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15 years ago, we decided on a whim to get lunch in the USA as we were passing near the frontier on a road trip in Canada. We did not know the exact requirements, and as we lacked an address of destination and US currency we were refused entry by the US officer. After filling some forms, the officer showed us the roundabout on the US side, told us to go around it and go back to Canada. I remember him insisting "you have never been to the US", I found it strange, as de facto we were on US soil, even so for a few minutes.

Two years after that we immigrated to Canada, we've been citizen of this country for 10 years or so. My question is not about the risk of being scrutinized or denied entry when I go back there –I found plenty of answers here about it– but specifically what I should answer if a border officer ask me "Have you ever put foot on US soil?"

I feel that if answer "yes" I might get accused of lying (as contradicting the imperious statement of the previous officer) but if say "no" I'll be accused of the same thing as I, indeed, in reality, physically been to this country before.

(I've considered explaining the situation, but my experience of talking to these border control agents is that they don't like complicated stories, that make them go paranoid.)

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    I think the original CBP officer answered your question earlier ... "you have never been to the US" ... in other words he didn't enter your details into his computer system, so there is not record of you entering or being refused entry. Therefore no record to be contradicted. And no I can't provide any links to document my theorem. – user13044 Aug 1 '17 at 17:08
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    Most likely, INS allowed you to withdraw your application to enter, then turned you around. This happens all the time. It's highly unlikely an office is going to try to 'trap' you in this minutia. You never officially entered the US. – Johns-305 Aug 1 '17 at 17:57
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    If you were in a car, your feet never touched US soil. And if it was on a hard paved road surface, it wasn't even soil. – Graham Borland Aug 1 '17 at 19:05
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    The more likely question, IMHO, is "have you ever been refused entry to the US?". Your question does not sound like anything I've heard asked of a Canadian by a US border agent. – Spehro Pefhany Aug 1 '17 at 20:14
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    It sounds like the CBP officer was looking forward, and was specifically giving you instructions for this here exact situation. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Aug 2 '17 at 1:04
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Have you ever put foot on US soil?

Yes. You were on US soil. If you committed a crime you would have been prosecuted under the US judicial system. If you died a US coroner would have issued a death certificate saying you died in the US.

However, a border guard will never ask this question. They'll ask:

Have you ever visited the US before?

or perhaps

Have you ever been to the US before?

"No" would be your answer. While you were technically on US soil from a customs perspective you were denied entry and never "entered" or "visited" the US. It's like your vehicle was magically turned around before it actually crossed the border. Even though for practical reasons they had to allow you onto US soil.

I would also add that I don't think a border guard would ever use the term "soil" as too many people would (mistakenly) believe that if they've ever been to a US embassy that they have put foot on US soil.

EDIT: I think the "you have never been to the US" comment the officer made has to do with international law. By refusing you entry and sending you back to Canadian customs the Canadians must deal with you. They can not refuse you entry and send you back to the US. Canada can either permit you entry or possibly if your visa has expired detain and deport you back to your home country but legally it's as if you never set foot on US soil.

Rather then saying "you have never been to the US" the officer should probably have said "When you get to Canadian Customs tell them you were denied entry to the US".

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    Welcome to Travel; excellent first answer! I think many of us got a bit of tunnel vision and didn't notice that the question was just something the OP hypothetically imagined a border guard might ask. – Henning Makholm Aug 1 '17 at 23:51
  • Most crimes are prosecuted under the judicial system of the state inwhich they are committed, and while there is of course a sense in which this can be considered "the US judicial system," I can imagine a particularly misguided argument that someone not yet "admitted" by CBP could somehow be legally in (e.g.) Vermont without being in the US. – phoog Aug 2 '17 at 11:20
  • @phoog - By US judicial system I just meant US vs Canadian. I would also imagine that most border crimes (smuggling, assaulting a border guard, etc.) are prosecuted in federal court. It does bring up the interesting questions though of what happens if I litter at a border crossing just after I've been admitted to the US? It's too late to deny me entry. Can you deport someone for littering? Can a border guard even write a ticket for littering or would they have to detain me and call the state troopers? Am I likely to get away with it because it's way too much paperwork? – John Ray Aug 2 '17 at 16:32
  • You're likely to get away with it because it's too much paperwork, just as in many (if not most) US jurisdictions. Even if you're prosecuted for it, it's not generally by itself going to make you inadmissible or deportable. To answer the generalquestion, though, federal officers will call local police of there is a violation of state law by someone who hasn't also violated federal law. – phoog Aug 2 '17 at 18:50
  • Great answer, John. Question: how is this U-turn at the Canada/US border different from entering a U.S. embassy? Just want to stimulate a different, perhaps useful angle on it. – Kaz Aug 3 '17 at 18:45
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Doing a U-turn and coming back into Canada does not constitute any time spent in the United States. Your answer to their question is a simple "No". If they ask further and want more detail you can embellish them.

"No" is the simple and factual answer of the matter. You have not ever been into the USA as a visiting traveller. A few hundred feet in order to immediately turn around because you have not been granted access certainly does not count.

You were not given clearance at that time, so the answer is "No".

"No. No. No!"

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    Well, a few hundred feet would count if you had been admitted to the country. But, since OP was not admitted, legally speaking, OP has never entered the U.S. and it's perfectly correct to answer as such to anyone who asks, including border agents. If they further ask if you've ever been denied entry, then OP would need to mention the incident at the land border. – reirab Aug 1 '17 at 18:34
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    I'd love some source on that. – P. O. Aug 1 '17 at 18:58
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    I think you mean indulge, not embellish. I suspect that making the incident more interesting to an immigration officer is not the end goal. ;) (To say nothing of the fact that embellish sometimes implies that you've added things that didn't actually happen to the story!) – jpmc26 Aug 1 '17 at 22:45
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    The term "embellish" when used in the context of facts or details means that you're adding additional details that are untrue, so that doesn't seem to be the correct term. I think the appropriate word here is "elaborate". – Cronax Aug 2 '17 at 9:41
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    @Cronax Well, in the specific usage here, jpmc is correct that 'indulge' is probably what was meant. 'Elaborate' would work if you remove the 'them' after it, though. – reirab Aug 2 '17 at 14:12
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Have you ever put foot on US soil?

No, I was turned around to Canada by road in 2002.

Let them decide what to regard that as

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    @P.O. see the update :) – Hanky Panky Aug 1 '17 at 17:01
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    Telling them that you were refused entry before is a really good way of being scrutinized in detail. You really don't want to end up doing that if at all possible. – Octopus Aug 1 '17 at 18:28
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    Isn't the point that you were NOT refused entry, you were turned around and allowed to withdraw your attempt. – JamesRyan Aug 1 '17 at 23:50
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    @JamesRyan and @Octopus there are a lot of "let's suppose" items in this question. For example the title starts with Previously **denied** entry from Canada to USA. – Hanky Panky Aug 2 '17 at 6:56
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    Good point, the border officer filled up some form and I don't remember if I was "denied" or "allowed to withdraw"... – P. O. Aug 2 '17 at 11:54
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You did not enter the US, you entered the border zone between the nations which technically is a grey area controlled jointly by both. It's a thin line on the map, but large enough for some fences, guard shacks, parking lots, and that area you made a U-turn in.

  • That's not how it works at most borders, the area "between" the border gates and respective immigration controls is still part of one or other country. The border usually runs down the middle and one side is one country and the other is the other. But it is a line, and you can often see it if you look, it is often explicitly marked, but even if it isn't you can look for a change in the road surface, etc. which is usually an indicator. There can be "border zones" like this, but the norm for border crossings is a very specific point that is the actual border. – Ivan McA Aug 3 '17 at 17:19
  • The term for what @jwenting is talking about is called a limitrophe - see Breyer's dissent in Hernadeza v Mesa (a recent US Supreme Court case) at supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-118_97bf.pdf (last handful of pages). It is a somewhat unsettled question about whether the border is the imaginary line or the space about the border. – iacobus Aug 3 '17 at 19:01

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