I am a British citizen by birth and I have just found out that my great-grandmother is very ill in hospital. She is an American citizen by birth and has lived there for most of her life. I also have some extended family in the US. My mum and grandmother are flying to the US from the UK on ESTA's within the next week to visit my great-grandmother.
I also want to see her but I have a few relatively recent criminal convictions (about 2-3 years ago). Previously I had never had a criminal record whatsoever, and I am in my 30's. Without going into great detail and at the risk of sounding like I am making excuses for the things that I did wrong, all of these convictions (approximately 8) were amassed within a 2-month period due to my personal circumstances at the time. The offenses include common assault and a few cases of driving under the influence of drugs.
I have long completed all of the requirements of my probation order and I believe the convictions are now classed as 'spent' in the UK; however I understand that this has no bearing in the US.
I am a skilled professional, have my own house, and I have been in full-time employment for 1 year in a senior role. My demeanor is now nothing like what it was at the time of those offenses (despite the inferences you might draw from the undertone of this question!)
After reading some pages on the ESTA website, CBP website and some .gov links, they recommend not attempting to travel on an ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program if you have ever been arrested, cautioned, or convicted; and to instead apply for a Visa.
My question is: if I was to enter the US by car from Canada, would this alleviate some of the usual background checks etc? I would be given an I-94W form. I have read some threads on here and heard bits of hearsay from people stating that the Customs procedure is far more relaxed when entering the US by road; even as far as saying that a quick passport check was all that was asked of them when entering. Is any of this true? If so, to what extent?
In what other ways would entering by land differ from entering by air?
Which border crossings (if any) might be stricter than others with their checks?
Are there any sections of the US-Canada border that can be freely crossed on foot? I.e. without a Customs office, not separated by a fence or wall, etc. For example areas with mountainous or otherwise difficult to cross terrain? I know I am really stretching it here...
Any answers at all or bits of advice in the comments would be very much appreciated. No matter how pessimistic your comment or answer is! Anything is really appreciated, because I'm completely clueless to it all at the moment and I don't know who else I'd ask given the timeframe. To be quite frank, if a particular "solution" means that I will run the risk of not being allowed to return to the US but grants me entry for 4 days (or even 1), then that's fine too. Even if it means I have to take a route or follow an itinerary that would add a week to the journey.
As it stands, I think I would need to go to the US Consulate in London to try to get an expedited visa to fly by air; but this could be refused and I assume this would then show up on the system when my passport is checked if I subsequently tried to enter by road.
I don't want to go about things the wrong way (I have genuinely learned from my experiences a few years ago) but I will do anything if it means I can see my great-grandmother, e.g. maybe there is some option to enter for the purpose of transiting the US only; in order to reduce the travel time of a particular route through Canada by car?
I am trying to get to the Mid-West of the US.
Thanks a lot for any help or advice you can give me - I really do appreciate it a lot!