Visa-blunder Britons locked up for 5 weeks in the U.S. for staying beyond 90 day cut-off
By PAUL SIMS
Last updated at 7:58 AM on 21st June 2011
A British couple described yesterday how their holiday in America turned into a nightmare when they were detained as 'illegal aliens'.
Barbara Dixon and her husband, Richard Cross, had spent three months visiting family and driving around the U.S. before travelling to Canada for a few days.
When they returned to America they thought their visa waiver - which had allowed them to stay in the country for 90 days - would be renewed automatically.
Never again: Barbara Dixon and Richard Cross have vowed not to return to the U.S. after they were locked up for five weeks over a visa blunder
But three months later, in March, they were horrified to discover they had made a terrible mistake when their Honda Civic was surrounded by eight armed border control guards in Texas.
Their car was impounded and the couple led away to a nearby trailer where they were questioned for five hours.
'That's when they told us we were going to jail,' said Mrs Dixon, 52, who runs her own business. 'I gripped Richard's hand and stared at him. I was completely stunned.'
They were taken to a detention centre in El Paso, where they were held for five weeks before being deported back to Britain in April.
'We were classed as illegal aliens because we had stayed over the initial 90 days. They wouldn't accept that it was a simple mistake.
'We tried to tell them we had booked return flights home, proving we weren't planning on staying, but they wouldn't listen.
Held: El Paso, in Texas, where the couple were held for five weeks
'For someone who has never done anything wrong to suddenly be treated like a criminal was horrific. I felt as though the world was caving in on us.'
The detention centre 'was like something you see in films – there was a huge 10ft wall with razor wire and we got used to being yelled at by armed guards'.
'Using open toilets cemented our loss of dignity [...] The food was disgusting too, ranging from congealed rice to tasteless pizza.'
The couple, from Inverness, were held in separate dormitories among detainees including drug addicts and smugglers. They were allowed to see each other only once a week in a room with other couples and were forbidden even to hold hands.
'On one occasion we were pulled apart after our legs grazed against each other,' said Mrs Dixon.
They were forced to sleep on bare mattresses and to shower with their fellow inmates.
'Using open toilets cemented our loss of dignity,' said Mrs Dixon. 'The food was disgusting too, ranging from congealed rice to tasteless pizza.'
Mr Cross, 57, who is retired, lost more than a stone in weight and developed high blood pressure from stress during their ordeal.
The couple plan to lodge a complaint with the Foreign Office.
'I don’t think we'll ever fully recover from our ordeal and I'll never set foot in America again,' said Mrs Dixon.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2006028/Barbara-Dixon-Richard-Cross-locked-U-S-visa-blunder.html#ixzz1PugYDrsv