Montreal woman denied entry to U.S. feels 'sick' at thought of crossing border again

Manpreet Kooner (L), pictured with her fiancé, was born in Canada and holds a Canadian passport. She claims she was turned away at the U.S. border and told she needed an immigrant visa. Photo from CBC.

A Montreal woman who claims she was denied entry into the U.S. says that she now feels “sick to [her] stomach” at the thought of crossing the border again.

Manpreet Kooner, who was born in Canada, has been navigating bureaucratic red tape since last Sunday when she was on her way to Vermont for a spa day with her friends.

The U.S. border officer told Kooner there was a note on her file saying she’d tried to enter the country twice in December. On that trip, she and her partner were detained for roughly four hours on their way to New York. They were denied entry as a result of an apparent computer glitch, but advised to try again the next day. They returned the next morning and were able to enter the U.S. without any issues.

However, things didn’t go as smoothly at the border last Sunday. Kooner, who says she travels to the U.S. up to four times a year, was fingerprinted and photographed by U.S customs officials. She was also questioned for several hours about things like her parents’ birth country and her work history. She was ultimately refused entry to the U.S. and says that she was told it was because she was an immigrant without proper visa documentation.

“Maybe they thought I was going in for work and not coming back,” she told Yahoo Canada News. “But I told them clearly that I had a hotel confirmation and we were planning on leaving the next day.”

With two trips planned to the U.S. in the next few months for a musical festival and her bachelorette party, Kooner is not sure what to do.

Last Sunday, a U.S. border officer advised her not to enter the country until she had a valid visa, which would be good for 10 years. She was instructed to go to the U.S. embassy in Ottawa, which she did the following morning. When Kooner explained her situation, the person she spoke to was baffled and told her she didn’t need a visa to travel to the U.S.

“He said it’s very odd and if I applied for a $400 visa, which is non-refundable, I’m just going to get refused since I’m a Canadian citizen,” she said. “I was speechless.”

Since Canadian media picked up Kooner’s story, she has been flooded with messages, including from her local MP, Anju Dhillon. Dhillon told Kooner that she wants to review her profile and understand where the problem may have started. Kooner also heard from Ted Brady, deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

Kooner is hoping her file will be sorted by this Thursday, which is when she is scheduled to fly to Miami.

“I’ve never felt so much stress about going to the United States before,” she told Yahoo Canada News. “The border guard told me I wouldn’t be flagged, but she also told me I’m an immigrant, so I’m not sure what to believe here.”

Kooner’s confusing predicament has also attracted kind offers from strangers, including a complimentary visit to an Ottawa-based spa.

“They said, ‘We know you think you need to go to the United States, but we got great stuff here in Canada,'” she said.

Of the approximately 400 messages she has received from strangers in both Canada and the U.S., Kooner says they’ve all been positive, supportive and reassuring. Many people have even shared their own experiences at the U.S. border, reassuring Kooner that she’s not alone.

“The main goal here is not to boycott the United States. It’s just to be able to travel there,” she said. “My fiancé proposed to me in California. We have memories there…and friends and family. The thought of not being able to see them again, it breaks my heart.”