A church-based group of Canadian volunteers heading to New Jersey to continue Hurricane Sandy cleanup efforts was denied entry at the American border over concerns that they would “steal American jobs” in construction. According to a report from CBC, Erik Hoeksema, outreach director for Hamilton, Ontario’s Rehoboth United Reformed Church, admitted that their host church had failed to submit the proper paperwork on time, but added that “common sense has it that we’re not going down there to steal American jobs, we’re helping people.”
The 12-person-strong group was stopped at the border on Saturday morning, traveling together in a church van. Border guards informed them that they had failed to have a letter sent from their host church “paroling” them to be in the United States, but that they would make an exception if the host church, the Reformed Church of Highland Park in central New Jersey, could fax or email a copy of the letter immediately.
Hoeksema, who was traveling with the group, got in contact with the Reformed Church’s Reverend Seth Kaper-Dale, who agreed to fax a letter immediately.
That letter was termed “not sufficient enough” by border patrol officers, and Rev. Kaper-Dale sent a second, more detailed letter, taking care not to reference construction.
“In general, mission teams do team-building, tour mercy ministries of the church (food pantries, re-entry programs, thrift shops, etc) and assist with neighborhood cleanup projects.”
Border patrol deemed the last part of the letter to be equivalent to “work for hire” and denied the group entry, after they had been waiting for over two hours.
“It’s not a new thing that groups are going down there and helping out,” said Hoeksema.
“In the past, our groups would go down and help in impoverished neighbourhoods and maybe they would even do some light construction.”
Visas Generally Not Required
By and large, Canadians and Americans don’t require a visa to cross their respective borders, especially not by land; the countries maintain a visa waiver agreement allowing travelers moving both ways to cross unimpeded unless they are planning to immigrate or do paying work. But as reported by the Toronto Star, border tensions have been rising since Donald Trump’s inauguration, with many Canadians and other foreign nationals being turned away at the border for nebulous reasons.
As Texas A&M Law School professor and director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic Fatma Marouf noted when her colleague, famed Holocaust historian Henry Rousso, was detained and nearly deported in Houston (as previously reported by the Inquisitr,) “In the past, I had not seen anything like that happening. It seems like there’s much more rigidity and rigor in enforcing these immigration requirements and the technicalities of every visa.”
Not Their First Relief Trip
According to Hoeksema, the church and individual members of the congregation had traveled south of the border to assist in relief efforts in past years; Hurricane Sandy relief efforts have been going on for five years now. Rev. Kaper-Dale also noted that they had hosted numerous Canadian groups in the past with no issues.
This trip, however, they were allegedly told that as foreigners, they would be taking American jobs and that there was no pressing need for relief efforts in any case.
“Hurricane Sandy happened five years ago… but the unfortunate thing for people who live in poverty is that they don’t get over these things as quickly as others,” said Hoeksema.
“They obviously can’t afford to remove the barriers that are in front of them on their own, so they rely on volunteers coming. And that’s all we were trying to do, go help others.”
Rev. Kaper-Dale agreed with his remarks, adding that it takes an average of seven years to get a poor family back on their feet after a disaster.
“We still have people living in their yards and in trailers while their houses are not completed because of financial shortcomings and the distribution of funding after Hurricane Sandy. Honestly, it just takes a long time to rebuild.”
“If you can’t get a church van with 12 white folks through, how much worse is it for any person of color, any person born somewhere else, any person whose name sounds foreign to an ICE officer, or any refugee?”
[Featured Image by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images]