Family waits as Guyanese man sits in limbo at U.S. border
Canada (thespec.com)- Richard Austin sits in a Buffalo detention facility with no idea when he will get out.
Officially, the Hamilton resident is neither a citizen of Canada nor of the United States and that is partly why he finds himself behind bars.
Austin travelled to the border in Niagara Falls Monday after being ordered out of Canada. Once there he said he was strip-searched, forced into an orange jumpsuit and put in a cell.
“I had no idea what was going on,” he said on the phone from the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility.
Austin, 32, was born in Guyana, but was raised by his grandparents after his father died when he was six. He moved to the U.S. when he was 12 and became a permanent resident there.
In October 2009, he came to Canada to reconnect with his mother and brothers and settled in the Hamilton area. He’s a poet and public speaker, a volunteer with a youth mentorship organization and most recently, a husband and father.
The problem is he never applied to come here. Austin said his mother was not able to sponsor him but he’d hoped his wife would be able to sponsor him after they married.
He tried to take steps — including unsuccessfully claiming refugee status — when Canadian immigration told him he had to leave.
Austin got a letter ordering him to report to the U.S. border by May 14. He was told he had to live outside Canada for a year and could then apply for residency.
When he arrived at the border crossing, he got a shock. He was told his U.S. permanent residency was no longer valid because he’d lived abroad for more than a year.
He also had a previous misdemeanour drug conviction after police found 0.7 grams of marijuana on the floor of his car in 2003. He didn’t realize he needed to apply for a waiver if he didn’t want the conviction flagged at the border.
Tom Rusert, chief U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, said a person could be arrested and detained at the border for many reasons, such as outstanding criminal charges and administrative charges that include immigration issues.
Rusert declined to comment on the case, citing privacy laws.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency were also unable to comment.
“I feel like they led him into a trap,” said his wife, Kenesh Austin.
“How many people get these letters and don’t go, they run … but (Austin) did the right thing and now he’s being punished.”
The pair met about two years ago when she was a waitress at a local restaurant. They were married last October.
Sitting in their small living room, Kenesh bounces the couple’s 10-month-old daughter, Nyoke, on her lap. The father and daughter are very close; Nyoke wouldn’t eat for two days after he left.
Kenesh had resigned herself to the fact her husband would be living in another country for a year before she could sponsor him and restart his immigration process. But nothing prepared her for his panicked phone call on Monday.
“I’ve cried and cried,” she said.
Artword Artbar’s Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford met Austin through the monthly spoken word events.
Weihs said they were upset to learn what happened and have been trying to help.
“There is no doubt that from a technical point of view the fault is his, he should have known, should have (taken proper steps),” Weihs said.
“But he came to live with his mother and they were citizens. He basically thought that living with them, he was fine.”
They contacted U.S. immigration lawyer Michael Marszalkowski, who agreed to take on the case.
Marszalkowski said he has applied to have Austin paroled, which means he could be released while awaiting an immigration hearing.
“He’s a good person, clearly not a risk to the public,” he said.
Marszalkowski said immigration laws are complicated and believes with the help of a good Canadian immigration lawyer, Austin should have been able to stay in Canada.
Weihs and Sandiford are working to hire a Canadian immigration lawyer.