Cedella Roman, a French citizen visiting her mother in British Columbia, was out for a jog along the beach south of White Rock on May 21 when she accidentally crossed the US border into Blaine, Washington. She was immediately approached by two American border agents, who promptly arrested her.
Roman, 19, had unknowingly crossed a municipal boundary and then an international border when she was detained. Roman had stopped to take a picture when she turned around to head back when she was stopped by two border patrol agents. This simple mistake landed her in prison for two weeks 124 miles away from her mother’s home.
"An officer stopped me and started telling me I had crossed the border illegally," she told CBC News. "I told him I had not done it on purpose, and that I didn't understand what was happening." Roman says she saw no border signs but was told by border protection officers that she had entered the US illegally. Her accidental trespass was captured by security cameras.
"I said to myself, well I may have crossed the border — but they'll probably only give me a fine or they'll tell me to go back to Canada or they'll give me a warning," she recalled
Roman, whose mother lives in North Delta, BC, was in Canada to brush up on her English. After being arrested, she was transported 124 miles south to the Tacoma Northwest Detention Centre in Washington, which is run by the Department of Homeland Security.
"They put me in the caged vehicles and brought me into their facility," she said. "They asked me to remove all my personal belongings with my jewelry, they searched me everywhere. Then I understood it was getting very serious, and I started to cry a bit."
Her mother, Christiane Ferne, ran to her daughter’s side when she was notified of her whereabouts, but officers refused to look at Roman's documentation, which included her passport and study permits. She was told to contact Immigration Canada to inquire about whether her daughter could be discharged back to Canada. The nightmare lasted for two weeks before immigration officials in both countries agreed to release Roman and transfer her to BC.
"It was just unfair that there was nothing, no sign at the border," said Ferne. "It's like a trap … anybody can be caught at the border like this."
US government documents show that Roman was discharged on June 6 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, though neither US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Immigration Canada would discuss the case with CBS News due to “privacy concerns.”
A US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson stated that any foreign citizen who enters the US outside of an official port of entry without inspection is subject to being processed for crossing the border illegally. "This applies regardless of whether or not the individual claims to have inadvertently crossed the border," said the department.
"It is the responsibility of an individual traveling in the vicinity of an international border to maintain awareness of their surroundings and their location at all times to ensure they do not illegally cross the border. Additionally, it's important for people traveling near the border to carry identification at all times, so that agents or officers can easily verify their identity," the department added.