For years, Toronto art dealer Talin Maltepe has criss-crossed the U.S.-Canada border for business.
Last week, she was denied entry.
After being questioned, fingerprinted and photographed by U.S. immigration officials at Toronto Pearson International Airport, Maltepe was finally escorted out of the terminal.
“I felt like I was a criminal,” Maltepe told CBC Toronto.
The high-end art dealer was on her way to New York City, where she frequently travels to view and acquire paintings and sculptures.
“I’ve been working on the project for a year and I’ve been in and out of New York at least six times in the past two months,” Maltepe said.
Denied entry on Sept. 11
When travelling Maltepe tells border officials she’s entering the country for business, which foreigners are permitted to do as long as they are not receiving compensation from a U.S. source, according to a fact sheet provided to CBC Toronto by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
But last week, Maltepe says she went through an unusually long and detailed interview in Pearson Airport’s U.S. pre-clearance area.
It happened to be Sept. 11.
“They said, ‘What are you here for?’ And I said, ‘Work.’ I think that’s where I made the mistake,” Maltepe told CBC Toronto.
Maltepe says border officials focused on this scenario when they told her she required a visa to enter the country.
According to Maltepe, a U.S. border supervisor told her at the time: “You’re taking jobs away from Americans.”
Due to privacy restrictions, U.S. Customs and Border Protection could not comment on the specifics of Maltepe’s case.
CBC Toronto viewed documents provided to Maltepe at the airport that indicated she requires a visa to enter the U.S.
“I thought there’s no way this is illegal. I would know. I’ve been doing it for 30 years,” Maltepe said.
Work for remuneration?
But Christine M. Jurusik, a Buffalo-based immigration lawyer, told CBC Toronto that border officials were “within their rights” to deny her entry.
“If she admitted she may be receiving income from a U.S. source, her work in the U.S. could be considered work for remuneration and she would require a visa to do that,” Jurusik, a partner at Richards & Jurusik, said in an interview.
Jurusik isn’t surprised that border officials asked Maltepe more questions than she was used to.
Trump: Hire American
“We have seen an increase in enforcement and questioning at the border. With the current administration we’re seeing a trend in that direction,” she said.
Last April, U.S. President Donald Trump issued the Buy American and Hire American executive order.
The policy instructs government agencies to “rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad.”
‘I’m blacklisted for sure’
“They are asking more questions and delving deeper into situations that before they may have glossed over,” Jurusik said.
Maltepe isn’t convinced her business, which is based and registered in Toronto and only occasionally takes her across the border, should require a U.S. work permit.
“I’ll look for buyers. They might be American, they might be European. But it’s all done legally,” she said.
She’ll apply for a visa anyway, but in the meantime she’s not looking forward to going through U.S. customs.
“On my passport, on the back page it’s a huge stamp that says denied entry,” she said.
“I’m blacklisted for sure.”