Opinion

Wrong turns should not land infants in jail

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It wasn’t a wild animal that distracted me. It was a wild phone call, an argument about work, no less.

I wasn’t paying close attention to where I was. I wasn’t driving with the care we all should expect of one another. And I made a mistake.

I was lucky. I didn’t cause an accident, but it seems I was just a couple of years ahead of an international incident. I had accidentally driven into Canada when I didn’t turn off the highway in Houlton.

It’s funny now. Embarrassing, really.

But reading the news today about the Connors family, I realize just how lucky I was and how crazy our country has become about immigration.

The Connors family is from the United Kingdom and was on vacation in Vancouver when they say a wild animal jumped across the road. The family veered onto an unmarked road and accidentally crossed the U.S. border.

They were quickly arrested by Border Patrol agents. Instead of quickly resolving the problem, federal authorities have transported the family, including a 3-month-old child, across the country and held them in what the family describes as horrible conditions, according to the Washington Post.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection told The Post that they believe that the family made a deliberate attempt to enter the U.S. illegally and says that they have video evidence to prove it.

It was the summer of 2016, and I was driving north on Interstate 95 to Caribou. I’d made the trip, both as a driver and passenger, to The County numerous times. But this time I just wasn’t paying attention.

I drove straight into Canada, not realizing what I had done until I pulled up to the Canadian Border Services Agency window.

The officer was polite and funny. He asked me why I was visiting Canada. I had to be honest. “Well, I didn’t intend to visit Canada today. I guess I missed the turn.”

The officer got a good chuckle and let me know that I wasn’t the first to unintentionally cross the border. He invited me to stay for a visit in Canada and told me how nice his country is.

He then pointed me to a cut through and told me to turn right around and head home.

When I arrived back at the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol booth, my reception was a lot less friendly.

I was traveling without my passport and only had my driver’s license. I had never left the sight of the officers on both sides of the border, and there wasn’t a lot of traffic that day. The U.S. officer clearly knew what had happened.

The questions from the U.S. official were pointed, direct and intimidating. The officer asked me where I was going, who I was meeting with and for what purpose. I was nervous, and I’m sure it showed. I can’t imagine what the experience would have been like for a person of color or someone who couldn’t give local names to the officer as a reference.

After several tense minutes, the officer let me pass back into the U.S.

The Connors family, including an infant, weren’t so lucky. And neither was 19-year-old Cedella Roman, who was arrested and held for two weeks after accidentally crossing the border between British Columbia and the U.S. in 2018 while on a jog.

Now, I carry my passport when I travel. Just in case. Because I know that in some places it’s pretty easy to end up on the wrong side of a line that’s clear on a map but not so clear at highway speeds. I also know that our immigration system has lost touch with anything resembling common sense.

We shouldn’t be throwing babies or joggers in jail because they make a wrong turn. A little common sense and humanity would go a long way.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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