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Aussie student strip searched and put in jail for more than 30 hours over US travel rule

Aussie student strip searched and jailed for over 30 hours over little-known travel rule in the United States

  • Jack Dunn, 23, planned to spend time in the US, Mexico and South America
  • He landed in Honolulu on May 5 and was interrogated by US customs officials
  • Student was taken to federal detention center in Honolulu and spent the night
  • Travelers must have bought a ticket for a place that is not a border country
  • Mr Dunn recalls the terrifying experience of warning other Aussies about the rule

An Australian student has revealed how, under a little-known travel rule in the United States, he was held for more than 30 hours and thrown behind bars.

Jack Dunn, 23, was asked by a US Customs Officer (CBP) if he had a plane ticket to leave the US, which he did not.

Mr Dunn intended to book his flights and accommodation en route and told the officer he had booked a flight to Mexico.

The youth worker was quickly handcuffed and taken to the federal detention center in Honolulu after officers concluded that he did not meet eligibility requirements.

Matt Dunn, 23, (pictured on vacation in Thailand) was asked by a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer if he had a plane ticket to leave the US, which he didn't.

Matt Dunn, 23, (pictured on vacation in Thailand) was asked by a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer if he had a plane ticket to leave the US, which he didn’t.

Mr Dunn intended to book his flights and accommodation en route and told the officer he had booked a flight to Mexico (pictured, a CBP officer in 2020)

Mr Dunn intended to book his flights and accommodation en route and told the officer he had booked a flight to Mexico (pictured, a CBP officer in 2020)

The youth worker hadn’t realized that travelers under the Visa Waiver Program must have another ticket from the US to another foreign port or place that is not a contiguous country or island.

The 23-year-old was questioned for hours by agents, during which time he tried to book a flight to Panama – the only capital that came to mind.

With no service or Wi-Fi, a sympathetic airline offered Mr. Dunn his own phone to buy a plane ticket, but he had to transfer money first.

“But that was $500 and I didn’t have that in my account and then I tried to explain to the (US Customs and Border Protection officer) that I only needed the Internet to transfer money,” he said. news.com.au

“She seemed stunned that I had money in two separate accounts, but I’ve always done that.”

The youth worker was quickly handcuffed and taken to the federal detention center (pictured) in Honolulu, shortly after landing on May 5.

The youth worker was quickly handcuffed and taken to the federal detention center (pictured) in Honolulu, shortly after landing on May 5.

The CBP said he had 'no ties or stock' with Australia or enough money to support himself during his intended stay in the US (pictured, a CBP officer in 2016)

The CBP said he had ‘no ties or stock’ with Australia or enough money to support himself during his intended stay in the US (pictured, a CBP officer in 2016)

The CBP employee concluded that the student “could not overcome the suspicion of an intended immigrant” and that he did not meet the admission requirements.

The agents said he had “no ties or stock” with Australia or enough money to support himself during his intended stay in the US.

He was ordered to catch the next flight to Sydney, which was the following day, which involved being forced to spend the night in a detention center.

The 23-year-old was searched twice by guards and forced to don the same orange prison overalls worn by convicted criminals.

Dunn said he didn’t want to sleep because he was afraid of his cellmate, who was talking to himself and hitting the walls.

He remembered that the cell walls were smeared with blood and feces.

Back in Victoria, his family received a call from a CBP officer who told them that Jack was safe, but did not reveal any other details.

Mr Dunn was ordered to catch the next flight to Sydney, which was the following day, meaning he was forced to spend the night in a detention center (pictured, Hawaiian Airlines planes)

Mr Dunn was ordered to catch the next flight to Sydney, which was the following day, meaning he was forced to spend the night in a detention center (pictured, Hawaiian Airlines planes)

A CBP official concluded that the student was unable to

A CBP official concluded that the student was unable to “overcome the suspicion of an intended immigrant” and that he did not meet the eligibility requirements (photo, New Jersey officials)

His parents wondered if their son had become an unwilling “drug donkey.”

A CBP spokesperson reiterated that under the Visa Waiver Program, applicants must have a return ticket that allows them to be transported from the United States to another foreign port or place outside “contiguous territory or island.”

In addition, applicants must be able to demonstrate that they have sufficient resources to support themselves for their intended period of residence, they said.

They must also be able to demonstrate that they have sufficient ties or shares with their home country.

On the Australian US Embassy website, a VWP information page lists visa requirements, but does not state that applicants must have tickets to destinations not bordering countries or adjacent islands.

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