OTTAWA: A French teenager who spent two weeks in US detention after inadvertently crossing the border from Canada while jogging on the beach, told AFP Saturday how she suffered “the fright of my life”.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Cedella Roman, 19.
The story of how she strayed over the border in British Columbia and into the US state of Washington on May 21 broke Friday on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
The girl from Briancon in the Alps, said she was headed back when the tide turned and she was apprehended by two US Border Patrol officers who told her she had entered illegally and been caught on camera.
Despite pleading her innocence, Roman said she wasn’t carrying identity papers and was taken off for finger-printing.
“That’s when I began to get very afraid. It was like being a big criminal,” she told AFP by telephone.
After finishing school, Roman had gone to Canada to visit her mother, who lives in White Rock, and to improve her English, and wasn’t carrying identity papers.
She said she was allowed to call her mother who “understood immediately and started to panic”.
‘Barbed wire and dogs’
Overnight, Roman was transferred to the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center, run by the Department of Homeland Security, 200 kilometres (120 miles) to the south.
“I found myself in prison. We were locked up all the time and in the yard there was barbed wire and dogs,” she said.
Roman spent two weeks in a large room filled with about 100 “migrants” and 60 beds.
“We tried to help each other, there was a good atmosphere,” she said. “seeing people who had come from Africa and elsewhere locked up for trying to cross the border, it put my experience into perspective.”
Her mother Christiane Ferne reached the centre with her passport and study permits after two days.
But red tape took over and employees at the site said the documents would have to be verified by Canadian authorities.
“Since I am not Canadian, it took time” said Roman.
She was finally held for two weeks before the matter was resolved and she was allowed to return to Canada.
All charges against her have been dropped, but she has been banned from travelling to the United States.
Ferne said the lack of clear border signs had led to her daughter’s predicament. “It’s like a trap… anybody can be caught at the border like this.”
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed to CBC that Roman was discharged on June 6.
“If an individual enters the United States at a location other than an official port of entry and without inspection by a Customs and Border Protection officer, they have illegally entered the United States and will be processed accordingly,” the US Customs and Border Protection said.
“It is the responsibility of an individual travelling in the vicinity of an international border to maintain awareness of their surroundings and their location at all times.
“Additionally, it’s important for people travelling near the border to carry identification at all times.”