I haven't updated this blog because I've been busy and haven't read many impressive articles lately. But what happened to me on this sunday (26-03-2006) deserves a bit of sharing.
I was on my way to Hawaii from France to join Cecilia that is going to have our baby very soon (Lani Amour, a girl, is due for 22-04-2006). But when I entered the USAn territory in Seattle I was refused the entrance. They considered I was an illegal worker even though I'm just running my company based in France while I'm away. I was not in the USA to look for a job. I was just going there because that's where Cecilia is, because I wanted to be there for the birth of my first baby !
When I arrived at the first desk, the guy saw that I was in the USA recently for twice 2 months, and the explanation that I was coming to see my girlfriend and our baby didn't convince him. He sent me with a red card to another desk, hidden from all the other passengers.
On this second desk they quickly sent me to another room even more separate to be asked a few questions. They asked me what I was going to do there, what was my job, what was I doing from december to march in Hawaii and from may to august in Los Angeles. I was trying to be clear enough that in each case I was not working illegally. In Los Angeles I was just there for a job proposal and I was only compensated for being there (I actually lost a lot of money being there waiting for something to happen). I never signed a contract and decided to leave when I realised they could never get me a visa, and so I could stay in the USA to live with Cecilia.
Before I went back to France I managed to get a job interview at DivX and they were very positive. So positive that they engaged me to work from France, as I couldn't get a visa easily (the USA have put very strong restrictions lately on the quotas of foreign worker). So I created my independant company in Paris, and I work as a contractor for DivX, paying my taxes in France.
Given the nature of my job (programmer), I can work from everywhere as long as I have a connection to the internet. That's what I was doing when I was in Hawaii for 3 months. I went back to France to clear my 90 days visa waiver and be able to come back for the birth of my child. But the authorities decided otherwise.
First they thought I was just finding an excuse (the baby) to enter the USA. They could have called Cecilia to see if my (supposedly) alibi was true. But they didn't for a long time. Then they thought I was working illegally for DivX. But it's not the case as I work for myself, from France. Being on the road doesn't change much. I wasn't on a business trip, because I was just there for family purposes. So, after they realised that it was a tricky case, they decided that they would make me pay for my stay in Los Angeles last summer. Even though I was not the one who requested to move there, even though I was promised a visa, even though they paid for the trip and (most of) the hotels. For me it was more a job evaluation than a job. I even spent 3 weeks during that time with Cecilia, one week in Hawaii not having any contact with Los Angeles.
Now that's the story, and I probably have a lot of wrongs on my side. I didn't even deny anything. I explained calmly, for 7 hours in a very hot room, my situation and that I had no intention to look for a job there because I already have one in France ! But my fault was to work for a USA based company, that was too many coincidences. That and the fact that the first time they called Cecilia noone answered and that the address we use in Hawaii in the address of her mom's store (because there is no postal service up in the mountain, where they live), or the fact that I'm renting my apartment in Paris while I'm away, or the fact that I was travelling with no luggage other than my carry-on full of baby clothes and typical french food. That was too many strange facts put together to sound true. Even though it was the plain and simple truth. The truth is that our stay in the USA was temporary anyway, we were planning to move to Europe when the baby is born. Now we even have a solid reason to do it!
After 6 hours they finally managed to reach Cecilia on the phone. They didn't tell her anything at all, just that they were holding me in Seattle. You can imagine the shock, for her and the baby. And it was a schock for me too when they announced me they will put me in the first plane to France. I realised I won't be there to support Cecilia when she will give birth. I realised I will not see my baby for a long time (every day will seem like a year). I cried a few times... I wouldn't normally cry, but I was up for about 26h with almost no sleep in the plane (to be on the Hawaiian time when I arrive). I had a nervous breakdown. The officer (a woman) didn't even give a shit about it... She told me she had Cecilia on the phone but that she didn't say anything. I was very suprised, not only because I know Cecilia would have tried to know more (the officer told her she didn't know much, and she couldn't tell more), but also because during the second hour, as I realised I missed my flight, I asked if I could call Cecilia to tell her not to go to the airport and they said I could call her later. They never let me call her at all.
They asked me questions over questions for a long time. Even though most of the time I was waiting for them to make their computer work or decide who was going to ask me the questions. I was supposed to answer yes or no to questions that would require a lot more explanation, given the complexity of the situation. As an example I told them I'm a software engineer, and I also told them I'm a programmer. But they have no idea what it's about and they were wondering if I was cheating or something.
They asked me a lot of questions. And they only kept the ones that were against me. For example they didn't note the date of the baby's due birth, which is exactly in the middle of my trip. They didn't note that I run my own company in France and that's the contract I have with DivX. (they went online to check if DivX is a real company, none of them ever heard about it). They didn't keep the fact that when I was in Los Angeles I was promised a job and the required visa, and that I decided to leave because they wouldn't work on any of these and I was losing money being in LA without a job. That I wouldn't go back and forth in France before the 90 days limit if all I wanted was to be an illegal alien.
That's a very strange way to make justice when the people against you is also the judge. I had no lawyer to help me, to tell me I was way too tired to answer all those questions. Way too tired to sign a paper all against me. And the other incredible part about this kind of justice is that you are not even allowed to appeal.
I guess I was refused because the situation was too complex for them to believe it. But I didn't play with them, I said all the truth (apart from the fact, at the beginning, that I was still in contract with DivX, in case they would think I was just going to San Diego to work). But I paid for my past year of being in planes and trying to be somewhere where we can stay for a while with Cecilia. I was just for my past in the country of the 2nd chance. The country of personal liberty. I didn't get any of these. They were only kind not to put me in jail at night and allow me to go to a hotel while they were holding my passport. In the morning the main officer led me through the airport to the gate of my flight. I was treated like a criminal.
Everybody who knows me knows that I value justice and balance and truth among anything else. So it was even more a shock to be treated this way, to put me in such an unfair situation. Just because they don't want any foreigner to steal their precious jobs (I already have a contract to steal such a job from a USAn, so it's even more stupid).
Now my baby is going to start her life without me. Cecilia will have to dream of me holding her hand while she's giving birth. The country of freedom won't let me do that.