December 1, 2013
A wheelchair-bound Canadian woman was denied entry to the United States this week because she was previously diagnosed with clinical depression. Now she wants to know why the US Department of Homeland Security had her medical history on file.
The Toronto Star’s Valerie Haunch reported on Thursday that 50-year-old author Ellen Richardson was turned away from the city’s Pearson Airport three days earlier after DHS officials said she lacked the necessary medical clearance to cross into the US.
“I was turned away, I was told, because I had a hospitalization in the summer of 2012 for clinical depression,’’ Richardson told the Star.
The woman, who has been paraplegic since an unsuccessful suicide attempt in 2001, was planning to fly to New York City to start a 10-day Caribbean cruisein collaboration with a March of Dimes group, and had already invested around $6,000 into the trip, she told the paper.
“I was so aghast. I was saying, ‘I don’t understand this. What is the problem?’ I was so looking forward to getting away . . . I’d even brought a little string of Christmas lights I was going to string up in the cabin. . . . It’s not like I can just book again right away,” she said.
But according to what American officials told her, it would take the permission of US government-approved doctor and around $500 in fees in order to enter the country. Richardson soon left the airport defeated, but only afterward did she begin to raise questions about what the DHS knew about her.
“It really hit me later — that it’s quite stunning they have that information,” she told CBC.
Richardson said she has been on numerous cruises since 2001, and traveled through the US for all of them. Only this week, however, did the DHS cite the June 2012 hospital stay, spawning questions about how much personal information American officials hold on foreign persons.
According to Richardson, the border agent told her that the US Immigration and Nationality Act allows the government to deny entry to anyone with a physical or mental disorder that may pose a “threat to the property, safety or welfare,” and that her “mental illness episode’’ from last year warranted extra attention.