“Entering the U.S. illegally”

One way that can happen to you is to be traveling the Canadian side of the Niagara River on your Sea-Doo jet ski, get caught in the rapids and swept over to the U.S. side. Jason Haist of Toronto was knocked unconscious and nearly drowned in the process, but his legal troubles were only beginning, as U.S. Border Patrol agents filed charges against him. They also arrested his cousin Edward, who tried to help him, for not reporting immediately on entry. After a press outcry, the two were released from their jail cell and returned to Canada. (Toronto Star, Aug. 25; Inside Toronto, Aug. 26).

P.S. Commenter “Buffalo” says the facts are more complicated than would appear from the Canadian press coverage and that “before the accident/injury, there was reportedly evidence that they landed on the US side without reporting in”.


  • The US should be embarassed by this incident, but I wonder whether there was even a technical basis for the arrests. According to the news accounts, the fallen jet skier did not actually wash ashore. Rather, he was in the water and rescue by his cousin. When his cousin was unable to get him onto his own jet ski, he left him on a rock offshore. A Canadian boat then tried to take him off the rock, but the U.S. Coastguard took over. In other words, the fallen man only made true landfall as a result of being brought into the US by the Coastguard. Clearly that cannot constitute illegal entry into the United States. The only other basis for charging him would be that he entered the US when he was put onto the rock. As I understand these things, landing on an offshore rock cannot be considered entry into the United States. Indeed, is it not the case that landing anywhere below high water line would not, strictly speaking, be entry? I note that the US does not permit Haitians who have not made it all the way to shore to claim asylum. There was a case a while back in which some Haitians rested on the remains of a dock that was no longer connected to the shore and on that basis were denied the right to claim asylum.

  • Offshore rocks???? The international boundary runs along the middle of the Niagara River.

  • What CB said.

    Oceanic coastlines are different from riverine borders. Generally speaking, borders in rivers run down the middle of the river. One exception is the Potomac, where Virginia owns the river where it borders DC. Unless you fish from the DC shoreline, for instance, you need a Virginia fishing license.

  • Yes, I’m aware of the fact that the international boundary runs through the middle of the river, but people crossing the mid-line of the river are not charged with illegal entry into the United States. Indeed, one of the articles mentions that the jet skier had checked on this with the US authorities prior to entering the water and was told that it was alright to enter US waters so long as he did not land.

  • Surely, there must be an exception for accidents or emergencies. Would the INS really try to detain and charge all the non-US citizen victims from a Toronto-Mexico City plane flight?

  • Oops, I meant to say “Toronto-Mexico City plane flight crash”.

  • Only the non-Mexican citizens – the INS seems to be completely blind to Mexican citizens 99% of the time.

  • I wouldn’t think that they would be arrested, but I would hope that they would be isolated until they are checked out and sent back to Canada.

    I would be concerned with a crime of opportunity.

    I don’t think that you would have terrorist worries, but survivors could try and take advantage of the crash, or even worse, they could become victoms of people in this country.

    Although an obviously vanishingly small risk, I would hope that our Government could expedite clearing everyone(Yeah, right!)

  • The link to the two selected stories is problematic, because neither outlines the reason that there were administrative (not criminal) immigration charges filed: before the accident/injury, there was reportedly evidence that they landed on the US side without reporting in. Everyone knows that if you sail, boat, or ski across the river and land, whether in the San Juan Islands, the Niagara River, the Great Lakes, or the St Lawrence Seaway, you need to immediately call in to report and wait to be cleared. They allegedly didn’t, and that is why they were arrested. So most of the outrage at this is misplaced and uninformed.

    As to how discretion was exercised in the face of the clear violation, they were released very shortly thereafter. While it could have been handled without arrest (there is discretion not to charge and not to take someone into custody even if here illegally), they would not be the first non-US residents to be overcharged. And, some discretion was exercised by the relatively quick release and by not filing criminal charges. So ultimately people can disagree with how much exercise discretion was or was not exercised, but there isn’t much to be outraged about.

  • I found this story over at vdare.com which made some valid points contrasting the hordes of Mexicans deliberately crossing the southern border with no intention of returning home. The few illegal entrants that are caught, are simply released and sent back to Mexico, while estimates of about 10,000 illegal entries are made every day (repeat – every day) from the Mexican side. Yet the U.S. authorities create a huge international fuss over (2) two Canadian jet-skiers living comfortable lives in their own country who found themselves in distress on the U.S. side of the river. Amazing! Twenty million illegal aliens walking around U.S. streets without any concerted effort in deporting them, yet 2 Canadians deserve this abomination??

    The reason this story got any publicity at all, is because the two Canadians had their families back home, notify the newspapers and the Canadian consulate about this absurdity.

    Perhaps the the bozos responsible for arresting the two Canadian jet-skiers could learn a lesson in maritime history of a little-known event during WWII when Newfoundlanders portrayed true valor on the sub-freezing winter night of Feb. 18, 1942 by rescuing 186 American sailors from the U.S.S. Truxtun and U.S.S. Pollux that had run aground. (Another 293 U.S. sailors died that night)

    Your history lesson can be found HERE

  • Buffalo,

    What is the source of the claim that they landed in the US before the accident?

  • http://www.buffalonews.com/cityregion/ontarioniagara/story/423487.html

    Canadians rescued from river become snarled in federal illegal entry case

    Updated: 08/26/08 6:56 AM

    … A. J. Price, a U. S. Border Patrol spokesman, said Jason Haist, 29, and his 21-year-old cousin, both of the Toronto area, were released without bail late Monday afternoon.

    “They face noncriminal administrative charges and will be required to attend a removal hearing in Immigration Court,” Price said. “They were charged because we have evidence that, before the accident, they made landfall in the U. S. without reporting in.”

    …Efforts by The Buffalo News to reach Kerr and the Haists were unsuccessful.

    …The Border Patrol officer added that Price said the two other people rescued after the accident were not charged because authorities found no evidence they had entered the country illegally.

    [NOTE: shortened to avoid superfluous use of copyrighted material; please follow link to read entire story]