Customs Officials Protect America from Wealthy Canadian Who Wanted to Spend Money Here

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Canadian poker pro Terrence Chan has twice been turned away at the U.S. border by customs officials. He describes the first time, a week ago Thursday:

After an hour of waiting, I made it to the front, where I was asked the usual questions. Where do I live? What do I do for work? What is the purpose of my trip? How long will I be there? I answered every question with what would turn out to be the worst possible answer — the truth. I told them that I am a professional poker player with rental property in Hong Kong and Vancouver, and that I was going down to train martial arts for two months, including participating in a major tournament. I made it very clear I had no plans to stay in the United States past December.

They told me to sit down.

About 30 minutes later, I was asked another round of questions. These questions from the same officer were much more accusatory. How could I prove I wasn’t trying to stay in the states indefinitely? What ties do I have to Canada? What ties do I have to Hong Kong? What assurances can you give that you will leave the US? I answered that I own property outside of the US that I have to manage, that all my family lives outside of Canada, that I have poker sponsorship opportunities awaiting me in the Asia-Pacific region.

“But none of these things prove that you will leave the U.S.”

I was told to sit back down, and waited for another 30 minutes. I was then called up again, taken to the back, fingerprinted, and told to sit back down.

They denied him entry. Yesterday Chan tried again, this time armed with a mountain of paperwork.

They went through every piece of paperwork I had and found something wrong with it in one way or another. I had last month’s internet bill in Vancouver and my electric bill in Hong Kong; they now told me I needed six months of bills. They said I needed credit card statements with activity to prove I was spending time in those places. They said I needed a job with pay stubs, and they said that that job had to be where I was physically present, such that it would not be possible for me to do it in the States. They didn’t like that my plane ticket from Vancouver to Hong Kong was only for two months, even though neither of those places is in the United States. He even tried to twist my words of “I’m going to train martial arts” as meaning that I was going to work illegally. “If you don’t have a visa for that, you can’t come in.”

Quite simply, they never had any intent of letting me in the country, no matter what I showed, said, or did. There is no conceivable way that I could have convinced them otherwise. I was fingerprinted again and once again shown the door…

I am a law-abiding, honest, wealthy and mobile Canadian who wanted to come for two months, rent a property, buy groceries, pay fees to a school, spend money on entertainment, and leave.

For this, I get treated like a criminal. Well, no more. I’m done with the United States.

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67 Responses to “Customs Officials Protect America from Wealthy Canadian Who Wanted to Spend Money Here”

  1. #1 |  Elliot | 

    So the theory is that because he’s a poker player they don’t want him in the US? Has he made public statements in favor of on-line gambling or something?

    How do other people who play poker get into the US?

  2. #2 |  Ben | 

    I feel sorry for the earth’s population
    cause so few live in the USA
    at least the foreigners can copy our morality
    they can visit but they can not stay.
    Only precious few can garner our prosperity
    it makes us walk with renewed confidence.

  3. #3 |  Trevor Roll | 

    Why didn’t he just walk across the southern border? No checks, no interrogations, and he could stay as long as he liked!

  4. #4 |  Radley Balko | 

    I don’t have any theories about underlying motives.

    I posted the story because it’s an example of the arbitrary stupidity of our immigration policy.

  5. #5 |  BillC | 

    To play devil’s advocate, he says that his family and property are all in Hong Kong and I can see why his Canadian citizenship might appear to be nothing more than a document of convenience for him. The US does not have open borders with China.

  6. #6 |  Professor Coldheart | 

    “But none of these things prove that you will leave the U.S.”

    How twisted of a question is this? The concern isn’t that Chan will abide by the law, or that he won’t be a productive member of society. The concern is that Chan won’t leave when he says he will. Oh no! There’s a chance he’ll stay in Las Vegas past his stated expiration date, doing nothing but driving up WSOP viewership and tourist revenue!

  7. #7 |  EH | 

    I think the natural answer is “why would I want to stay?”

  8. #8 |  SJE | 

    Unfortunately ICE is probably right: if he does not have a work permit, he will not be permitted into the country. It doesn’t matter if it is Jackie Chan, or if no one else can do it, you still need a permit.

    The system is seriously messed up. He could have crossed illegally (and claimed mistake if caught), across the porous US-Can border (e.g. canoe). He could have lied and said he was here on vacation. But telling the truth gets him in trouble. This is pretty typical for people with foreign visas: its like the DMV, only more expensive, takes longer, and far more arbitrary.

    This is not just a problem for immigration policy, but for national security. We spend all this time and money on stupid things like visiting martial arts gurus, and provide incentives to lie and break the law, instead of focusing on real threats like explosives.

  9. #9 |  Ripley | 

    he says that his family and property are all in Hong Kong

    Vancouver is not Hong Kong.

  10. #10 |  scott | 

    “I’m done with the United States.”

    So am I, Mr. Chan. So am I.

    Though not having the advantage of wealth or mobility I prefer to think the United States is done with the likes of me.

  11. #11 |  Irving Washington | 

    SJE, are you insane? He’s freakin’ Canadian! With most (white) Canadians, we don’t even require a visa.

  12. #12 |  BillC | 

    I think the key issue is whether he is Canadian or Chinese. Does he hold passports for both nations? If he’s Chinese then he needs to get a visa to travel to this country. It sounds to me like he’s using his Canadian passport to avoid Visa hassles. If you’re going to try and do that you may want to shut up about all your family and property in China and try to seem like an actual Canadian citizen. Our open borders with Canada are not intended to be used as a backdoor entry for foreign nationals who would otherwise be required to apply for a visa or fill out an application for the visa waiver program (depending on country of origin)

  13. #13 |  SJE | 

    @#6. EH +1. The USA is a great country, but the ICE officials act as if the rest of the world is a hellhole that everyone else wants to leave. It’s typical of a lot of the debate about immigration, but its terribly misinformed. A friend of mine came to Silicon Valley to expand his telecom business but left last year because of the excessive buracracy, and moved to Singapore. I know other people who happily moved to (or back to) Europe or Australia, and are doing very well. Some shuttle between the USA and Europe, depending on what their job demands.

    One of the worst parts of US policy is the tax code that makes it very difficult for US citizens to work overseas without also hitting them with US taxes (the US is the only industrialized country that does this). As a result, US citizens are at a competitive disadvantage overseas. So, if you are looking for someone with extensive overseas experience, you probably want a foreigner. Of course, we don’t allow foreigners into the USA. And then we wonder why we don’t export as strongly as, say, the Germans.

  14. #14 |  Zeb | 

    SJE, saying “ICE is probably right” is technically correct, but pretty much tautological. They are right that he won’t be let into the country because they are the ones who won’t let him into the country. Otherwise I agree with you. If he had pretended to be a tourist visiting for a week, he would have been fine. But he tells the truth and tries to do everything by the book and he gets fucked with.

  15. #15 |  SJE | 

    Irving Washington: he might be Canadian, but he looks Chinese. ICE is not above discrimination on the basis of race. About 15 years ago it granted vistors visa for all the students of an exclusive private school in Brazil, except for the kid who was black.

  16. #16 |  SJE | 

    Zeb: my point is about the work visa. You need a visa to work.

  17. #17 |  SJE | 

    Actually, Zeb raises an interesting issue. If you are professional poker player, can you visit Las Vegas? ICE would probably say no.

  18. #18 |  BillC | 

    SJE: Are you considering playing in a poker tournament to be work?

  19. #19 |  Bob | 

    And here I naively thought all you needed to cross the US / Canada border was a US or Canadian passport. Because, you know, we have an open border.

    So basically, border guards can deny you for whatever stupid “Gut feeling” they might have?

    Won’t that attract power tripping dirt bags to the job?

    What fuckheads thought this was a good idea? Oh. Right. Government agencies with no oversight, accountability, or transparency.

  20. #20 |  Charlie O | 

    This is one reason this country is full of illegal immigrants. We make so goddamn difficult to come here legally. Sheer, utter stupidity.

  21. #21 |  Joe | 

    U.S. Border officers can be dicks.

    Here is a classic example.

    I assume that U.S. Border Officials and TSA officers go to dick school to get really good at it. That same institution also offers a correspondence course for DMV workers.

  22. #22 |  Steve Verdon | 

    SJE: Are you considering playing in a poker tournament to be work?

    So BillC is playing professional baseball, football or basketball not work as well? After all they are just games.

  23. #23 |  Joe | 

    He should play poker on line…in Washington State. Oh wait, nevermind.

  24. #24 |  Nando | 

    It’s all for the better. If he were allowed into the US he’d probably get the SWAT team called to his house for playing Poker online, his dog would be shot, and the neighbors down the street, who had nothing to do with him, would’ve had THEIR house raided, by mistake, a few days before they found the right address.

    Nope, it’s better he stay in Canadia.

  25. #25 |  Big Chief | 

    This sounds familiar. A few years ago I had two work colleagues from India in the US for a few months to learn some design procedures. As part of their stay we visited our Canadian manufacturing facility. After that we would return to the US, they would work about another month, and then return to India.

    We were in Toronto airport preparing to fly back to the US and had to go through Customs and Immigration before boarding the flight. One of my Indian co-workers and I went right through with no issues. The other Indian got held up by a C&I worker. When I looked around for him he was looking rather concerned. I walked over to see what the hold up was. He told me the C&I worker wanted to see his ticket back to India and was asking for a lot of other information. I started asking the C&I official why this was necessary as he had a valid visa and was entitled to two or three more months in the US, but she refused to speak to me and I was asked to move on. I did leave her desk but refused to leave the room despite several requests by C&I officials to do so. I was not about to abandon my friend to the vagaries of US bureaucrats.

    After wasting 5-10 minutes of time the C&I official finally let my coworker through. I remain irritated to this day by the arbitrariness of the situation. In fact when we visited Niagra Falls a couple of weeks later we all decided it wasn’t worth the hassle to cross over to the Canadian side.

    I’ve heard of similar tales of C&I employees conduct from friends who have frequently crossed the border. 8 times out of 10 it’s perfunctory, 1 time they will ask a couple of questions and want to see a couple of extra documents, and the other time they will start insisting you show them a paper trail back to your birth. It doesn’t make me feel any better or safer, just the opposite. C&I – the federal DMV.

  26. #26 |  SJE | 

    BillC: if you are a professional poker player, and you come to the USA to play poker, you are working. Even if you lose money. If you win, the IRS will want a slice too.

  27. #27 |  omar | 

    can see why his Canadian citizenship might appear to be nothing more than a document of convenience for him.

    A passport is probably as strong and legal document a government can grant a citizen. To my knowledge, we don’t get to decide who really deserves a passport from a foreign country. This isn’t a situation of “if it walks like a duck”. Either he’s Canadian or he’s not regardless of his financial situation, color, language, or name.

    The ICE, in their infinite bastardtude, can deny him for a lot of silly reasons, but I don’t think “not being Canadian enough” is one of them.

  28. #28 |  SJE | 

    Charlie O: “This is one reason this country is full of illegal immigrants. We make so goddamn difficult to come here legally. Sheer, utter stupidity.”

    That is EXACTLY RIGHT. It is so difficult to get a legal visa, that the illegals stay here because once they go home they will not be allowed back in.

    Look at other developed nation’s immigration systems and you will see how f*d up is the USA. Singapore allows you to work as long as you earn above a certain amount and don’t cause trouble. They also have an expedited system for low-wage labor, such as nannies. Australia asks if you have certain high demand skills or are a businessman, and then lets you immigrate. Same story in NZ, I believe. There are plenty of highly skilled workers who set up business overseas rather than deal with the BS of US immigration.

  29. #29 |  Mattocracy | 

    Just imagine if they let him in, he went to Arizona, and then they locked him up there for possibly being in America illegally. Only then would this story completely prove the backasswardness of American Immigration and Customs.

  30. #30 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    I posted the story because it’s an example of the arbitrary stupidity of our immigration policy.

    Stupidity by zombie state agents infects every service, but it is especially bad with immigration. These are some truly horrible people who generally make-shit-up-as-they-go-along since they really just want you to go away so they can take a nap.

    Can’t wait until they take over health care.

  31. #31 |  JS | 

    To be honest with you if I wasn’t American I would go out of my way to avoid this country.

  32. #32 |  claude | 

    ” I’m done with the United States.”

    I feel that way quite often myself. Havent given up completely… yet.

  33. #33 |  oscar | 

    “Who does he think he is? Johnny Chan?”

    – Joy Miller

    (google it – its a funny story)

  34. #34 |  Dave Krueger | 

    And Al Queda is quietly telling its people, “I think our guys will get through fine as long as we don’t claim to be involved in poker”.

  35. #35 |  Mark S. | 

    Radley’s comment #4:

    It’s arbitrary at this point only because we don’t have a comment from ICE.

  36. #36 |  Anon | 

    Similar experience.

    Imagine not just wealthy but multi billionaire. With major banking influence in a certain part of the world we seem interested in (want coop on terror funding anyone?). Owns over 120 businesses in the US (as well as a 10+ million dollar home).

    Valid Visa, he gets in. His 2 year old son, denied visa and entrance because his name is too similar to someone on a list. (diaper bomber?)

    It’s idiocy folks. The terrorists aren’t going to arrive in a 150 million dollar 2 bedroom airplane. And it’s certainly no way to build relationships with those who could be incredibly helpful and share our objectives.

  37. #37 |  K9kevlar | 

    Those custom folks are just Keith and the Girl fans. Payback is a bitch.

  38. #38 |  awp | 

    When I came back through the U.S. Canada border on a trip one time, they held me for about an hour because I was from Texas. I told them that once I hit Oklahoma everything else seemed like a hop skip and a jump. Pissed me off though because they just waved the twenty Canadian cars in front of me through.

    Going the other way the Canadians were pretty funny. Both times they said, “I don’t mean to stereotype you, but you are from Texas, do you have access to any guns?”

    The Canadians were cautious about letting me in because I couldn’t prove I had any money. This confused me because at any point in time while in Canada I would be a fifty dollar bus trip away from being the US’s problem again.

  39. #39 |  SJE | 

    I have crossed through the borders of perhaps 20 countries, including communist China in the 1980s and developing Malaysia. The worst treatment, on average, is the USA: the sheer unpleasant, arbitrary and petty bureaucreacies are the last thing you want when you have been flying for 2 days. They also don’t speak English that well sometimes. I also try to avoid, as much as possible, any intermediate stop in the USA, because it is so unpleasant. (Disclaimer: Heathrow border control is a pain, but the Brits are usually nicer about it)

  40. #40 |  jb | 

    Our immigration policy works about as well as does the rest of gummint.

  41. #41 |  croaker | 

    And then the Obamabots wonder why Rio got the Olympics and Chicago got the finger.

    Tourism is way down in the USA, because visitors don’t want to be bent over and fucked hard with Tiger Balm(tm) by ICE. Department of Homeland Security. Sounds like that name should be in German.

  42. #42 |  primus | 

    never, never enter the excited states. Ever.

  43. #43 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Without the freedom to travel, there is no freedom.

  44. #44 |  Frank Hummel | 

    The assholeness of some ICE officers notwithstanding, let’s be fair: the US take about a million legal immigrants per year, more than all other countries combined.

    Having gone thru the process I did not find it terribly difficult. The whole process from 0 to green card took under six months and i never actually talked to an immigration officer.

  45. #45 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    #39 | SJE | November 2nd, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    I’ve always found chinese customs officials to be cordial, professional, and polite.

    Oh, and most of the time they happen to be cute girls, so there’s that too.

  46. #46 |  Daze | 

    Terrence Chan has played in the WSOP in Las Vegas each of the last six years (and done pretty well).

  47. #47 |  Me2 | 

    Nothing proves that he planned to leave? What then did they have that showed he planned to stay? Nonsense.

  48. #48 |  RomanCandle | 

    So what if this guy was needlessly hassaled and treated like a criminal?

    The important thing is that a bunch of 85 I.Q. bureaucrats got the satisfaction of pretending to be important by lording their arbritraty authority over a successful man!

    What else are these agencies tor, if not that?

  49. #49 |  TC | 

    More proof it’s always easier to to ask forgiveness than permission!

    Oh and no matter what papers you have on you,,,, “Your Papers Are Out of Order” !!!

    TSA or Customs does not have on-site lawyers and those 8 buck an hour types will always enjoy farkin wit ya!

    Best to send a letter saying how much you would have spent over how many days. Most hoteliers can use such to beef up their potential revenue and include such in the budgeting process for next year too!!

    The 8 dollar guys and gals can then put him on a watch list…. threatening their job security or some such thing….

  50. #50 |  Charlie O | 

    #21. Joe.

    That audio recording is enough to turn me into a terrorist. Fuck the US Customs service.

  51. #51 |  Joey Maloney | 

    @22 “One of the worst parts of US policy is the tax code that makes it very difficult for US citizens to work overseas without also hitting them with US taxes ”

    I’m not sure what you mean. I’m working overseas right now so I’ve had to deal with this. If you are overseas, the first $80K of your income, no matter what its source, is tax-exempt. (So you get the exemption even if your employer is US-based.) That’s a pretty decent deal.

  52. #52 |  Joey Maloney | 

    …oops, that should be @13. I’m having a retarded day.

  53. #53 |  GregS | 

    For those of you arguing that Chan needs a work visa to participate in a poker tournament. Are you seriously suggesting that anyone coming to the United States to participate in a tournament, athletic event, or other contest, where prizes are involved, needs to apply for a work visa? Great way of ensuring that no world-class events are ever held in the United States again. And what about foreign tourists traveling to the United States to gamble in Las Vegas – do they need to apply for a work visa? If so, that’s insane. If not, what’s the difference between then and Chan – after all, he and they are traveling there to do the same thing and are hoping for the same result – to win money.

    For those of you questioning his “Canadianness” – Canada has many hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Hong Kong, and many of the maintain family and business ties in HK. This is particularly true in Vancouver. There’s nothing unusual about what Chan is doing at all.

  54. #54 |  Southern Man | 

    Don’t be “done” with the USA; we the people welcome you. Unfortunately, the idiots we’ve elected to run the place don’t. Look at yesterday’s elections as a step back towards sanity.

  55. #55 |  divadab | 

    I look at crossing the border as an object lesson in what a fascist police state feels like. Americans, better get used to it because these guys have already declared that the 14th amendment doesn’t apply within 100 miles of the border. They can stop, interrogate, and search anyone, according to the fascist fucks at the boondoggle “Dept of Homeland Security”, anywhere within this “border zone”.

    Incidentally, about 80% of the US population lives in this Federal Government-declared constitution-free zone.

    In a country where the average person watches 37 hours of teevee a week, all corporatist propaganda of the most sophisticated and powerful kind, what do you expect but brainwashed morons? Morons who will buy whatever shit the controllers are selling.

    If you don’t like it – your choice is leave or submit to a strip search daily from the thugs at Homeland Security Inc., wholly-owned subsidiary of Amerika, Inc., mortgaged by Goldman Sachs, armed by GE, and told what to do by Faux News.

  56. #56 |  JS | 

    Southern Man “Don’t be “done” with the USA; we the people welcome you. Unfortunately, the idiots we’ve elected to run the place don’t.”

    I share your sentiment but the truth is we the people don’t have any control or influence over the government than they did in the Soviet Union. It’s not just the idiots we elected that cause all the trouble but the unelected bureaucrats of the thousands of government agencies that exist to keep us safe at all costs. No, my advice for anyone outside the US is to stay as far from the US as possible

  57. #57 |  sailshonan | 


    Here’s the story on Chan’s “Candian-ness.” Back in 1997 when Hong Kong reverted back to Chinese rule, many HKers, fearing the communist Chinese gov’t, emigrated to other countries. Canada was selling citizenships to the Hkers for a couple hundred thousand dollars, and I believe the US was selling them for over half a mil each. So most of the HKers bought Canadian citizenships and moved to Vancouver, which is the closest Canadian city to HK. That’s why over fifty percent of Vancouver residents are now Asian. After the HKers came, other asians followed. I’m Japnese-American and I can go to Japanese restaurants, shops, and stores and speak nothing but Japanese. The signs around town are in Asian languages also. There are also may daily of non-stop flights from Vancouver to HK. I’ve been aboard severl and they are filled with the locals going back to HK. So there’s nothing unusual about Chan’s circumstance.

  58. #58 |  Marty | 

    #48 | TC |

    ‘TSA or Customs does not have on-site lawyers and those 8 buck an hour types will always enjoy farkin wit ya!’

    interesting thought with ‘on-site lawyers’- we have tons of store front law offices specializing in fixing traffic tickets in MO. I’m surprised a lawyer hasn’t opened a store front at or near an airport to specialize in travel issues- whether customers were fucked with by tsa goons or screwed over on their tickets by the airline. the lawyers could still fix traffic tickets, to boot.

  59. #59 |  fwb | 

    A constitutional truth: The feds have NO IMMIGRATION authority. Immigraion control was left to the States. EVERYTHING the feds do wrt immigration is unconstitutional.

    Again, understanding requires reading AND comprehension skills.

    Ever wonder why there was no federal immigration program until some time around 1906?

  60. #60 |  buzz | 

    This is nothing new. I traveled back and forth from Vancouver to Seattle back in the late 90’s and if you were of Chinese decent going to America you could have a lot of difficulty. I traveled off of my drivers license, but the people I worked with in Seattle who were of Chinese decent would either not go to Vancouver or make sure they had their (US) passports and birth certificates and anything else they could think of. Had no idea why until I read about the Hong Kong thing above. Odd, considering how easy it is to come across at other border crossings.

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  62. #62 |  Gene Stewart | 

    Reminds me of the Canadian science fiction writer Peter Watts, who was detained, beat up, and denied entry. When he sued over his treatment he was banned for life. He’s neither rich nor a gambler, unless you consider science fiction a gamble. According to him, it got physical simply because he got flippant with them when they asked impertinent questions, which is why he sued.

    What he and the gambler didn’t realize is, the USA they had in mind to visit does not exist any longer and hasn’t since the Cheney Junta. Visiting the USA now is like visiting Germany in the 1930s.

  63. #63 |  Gene Stewart | 

    Oops. Corrections follow, from a pal:

    Your facts are wrong, I’m sorry. He didn’t sue. He was TRIED, and he was found guilty of failing to comply with an order from a law enforcement (TSA) officer. According to US law, he’s now a felon. The guilty verdict stuck in several jurors’ craws and one in particular has done everything in her power – including traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to be interviewed on TV, etc, and patrolling web sites and setting the record straight every chance she gets. The judge who sentenced him gave him – basically – time served and I think a $500 fine plus court costs, and made it clear he thought it was all trumped up bullshit and the “law enforcement officers” maybe should have gone on trial themselves.

    He also wasn’t denied entry. When the incident occurred he was LEAVING the USA. He was allowed back in for the trial. After the guilty verdict then he became banned.

    It’s all in detail on his blog. It’s necessary to keep the facts straight, what with the mouth-breather, brainless Tea Party types shitting all over him on forums and news comments.

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  67. #67 |  Canadian | 

    For comparison, try going to New Zealand. The officials there are downright PLEASANT. One of the most mindbogglingly rational things that NZ does regards the many things they don’t want to allow in. As an island nation that does not have many common agricultural diseases, they are extremely picky about produce. For example, anything honeybee-related is a complete no-no.

    But if you, as a visiting tourist, happen to have something, they will keep it for you at the border. For free. They ask you to sign a form giving them permission to dispose of your goods if you don’t pick them up in a month and give you a claim ticket. My stuff had to be kept refrigerated. No problem. I heard (but did not take advantage of) they even have a system for getting your stuff to the port you’re leaving from if it’s not the same as the one you’re arriving at. I also expect that something could be arranged if you were staying longer than a month.

    The people were pleasant and intelligent enough that I could have talked my goods through (blood serum for biochemistry; it’s both sealed and essentially sterile), but why bother? Saved me the hassle of keeping it refrigerated in a hotel.

    The point is, they actually DON’T WANT THE STUFF IN THEIR COUNTRY. And so they try to make it as painless as possible to NOT bring it in. As opposed to the U.S., where they’re going to destroy all such “contraband” and so you might as well try to smuggle it. (And play dumb if they find it.)

    It’s a hell of a long flight to NZ from anywhere, but there’s not a lot to dread at the far end. (They actually have FREE coffee and tea in Auckland international arrivals. The woman staffing the booth said that she’s had per picture taken more times by tourists incredulous that anything would be free in an airport.)