A UBC student who tried to go through U.S. customs three times last month while carrying condoms and sexy lingerie says she was interrogated for hours, accused of being a sex worker, and warned she could be banned from the U.S. for five years.
Creative writing student Clay Nikiforuk, 24, has published an online account under that pseudonym and asked that her real name be withheld. She said she was told she now needs a visa proving she has no intent to settle in the U.S. to cross the border.
Her ordeal started in early March. Alone, she boarded a bus to Boston from Montreal, where she lives and is enrolled in distance education.
At the border crossing in Vermont she said officers questioned her about the eight or so condoms in her suitcase and undergarments.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, some girls like shoes, I like nice underwear,’ and then realized it was really not funny,” she said. “They were taking it very seriously … and looking at my condoms and counting them.”
Nikiforuk was eventually let through, but didn’t learn until later she had been flagged as a suspected prostitute.
On March 24 she was back in Montreal heading through U.S. customs on a flight to Aruba via Miami accompanied by a married man.
Nikiforuk said the man’s wife “doesn’t want to know the details, but she knows” about their affair.
She said as soon as she gave her passport to U.S. border control she was asked “How much is he paying you to go on this trip?”
When she said he was not, she was berated for participating in adultery, but let go.
When it was time to travel home from Aruba on March 27, U.S. Customs interrogated her for eight hours. When asked what, if not sex work, she does for a living, she said she is writing a book about sexual assault.
“He asked, ‘Are you looking to be sexually assaulted?’” she said. “At that moment I was like, ‘This can’t be real.’”
She alleges that after hours of interrogation without food or water, she was denied entry to the U.S., although her partner was not questioned. They spent $900 each on plane tickets to Canada via Panama, plus paid for two extra nights in a hotel.
She admits she has been paid for some freelance modelling work in the U.S., but insists she was questioned in all three instances in March primarily on suspicion of being a sex worker.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) spokesman Mike Milne said he cannot comment due to privacy laws, but that in general anyone coming into the U.S. frequently is assumed to be an intended immigrant.
Are condoms sufficient evidence of prostitution?
Miami-based immigration lawyer Steve Goldstein said he’s never heard of someone being barred from entering the U.S. solely because they were carrying condoms.
And he said he suspects there were likely other factors at play when Clay Nikiforuk was denied entry to the U.S. after travelling to Aruba, such as her website stating she poses for nude modelling photo shoots and the fact she was travelling with a married man.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) spokesman Mike Milne said suspicion of prostitution is enough to deny someone admission to the country under U.S. immigration law.
“If they have suspicion of something and it’s something that falls under the Immigration Act as a ground of inadmissibility, they pretty much are judge and jury,” Goldstein said. “They make the decision: You’re in or you’re out.”
Nikiforuk still contends she is the victim of a sexist double standard, since a man would never be investigated to begin with simply for carrying condoms and nice underwear.
—Clay Nikiforuk is a pseudonym