our new house. And now it doesn't look like it will be that way."

Davis, who was married in March, has a U.S. work visa and applied for permanent residency here. But she violated U.S. immigration rules when she left the country without special permission while her permanent residency application is pending. She should have applied for "advanced parole" before she left town, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.

The Davises say they were so upset by the family news that they didn't think about immigration regulations.

"When we got the call that Lisa's dad was dying, we threw our stuff in suitcases, and off we went," said Larry Davis, 43. "All Lisa could think about was getting there before he passed."

The couple drove their truck to Canada and arrived in time to see her father before he died. But when they tried to return to the United States on Wednesday, they ran into trouble at the border. Lisa Davis had forgotten her passport at home in Baltimore and Larry Davis, who has never had a passport, was told he needed a birth certificate in addition to his driver's license.

Larry Davis was eventually cleared for re-entry, even without the birth certificate, but his wife was barred.

The Davises were stunned. They had no idea what to do or where to turn. In the end, Lisa Davis returned to Toronto to meet with U.S. Embassy staff in hopes of getting the necessary paperwork. Larry Davis, his truck packed with boxes his wife had retrieved from storage in Canada, returned to Baltimore to make phone calls and seek legal advice.

Because she failed to fill out the advanced parole form, Lisa Davis is now subject to penalties, including the automatic rejection of her current residency application, said Danielle Sheahan, a spokeswoman for the U.S. customs and border agency. Residency applications include warnings about leaving the country without the proper forms, Sheahan said, but lots of people fail to read the documents carefully.

"It happens every day, I am telling you," said Sheahan, who handles many cases like the Davises', cases involving people who left the country in a rush, whether to visit a dying relative or help an ailing friend, and failed to fill out the proper paperwork.

"I am trying to figure out a way we can fix the problem," said Sheahan, who added that she wishes her agency would handle cases such as the Davises' with more discretion.

"There should be some sort of warning," she said. "We should be able to tell people, `Look, you broke the law this time. We'll let you back in the country one more time, but the next time you need the proper paperwork.'"

Sheahan has spoken with Larry Davis about his wife's predicament. So has a member of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's Baltimore staff. Both of them are trying to deliver Lisa Davis back to her Baltimore home before Christmas, but there have been further complications.

In 1998, Larry Davis says, his wife was convicted in a Canadian court of misusing office equipment on the job. The husband says his wife used her work computer to do some research on the Internet for a nursing class. One of her bosses caught her and filed charges. The misdemeanor conviction - albeit minor - was picked up by a border agent when the couple tried to re-enter the United States.

U.S. officials have told Lisa Davis that she must have the conviction expunged before they will issue her the advanced parole documentation she needs. The process, one that involves the Canadian Royal Mounted Police as well as local court offices, could take months to complete, Larry Davis said, and cost hundreds of dollars, not including his wife's living expenses while she waits.

"I don't know who they think they are protecting us from," said Larry Davis, who works for the Department of Defense. "Now they are stopping Canadian nurses who work for the Salvation Army because they are a threat?"

Larry Davis says his wife's job - she is an accountant for the Salvation Army in Baltimore - and the home they purchased to begin their lives together are in jeopardy. He says he cannot afford the $750-a-month mortgage payments on his own, and worries about other expenses. Lisa Davis' family in Canada cannot help her financially, he said.

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