A Vancouver actor’s budding career has hit a wall after he was interrogated by border guards for almost nine hours and issued a five-year ban on entering the United States.
“It’s kind of a crush to your career,” said Chad Rook. “It takes the breath out of you.”
The 30-year-old Vancouver-based actor and director has appeared on shows such as Supernatural and Sanctuary, and has a recurring role on the upcoming CW series Cult, premièring Feb. 19.
He had planned to start driving down to Los Angeles on Jan. 28 for pilot season – a busy time of face-to-face industry meetings and auditions to seek work – and to be among his cast mates as his new show began to air.
Instead, he was pulled aside by border guards around 8 a.m. that Monday and wasn’t released until nearly 5 p.m. after what he described as repetitive and intimidating questioning.
“I thought they were just going to ask my intentions and let me go through,” Rook told The Province. The actor told guards he was headed to L.A. for vacation and to conduct meetings. He said the guards then accused him of not being upfront about his reasons for travel, and suspected him of attempting to work and set up permanent residence in the States without a visa.
When Rook tried to explain he had already started the work visa application process with the help of a lawyer – an application that can only be completed if there is a job offer waiting for him in L.A. – a border guard allegedly refused to listen and demanded yes-or-no answers. The actor also had to hand over passwords and access to his email, his Facebook and Twitter accounts, his cellphone and text messages for guards to investigate.
When the Vancouver man was finally released and sent back to Canada, he was issued an expedited removal order – a five-year ban from entering the United States – on the basis of fraud and misrepresentation. A week later, U.S. Customs then changed its reasoning to attempting to work without a visa – and upheld the ban.
“It was unreal. It’s like the Twilight Zone,” Rook said of the frustrating ordeal which has forced him to cancel all his scheduled meetings in L.A.
According to Rook’s attorney Lorraine D’Alessio, the meet-and-greets Rook planned to do in L.A. are not uncommon for Canadian actors seeking opportunities in Hollywood, and isn’t considered working.
“His agent had organized some meetings for him to meet some people who were interested in him. He wasn’t coming down to do any work, he was coming down just as a visitor and was doing it completely legally,” said the L.A.-based attorney.
D’Alessio said she has never encountered such an extreme situation with any of her other clients, adding that Rook was a perfect candidate for the type of work visa he had been applying for, due to his impressive acting credits.
“To me, it was completely unfounded what they accused him of. He was not working without authorization – it’s not illegal to come down and seek opportunities.”
Len Saunders, a U.S. immigration attorney based in Blaine, WA, said it could be devastating to Rook’s career if he were forced to wait out the five-year ban.
“It could ruin his career as an actor,” Saunders said, noting those who typically receive expedited removal orders are “like a train wreck” and have a history of already living and working illegally in the U.S.
“It’s unfortunate because I can understand someone receiving an expedited removal when they deserve it – but Chad didn’t,” he said. “That is not the case in this situation. It was definitely not warranted.”
According to Saunders, who has been practicing U.S. immigration law for a decade, he used to encounter an expedited removal case at least once a week. In recent years, he said that number has dropped and that he hadn’t dealt with an expedited removal in about a year.
Saunders said Rook now has three options on how to deal with the ban: wait it out, pay and apply for a waiver which can often be time-consuming and unsuccessful, or ask U.S. Customs to review the ban and have it rescinded.
“If you bring it to their attention that this expedited removal was possibly an error or overly aggressive, then they can review it and possibly rescind it. That’s the possibility I’m hoping for,” he said, noting he’s been in contact with the Seattle-based office that overseas border operations for the northwest sector.
As for Rook, he’s now confined to taking meetings in Vancouver. This was to be the first extended pilot season he attended in L.A., something he had hoped could propel his career to the next level after the momentum-gathering year he’d had filming Cult.
“It’s the biggest Catch-22 I’ve ever heard,” Rook said. “My whole next three months was to be down there to network and enjoy the show being aired.
“Now I’m just home … and will have to deal with lawyers every single day for the next little while.”