Glendene Grant, a 49-year-old resident of Kamloops, British Columbia, never had any interest in visiting the United States. That changed a little more than a year ago, when her daughter, then 21-year-old Jessie Foster went missing in Las Vegas in March 2006. Since then, she has made three trips to the US to talk with investigators and publicize her daughter's case on TV talk shows.
Jessie Foster traveled to Las Vegas in 2005, and became a prostitute working for an escort service -- a fact her mother did not know until she began investigating her disappearance. For more than a year, there has been no sign of her. Her case had been declared "cold" by the North Las Vegas Police Department, but on the suggestion of a US journalist, Grant contacted a new unit in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department dedicated to human trafficking cases, the ATLAS (Anti-Trafficking League Against Slavery). ATLAS agreed to take on the Foster case, saying it had the earmarks of a sex slavery case.
As Drug War Chronicle reported just two weeks ago, both the US and Canada bar people who admit past drug use or have drug convictions from entering the country. Glendene Grant found that out the hard way, and she can't believe her ancient conviction even matters.
"I was supposed to fly last Monday night, but when I got to the airport, they told me to come back the next day," Grant told Drug War Chronicle. "I went early and spent three hours talking to one of the agents, and he finally said I would be denied and that I would have to get a waiver -- the same form they had given me the night before. I asked to speak to CBP supervisor Patricia Lundy, but I could tell she was not going to listen to anything I had to say. She asked if my daughter had chosen to go to Las Vegas, and when I said yes, she said 'Then I guess she made her own choices, didn't she?' When I asked 'Are you telling me my daughter chose to be kidnapped?' she threw me out of the office and called the RCMP to escort me away. It was the most unprofessional behavior I've seen in my life."
"They tried to say I couldn't cross because of that old drug conviction," Grant said. "I have never hid it, I had a valid passport, then, for some reason, it became an issue."
It was always an issue, according to the CBP. "She is automatically inadmissible for life because of the drug conviction," said CBP spokeswoman Cherise Miles. "We let her in before because it was an extreme circumstance. If she was coming on vacation, she would have been denied admission," she told the Chronicle.
Grant's only recourse is to seek a waiver allowing her to enter the US, said Miles. "A waiver is not automatic, but perhaps her circumstances would help turn it in her favor." The waiver fee is a non-refundable $265. The process takes "perhaps four to six weeks, maybe longer," said Miles.
"I don't have $265," Grant protested. "We have to fundraise for everything we do. I can't work very much, we can't afford to keep going, but we do. But I don't have $265." [Ed: There is a donation form at the Jessie Foster web site linked to above.]
CBP's Miles said that Grant had been allowed in on a humanitarian "parole," but that she had been warned she would have to apply for a waiver. Grant said that the first she heard about a waiver was when CBP officers at the Vancouver airport refused her entry and handed her a waiver form.
Now, Grant is pondering her options. "I don't know what to do," she said. "I've contacted my Canadian representatives, but it doesn't look like there is any way around this. Maybe the provincial governor can give me a pardon."
In the meantime, Jessie Foster remains missing and a harsh and unyielding US immigration law is keeping her mother from trying to find her. "I just sit here and think about it," she said. "What happens if they do find Jessie or her body and I can't go get her?"