Foreign backpacker arrested for staying in U.S. half hour too long
Update: Simonassi was released from federal detention Thursday evening and has been given a 30-day extension on his visa.
TACOMA, Wash. -- A backpacker visiting from South America is locked in federal detention after reportedly over-extending his stay by 30 minutes. A Seattle immigration attorney has taken on the case for free, saying it's "absurd."
For six months Diego Simonassi said he roamed freely about the United States, backpacking all over the country. But, when his time was up on June 14 and he tried to enter Canada to continue his trip, he didn't know he needed a visa to get through the border.
Canadian authorities at the Peace Arch crossing turned him back to the US side. But it was 30 minutes past midnight.
"And I asked for help, 'What can I do if I can't come back to the United States?' And without making a lot of questions he just arrested me," Simonassi said.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized Simonassi and transported him 145 miles south to the NW Detention Center in Tacoma, where he's been ever since.
"I think it's ridiculous," said Immigration attorney Steve Tanijo. "I think it's one of the problems that we have with our immigration laws."
Tanijo was so incensed he agreed to take up Simonassi's case for free.
"He's a backpacker. I used to backpack around the world, as well. I kind of relate," he said.
Tanijo says ICE has offered to let Simonassi out on a $7,500 bond. It's money that Somonassi doesn't have.
"No, I don't have it. And to be honest, I don't think I have to pay. I haven't done any crime or any illegal thing," he said.
Or he can pay for a one-way flight back to Uruguay.
"Which also he doesn't want to do. He just wants to continue his travel," Tanijo said.
Simonassi says he's done nothing that deserves this kind of treatment and is willing to sit in confinement until he can legally get on with his trip through North America.
A hearing to lower the bond is two weeks away. But that just releases him here in the US until he gets the visa violation taken care of. So he can't leave the US without violating the bond. The attorney is also trying to convince an immigration judge to dismiss the whole case, but no date has been set.
Homeland Security says it'll issue a written statement about the case when Simonassi gives written permission.