A British Columbia woman has been issued a lifetime travel ban at a US border after officials found an email exchange with her doctor about a fentanyl overdose, which she survived over a year ago.
Is that allowed?
As told to Vice, the woman, Chelsea (her surname is withheld out of fears that it could affect her future) answered a series of questions about drug use when attempting to cross the Washington-British Columbia border. The 28-year-old woman said her phone was searched for about two hours. During questioning, the women admitted to using illegal drugs before.
It was super violating. I couldn’t believe they went into my sent emails folder, and found something from a year ago, which was addressed to my doctor. It was really humiliating; and it felt terrible having to bring that up.
The searching of electronic devices, which includes smartphones, is allowed as part of inspection in the US. Heading the other way, warrantless searches on phones are also allowed at the Canadian border, too.
The incident that she shared with her doctor took place in the summer of 2016 when Chelsea accidentally ingested and overdosed on fentanyl while celebrating a friend’s birthday at a strip club.
The woman who offered Chelsea a bump of what she thought was cocaine died from an overdose, while Chelsea was rushed to hospital, narrowly surviving.
When she came to, she was strapped to a hospital bed, her shirt was cut open, and she’d been revived using the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. At the hospital, they told her she did not have cocaine in her system—only fentanyl. The dealer who’d provided the drugs that night also overdosed and was hospitalized.
Chelsea was forever changed by the incident. She had previously experimented with party drugs, but after almost dying, she swore off drugs completely. She posted her story publicly on social media and encouraged people to share their stories in order to warn others about the dangers associated with drug use. She had hoped to save lives by sharing her story. – Vice
It was that same story, which she had shared with her doctor in an email, was found by US border officials.
While she had visited the US since her overdose and had even had her phone searched, she was allowed entry. When she got pulled in for secondary questioning this July, Chelsea thought it might have been “a mistake.” Chelsea told the officer questioning her when asked if she’d ever used fentanyl,
I woke up in the hospital, I almost died, it was terrible. I was told that my friend had died from an overdose, and that was also the reason I was in the hospital.
When asked by the official if she’d used it since Chelsea said “no.” He then asked if she was referring to the same story she had sent a doctor in the email. Then, having already explained the aforementioned overdose, Chelsea was asked questions about an abusive relationship she’d previously been in.
That part actually made me start crying because… is that any of your business? My past abusive relationships? I couldn’t believe that.
Officials had found a reminder in her phone detailing relationship “rules” an ex had required her to abide by.
Banned from crossing the border
After the hour of questioning, Chelsea was banned from entering the US, which will require her to get a waiver – “a process that requires hundreds of dollars, paperwork, and months of wait time – to re-enter the United States.
When contacted by VICE about the incident, US Customs and Border Protection provided a statement that read as a copied and pasted list of policies, including “foreign nationals may be inadmissible into the United States if they are found to be drug abusers or addicts.”
Chelsea wasn’t addicted to drugs; she had only experimented with substance use before, making the term “abuser” appear ill fitting, too. But because she admitted to using illegal drugs previously – even though she doesn’t anymore – she’ll likely be dealing with the consequences of a ban from entering the US for the rest of her life. Vice
But Chelsea does understand why they banned her, but still says that “[I]t sucks that they used my warning story about doing drugs against me – how ironic.”