A young woman who has spent the past five years cat sitting between Australia and the US was deported on her last visit over to the States – and has detailed the horrifying encounter with border security on her blog.
Madolline Gourley, from Brisbane, stopped over in Los Angeles on June 30 on her way to Canada for a holiday, where she planned to house-and-cat sit in exchange for accommodation.
But while in the airport, she was approached by US border officials and taken to a detention room where she was patted down, fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated – including being asked if she was pregnant.
It started with Ms Gourley’s decision to choose a flight that forced her to stop off at LAX Airport before transiting onto Montreal, which meant a visa check at immigration.
‘The immigration officer who called me over started with the standard “Where are you going?” (Montreal) and “What are you doing there?” (holiday) questions,’ she writes.
Madolline Gourley, from Brisbane , stopped over in Los Angeles on June 30 on her way to Canada for a holiday, where she planned to house-and-cat sit in exchange for accommodation
‘He seemed annoyed I couldn’t produce a boarding pass for Philadelphia or Montreal, and that’s because I wasn’t given one at Brisbane Airport.
‘The Qantas worker who checked me in even called someone about it. Whatever information was relayed must’ve been OK’d by someone higher up because I was given my BNE-LAX boarding pass and baggage receipt, and sent on my way.’
Ms Gourley went to extreme lengths to prove her trip, showing the officer her Qantas baggage receipt and an email copy of the booking, but he wasn’t interested, she claims.
She spent four months in the US in early 2022, which Ms Gourley sensed the officer was looking at as 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 back again so soon’.
‘I told him I was able to get around to so many places because I looked after people’s cats – unpaid, of course, and through a legitimate house sitting website – in cities and towns I wanted to visit.’
Eventually Ms Gourley was told to ‘step aside’ and another officer would take her in for further questioning.
Eventually Ms Gourley was told to ‘step aside’ and another officer would take her in for further questioning
A copy of Ms Gourley’s Qantas ticket and baggage receipt
‘Twenty minutes later and I found myself dealing with a much younger immigration officer. He said he “got” I wasn’t being paid, but house sitting went against what’s permitted on an ESTA visa,’ she said.
‘He said something like cat owners would have to pay someone – I assume he meant an American – to look after their cat if it wasn’t for me. He then asked me to detail what I do for work in Australia.
‘He wanted to know how much cash I had on me, where I had intended to go on the trip, what I do on these trips, how long I’d been doing this for etc.’
She showed him her bank statements during her previous trip and told her it was illegal to ‘obtain employment’ while on the visa she was on.
‘I told the officer 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 sitter, and my flights and transport aren’t paid for by anyone other than myself.
‘He laughed and said these websites can say whatever they want to get customers in. He’d clearly forgotten the part where I told him I’ve been using house and pet sitting websites for about five years.’
She showed him her bank statements during her previous trip and told her it was illegal to ‘obtain employment’ while on the visa she was on
The immigration officer proceeded to say she would need to speak to another person to have her matter heard, but first she was going to get a five-minute pat down by a female officer.
She was asked if she had recently had an abortion – twice – and if she was pregnant, whether she took any medication, what her parents’ names are and if she has ever been arrested.
‘It didn’t take this guy long to tell me 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 wasn’t going to change his mind,’ Ms Gourley said.
Her fingerprints were taken alongside her height, weight, hair and eye colours before she was allowed to phone one friend before boarding a flight back to Brisbane via Sydney.
‘I wasn’t given any particulars about the journey home or what this all means for future travel 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 Sydney-bound flight was 10 minutes from touching down – was stamped with: Refused in accordance with INA section 217 R27038. That refusal stamp is the only “evidence” I have from this whole ordeal.’
A spokesperson for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said under the visa waiver program, applications are banned from ‘any type of employment or getting compensation for services rendered’.
Ms Gourley is currently investigating these turn of events with both the US and Australian border officials to uncover whether she is allowed back into the States again.
‘Someone who read my story said anyone stamped with s217 in their passport is banned from ever entering the US on ESTA again,’ she said.
‘Someone who read my story said anyone stamped with s217 in their passport is banned from ever entering the US on ESTA again,’ she said
In response to questions about Ms Gourley’s treatment, a CBP spokesperson said ‘the department regrets any inconvenience or unpleasantness a passenger may have experienced during his/her CBP processing’.
‘We take allegations of unprofessional behaviour seriously,’ the spokesperson said.
‘CBP has standard procedures r 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 strip searched and placed in jail in the US for more than 30 hours after breaching a little-known travel rule.
The alarming allegations come just weeks after Victorian student Jack Dunn, 23, was strip searched and placed in jail in the US for more than 30 hours after breaching 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 didn’t, as he planned to book his flights on the go.
After explaining his next flight was booked to Mexico, Mr Dunn was swiftly handcuffed and taken to the Federal Detention Centre in Honolulu after officers concluded he didn’t meet the entry requirements.
The youth worker hadn’t realised that under the Visa Waiver Program travellers must have another ticket out of the US to any other foreign port or place that is not a bordering country or an adjacent island.
He was ordered to catch the next flight to Sydney, which was the following day, meaning he was forced to stay overnight in a detention centre.