Church service corps traveled from Canada to help rebuild homes in New Jersey but were turned away at the border

They couldn’t pass because the work they were about to do had to be done by “US workers”

Reverend Seth Kaper-Dale of Highland Park Reform Church woke up Saturday morning ready to welcome twelve Canadian volunteers from Rehoboth Reformed Church in Hamilton, Ontario. They were to help rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy along the Jersey Shore. Instead, Kaper-Dale was informed that the group was stopped at a check point in Buffalo, New York along the Canadian border.

The volunteers were told they could not pass because the work they were about to do had to be done by American workers, Kaper-Dale said.

Red-flagged by border patrol for not having pre-clearance papers, the group, consisting of two families, was told to obtain a letter of support from the US host organization, said Erik Hoeksema, leader of the Ontario volunteer group in an interview with The Tab. Kaper-Dale immediately responded to the request and faxed a letter to the border patrol vouching that the volunteers came on a service mission.

In his letter to border patrols, Kaper-Dale explained that the volunteer corps were to engage in “team building, tours [of] mercy ministries of the church, including food pantries, re-entry programs, thrift shops, etc, and [assisting] with neighborhood clean-up projects.”

Yet, despite the letter, the group was denied entry into the United States, Kaper-Dale said. The border patrol allegedly denied entry for the group on grounds that they were foreigners doing work for hire, according to Hoeksema. Hoeksema’s group would not be receiving any compensation for their work, if they were allowed to continue to project.

“The border patrol officer who helped us was actually very kind – he brought the letter to his boss, who declined it,” Hoeksema added. The trip was subsequently called off.

Kaper-Dale shares thoughts about the event on social media

All twelve members of Hoeksema’s group are Canadian nationals and do not hold dual-citizenship in countries affected by Trump’s recent travel ban. The Rehoboth Reformed Church had participated in multiple service trips in the United States before, as had Highland Park Reformed Church hosted many volunteer groups from abroad. Since 2012, Kaper-Dale’s church had recruited more than 3,000 volunteers from the U.S. and Canada and had worked with more 200 families impacted by Hurricane Sandy, according to Kaper-Dale. He further stated that this is the first time any group he invited had been turned away.

“It’s extremely upsetting that radical xenophobia has just reached a new level in this country,” said Kaper-Dale.

The group did not obtain visas for their trip and Hoeksema acknowledged that barriers to entry could be prevented if permits had been obtained. However, there is a long-standing visa waiver program between Canada and the United States.

Upon reflecting on the situation, Hoeksema said that he is not a political person and has no interest in taking sides in the current political situation in the US.

“At the end of the day, the people who lose are the people at the bottom.  People who are still hurting from a hurricane that hit five years ago,” he said.

“But the people on the bottom can only move forward in their lives when they get a little love and support from others – that’s all we wanted to do.  I’m sorry we couldn’t,” he added.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Princeton University