Australian teenager strip searched and held in US prison for 10 days after being denied joint visa waiver | American immigration

An Australian teenager who traveled to the United States for a job interview was strip searched and held in federal prison for 10 days, eight of which were confined to his cell, after being deemed ineligible for a joint vacation trips.

The 19-year-old, who had never traveled by air before, was denied contact with his family in Australia throughout the ordeal. He was due to be returned to Australia after two days, but was held for a further eight days so he could appear before a judge, after an immigration officer said he had resisted being returned to Australia .

When he was finally placed on a flight to Australia, he landed in Melbourne, over 750km from his home in Bathurst, New South Wales.

Cameron Carter flew to Honolulu on a Jetstar flight from Sydney on August 15. He intended to take three domestic flights to the small town of Powell, Wyoming to visit a friend and interview for a potential job as a freshman mechanic. He had a return flight to Australia booked for October 14 and $1,400 in his bank account – less than he intended to travel, after his original return flight was canceled and he had to book again, but enough to support himself as he would be staying with mates.

He traveled under the Visa Waiver Program, which allows visitors from Australia and 39 other countries to travel to the United States for up to 90 days for vacation or to conduct business meetings, provided other entry requirements are met.

Carter was called in for an interview with immigration officials after he told customs officials at Honolulu airport that he had traveled to the United States for a job interview and hoped to return to live and work in the country.

Visa Waiver Program requirements state that participants are allowed to “consult with business associates” and “negotiate a contract,” but “employment” and “permanent residence in the United States” are not permitted. allowed.

“What was going through my mind was: I hope I get through this,” Carter told Guardian Australia. “Once I sat down and asked questions, it was, yeah, I’m screwed.”

In the interview, a transcript of which was seen by Guardian Australia, Carter confirmed he had booked a flight home and had money to support himself, and planned to spend a interview for a job as a mechanic and cashier in a supermarket in Wyoming. .

He also confirmed that he plans to return to the United States to live and work in Powell “after obtaining a work visa”.

Immigration staff spoke to Carter’s friend, who confirmed he would stay with her until he could find accommodation of his own.

He was then told that he was ineligible for admission to the United States “because you have not rebutted the presumption that you are a targeted immigrant.”

“You have stated that you intend to come to the United States to live and work permanently,” the immigration officer said.

Carter’s family was expecting a call from him after he arrived in Honolulu. Instead, they received a call from the Australian consulate the following day.

“It was awful,” said her mother, Benetta Carter. “The consulate couldn’t tell us anything. We weren’t allowed to talk to him. All the consulate said was that he had been detained and when we asked for a welfare check all the consulate got was the transcript of the taped conversation from immigration .

Cameron Carter at his parents’ in Bathurst. His mother says she dreads “the day he says he’s going back” to the United States. Photography: Monique Lovick/The Guardian

Carter was first said he would be held in a federal detention center for two days and would fly to Sydney on Wednesday August 17.

Instead, he was confined to a two-person cell in an area of ​​the prison called the “shoe” for eight days. Food was delivered to the cell door and the only water came from a broken fountain attached to the top of the toilet.

“You would have to use a hand or something just to drain the water because they never provided cups or any type of container,” he said. “I haven’t eaten for eight days in a row.”

On Wednesday, he received a phone call from someone at the Australian consulate who said he had been in contact with his parents and that he would appear before a federal judge on Friday to confirm his desire to return to Australia. On Friday, he was told the hearing had been rescheduled for Monday.

The hearing was called because Carter had told immigration officials during his interview that he did not want to return to Australia and had a “little scare” about it, which he described as the afraid of “wasting money on bills” and experiencing “a lot of things”. stress… I would be lectured by my own family”. He was noted as resistant to deportation.

It was a misinterpretation of what Carter, tired and stressed after a 10-hour flight, meant by saying he didn’t want to go home, Benetta Carter said.

“I don’t know if the immigration officer was having a bad day, but they automatically cracked him down,” she said. “I think his dad turned almost snow white from the stress.”

Carter then spent two days in the general prison population but still could not contact his family because the phone card given to him by prison staff did not work. He was taken to the airport and placed on a Jetstar flight to Australia on Wednesday August 24. It wasn’t until immigration staff brought him to the gate that he realized the flight was destined for Melbourne and not Sydney.

He borrowed a phone from another passenger after landing in Melbourne and was able to book a flight to Sydney to meet his parents, who were told by consulate officials he would arrive on a direct flight from Hawaii to Sydney that night -the.

Carter said he planned to return to the United States “on a better flight with better documents.”

“The experience didn’t put me off, it just gave me a goal to pursue,” he said. “I am stubborn.”

His mother said she was relieved to have her son home. “He is home safe now. I just dread the day he says he’s coming back,” she said.

The Guardian has previously reported cases where Australian citizens have been detained and deported from the United States after failing to convince authorities that they met the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program, including a woman who was questioned about her history of abortion by a border agent.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said it was “aware of a number of cases where Australian citizens have been deported from the United States” and urged all Australians to “educate themselves about the conditions of entry, transit and exit for their destination and to apply for the visa depending on the purpose of their trip”.

“These requirements may change with little notice.”

US Customs and Border Protection has been contacted for comment.

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