When Rebecca touched down in Austin on February 12, her dream holiday turned into a nightmare when she was handcuffed and locked in a cell by border officials – before being banned from the United States.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous Digital, she said: “I’ll never go abroad on my own again. It was the most terrifying 24 hours of my life.
“I was treated like a criminal when I’d just filled in the wrong form. I still keep getting flashbacks and keep crying.
“I was hysterical and trying to explain that I didn’t understand which visa I needed.
“I had gone there to volunteer and not work, so I applied for an ESTA visa which allows you to visit America on holiday. I didn’t think I needed a working visa as I wasn’t getting paid.
“I made a mistake but I simply filled in the wrong form, which I apologised for. I thought they’d understand and maybe get me to apply for the other visa.
“Instead they treated me like an international criminal and locked me up.
“I was terrified, alone in a foreign country thousands of miles from home and didn’t know what was going to happen.
“I’d wanted to experience life on a ranch and make some amazing memories.
“Now I’ve had my mugshot taken, been deported and banned from America for five years. I never want to go abroad by myself again.”
On February 12, Rebecca waved goodbye to her family at Heathrow and boarded the flight to Austin. In her bag, she had an ESTA visa, which allows people to travel to America for pleasure for up to 90 days.
She said: “I was excited when I landed and after I had my passport stamped they sent me over to another queue and asked me more questions about my stay.”
When she showed officials the ranch where she was staying, it became obvious that her volunteer stay would be classed as work, but she wasn’t given a chance to rectify her mistake.
Immigration officers simply arrested and handcuffed her, before driving for an hour and a half to Burnet County Jail, north of Austin, where they took her mugshot and locked her in a cell for 14 hours.
She said: “I sat in the waiting room for two hours, still handcuffed. There were criminals in orange jumpsuits with tattooed faces walking around me, I was terrified.
“Then I was called into the laundry room by a female officer, who stripped me naked, body searched me, made me ‘squat and cough’ and watched me while I went for a wee above a metal bowl.
“She put me in a blue jumpsuit and orange Crocs, took my mugshot and locked me in a cell on my own.
“It was disgusting, there were three bunk beds which were just metal frames and wire and I was given a mattress which was a piece of plastic, no pillow, a thin, scratchy blanket and a towel for a shower in the corner.
“I lay there shaking, wondering what was going to happen to me. At 4am I was given breakfast in a plastic, compartmentalised tray.
“I’d already told them I was a vegetarian but they still gave me two rashers of cardboard-like bacon, dry scrambled eggs, gruel-like porridge and fruit which came from a tin.
“I couldn’t sleep because an officer kept coming in every half hour to check on me and all the lights were still on. I was exhausted and kept crying and then falling asleep, and crying again.”
In the morning, Rebecca was marched out of her cell and ordered to get dressed in her own clothes.
Officers put a chain around her waist and handcuffed her hands to it, before putting her in the back of a police van to be driven back to the airport.
She said: “I landed in Texas at 6pm and I was deported the next day at the same time. I was in America for 24 hours and all I saw was the inside of a jail cell.
“At the airport, they wouldn’t let me call my mum, but I was begging and crying so much that they eventually let me – so I could tell her what had happened.
“We were both crying down the phone to each other and we made plans for her to meet me at Heathrow when I landed.”
Rebecca was finally released from her handcuffs to board the plane, but was escorted by a female border officer.
When her five-year ban is up, Rebecca won’t be allowed to enter the States on an ESTA visa again.
Instead, she’ll need to pay a fine at an American embassy and apply for a different visa.
She said: “I’m traumatised after everything that’s happened.
“Getting an American working visa is so much harder than an ESTA, I thought I’d be OK as I was planning on travelling for the majority of my trip.
“I was planning on staying on the ranch for a month and then spending two months travelling around America, couch-surfing and road tripping with people my age.
“I’ve definitely learned my lesson and would say to anyone else to make sure they have the right visa before they go to the States.
“I’m too scared to travel by myself again. I’d love to go to India or Asia, but don’t want to find myself in a jail cell abroad again.”
Brit Sophie Frampton previously claimed she was held in a jail in Austin for three days after putting the wrong address on her tourist visa.
Source: Sun – Triangle News