BANNED BY THE USA
By JANE GARDNER
WHAT started as a goodwill mission to help the survivors of Hurricane Katrina has ended with Bentley musician Dale Willis being interrogated by US authorities and stranded in Canada with no money to get home.
Worse, Mr Willis, 27, who frequently plays charity gigs at home and abroad, has been banned for life from entering the US on a holiday visa.
His plane home is due to leave Los Angeles on October 10, but if he attempts to enter the US again, he will be arrested.
Nine days ago Mr Willis was interrogated, fingerprinted, had his car searched and US border officials even discussed cavity searching him when he attempted to cross the Canada/US border after visiting friends.
"I just don't understand it. I've never been in trouble in my life," Mr Willis told The Northern Star from the bar where he's staying in Canada.
The winner of the 2004 International Acoustic Music Award for guitar finger-picking, Mr Willis left for Los Angeles on September 11 with his younger sister, Holly, 25, to play several charity concerts across the country.
After a quick visit to friends in Canada, they tried to re-enter the US, but border officials refused him entry because they found promotional CDs in his car and suspected he had violated his holiday visa.
"The ironic thing is I was there to do benefits and gave them (the US Customs) the contacts who organised the events to confirm I wasn't making any money," he said.
"They said it wasn't their job to do that, but they took time to look at comments I posted on my website before I left Australia."
The comments included criticism toward the US for a September 11 tax which was added to Mr Willis' plane ticket.
It read, 'who knows where the money is going (maybe I will ask one of those friendly Customs people all about it when I get there) but it totally blew me away that the US is taxing me because of an event that took place four years ago'.
"They printed out that page and put it with my record, then they made me make an official statement that I had written it."
Mr Willis' mother, Christine, said she couldn't believe what had happened to her son: "He was working for charity and not getting paid and he's done it before in previous years without any hassle."
Mr Willis contacted the Australian Consulate in Vancouver. He was diverted to Australia, where a consular official told him he was on his own and suggested he seek legal help or contact 60 Minutes.
Yesterday, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said Mr Willis may not have explained his case thoroughly to the consulate and should try again.
The US Consulate would not comment on the matter.
Mr Willis is playing gigs at an Australian-themed bar in return for his board.