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Australian woman describes terrifying five-hour ordeal with border troops in the US

A young woman who has spent the past five years as a cat between Australia and the US was deported during her latest visit to the United States – and has described the horrific encounter with border guards on her blog.

Madolline Gourley, of Brisbane, stopped in Los Angeles on June 30 on her way to Canada for a vacation, where she planned to do house-and-cat sitting in exchange for lodging.

But while at the airport, she was approached by US border officials and taken to a detention room where she was beaten, fingerprinted, photographed and questioned — including whether she was pregnant.

It started with Ms. Gourley’s decision to pick a flight that forced her to stop at LAX Airport before proceeding to Montreal, which involved a visa check at immigration.

“The immigration officer who called me started with the standard ‘Where are you going?’ (Montreal) and “What are you doing there?” (holiday) questions,’ she writes.

Madolline Gourley, of Brisbane, stopped in Los Angeles on June 30 on her way to Canada for a vacation, where she planned to house-cat in exchange for lodging

Madolline Gourley, of Brisbane, stopped in Los Angeles on June 30 on her way to Canada for a vacation, where she planned to house-cat in exchange for lodging

“He seemed annoyed that I couldn’t show a Philadelphia or Montreal boarding pass, and that’s because I didn’t get one at Brisbane Airport.

“The Qantas employee who checked me in even called someone about it. Whatever information was passed on, it must have been approved by someone higher up, because I got my BNE-LAX boarding pass and luggage ticket and was on my way.”

Gourley went out of her way to prove her trip and showed the officer her Qantas baggage claim and an email copy of the booking, but he was not interested, she claims.

She spent four months in the US in early 2022, which Ms. Gourley sensed the officer was looking at her when he questioned her: “He started asking things like why I spent so long in the US, where did I go on that trip and why was I’m back so soon’.

“I told him I could get to so many places because I took care of people’s cats — unpaid, of course, and through a legit house-sitter website — in towns and villages I wanted to visit.”

Finally, Mrs. Gourley was told to “move aside” and another officer would take her for further questioning.

Finally, Ms Gourley was told to 'move aside' and another officer would take her for further questioning

Finally, Ms Gourley was told to 'move aside' and another officer would take her for further questioning

Finally, Ms Gourley was told to ‘move aside’ and another officer would take her for further questioning

A copy of Mrs. Gourley's Qantas ticket and baggage receipt

A copy of Mrs. Gourley's Qantas ticket and baggage receipt

A copy of Mrs. Gourley’s Qantas ticket and baggage receipt

“Twenty minutes later I was dealing with a much younger immigration officer. He said he “got” I didn’t get paid, but sitting at home went against what is allowed on an ESTA visa,” she said.

“He said something like cat owners should pay someone—I assume he meant an American—to take care of their cat when I wasn’t there. He then asked me to tell you what I do for work in Australia.

“He wanted to know how much cash I had with me, where I wanted to go on a trip, what I’m doing on these trips, how long I’ve been doing this, etc.”

She showed him her bank statements during her previous trip and told her it was illegal to “get work” while on the visa.

“I told the officer that TrustedHousesitters operates on an exchange model where both parties pay an annual membership fee to use the platform,” she said.

“No money is given to the nanny, and my flights and transport are not paid for by anyone but myself.

He laughed and said that these websites can say whatever they want to bring in customers. He had clearly forgotten the part where I told him I’ve been using pet sitting websites for about five years.’

1660144230 759 Australian woman describes terrifying five hour ordeal with border troops in

1660144230 759 Australian woman describes terrifying five hour ordeal with border troops in

She showed him her bank statements on her previous trip and told her it was illegal to “get work” while on the visa.

The immigration officer went on to say she would need to talk to another person to make her case, but first she would be petted by a female officer for five minutes.

She was asked if she had recently – twice – had an abortion, if she was pregnant, if she was on medication, what her parents’ names are and if she was ever arrested.

“It wasn’t long before this man told me that I was being refused entry to the United States. I remember thinking, seriously? There was no point in arguing or crying or saying anything because he wouldn’t change his mind,” Mrs Gourley said.

Her fingerprints were taken alongside her height, weight, hair and eye color before she was allowed to call a friend before boarding a flight back to Brisbane via Sydney.

“I have not been given any details about the trip home or what this all means for future trips to the United States of America. The second immigration officer didn’t even tell me I was going home via Sydney,” she said.

‘My passport – which could only be returned to me when the flight to Sydney was 10 minutes from landing – was stamped: Denied in accordance with INA Section 217 R27038. That denial stamp is the only ‘proof’ I have of this whole ordeal.”

A spokesman for the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said that under the visa waiver program, applications will be barred from “any form of employment or receiving compensation for services rendered.”

Ms. Gourley is currently investigating this state of affairs with both the US and Australian border officials to find out whether she will be allowed to return to the United States.

“Someone who read my story said that anyone with an s217 stamp in their passport should never be allowed to enter the US through ESTA again,” she said.

1660144231 564 Australian woman describes terrifying five hour ordeal with border troops in

1660144231 564 Australian woman describes terrifying five hour ordeal with border troops in

“Someone who read my story said that anyone with an s217 stamp in their passport will never be banned from entering the US through ESTA again,” she said.

In response to questions about Ms Gourley’s treatment, a CBP spokesperson said “the department regrets any inconvenience or inconvenience a passenger may have experienced during his/her CBP processing.”

“We take allegations of unprofessional conduct seriously,” the spokesperson said.

“CBP has standard procedures for handling allegations of misconduct. If we confirm employee misconduct, we will take firm and appropriate action to correct the situation.”

The alarming allegations come just weeks after Victorian student Jack Dunn, 23, was searched and jailed for more than 30 hours in the US for violating a little-known travel rule.

The alarming allegations come just weeks after Victorian student Jack Dunn, 23, was searched and jailed for more than 30 hours in the US for violating a little-known travel rule.

The alarming allegations come just weeks after Victorian student Jack Dunn, 23, was searched and jailed for more than 30 hours in the US for violating a little-known travel rule.

The alarming allegations come just weeks after Victorian student Jack Dunn, 23, was searched and jailed for more than 30 hours in the US for violating a little-known travel rule.

Upon his arrival, Mr. Dunn was asked by a CBP officer if he had a plane ticket to leave the US, which he did not, as he intended to book his flights en route.

After explaining that his next flight to Mexico was booked, Mr. Dunn was quickly handcuffed and taken to the federal detention center in Honolulu after officers concluded that he did not meet the eligibility requirements.

The youth worker had not 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.

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.

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