A British marketing manager visiting his girlfriend in Chicago was locked in a cell for 24 hours and banned from the US for life, after immigration officials found a month-old text saying: ‘I am moving to be with you.’
Isaac Roblett, 24, from Hastings, East Sussex flew to the Illinois city on April 24 for the trip of a lifetime with American girlfriend Camila Iglesia, 23. He had been talking about spending three months in the country under an ESTA permit.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation allows you to stay in the US for up to 90 days without needing a VISA. They cost around £9, and must be applied for at least 72 hours before you travel.
But when Mr Roblett arrived in the country, immigration officials questioned him about his reasons for travel. They scoured his phone and discovered a text message about ‘moving’ and feared he may stay in the country long term.
He claims that in reality, he was visiting his girlfriend for their one year anniversary. The couple had met on Tinder as she studied on an exchange at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in Sidcup, Kent.
Isaac Roblett, 24, from Hastings, East Sussex flew to the Illinois city on April 24 for the trip of a lifetime with American girlfriend Camila Iglesia (pictured left together), 23. But when immigration officials found a text message (right), sent during an argument, saying ‘I am moving to be with you’, he was deported from the country for life
The couple (pictured) had met when Ms Iglesia was studying on an exchange at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in Sidcup, Kent
As Mr Roblett was taken into a room for questioning his girlfriend, who is from Miami and studies acting at Columbia College Chicago, was left waiting in the airport. He claims she remained there for around 15 hours until going home.
Mr Roblett said of his interrogation: ‘They went through my phone, all my messages, and found a message to my girlfriend which said “I am moving to be with you”. They said that’s evidence enough to not allow me in.’
Marketing manager Mr Roblett was locked up in a cell for a day and interrogated in a windowless room for an hour and a half. He was deported the next day without seeing Ms Iglesia and is now also banned from visiting the US for life.
He claims the interrogation began with immigration officials questioning him on how he was going to fund himself while in the US. He said claims they asked him questions including ‘how are you funded’, and ‘how are you making money.’
What is an ESTA permit? How it lets you travel to the US for less than 90 days without a visa
An ESTA lets you visit the US for less than 90 days without needing a visa – as long as it’s for a holiday or a business trip. It’s called the visa waiver program.
It is officially called an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. To get one you must be a UK citizen or a citizen from another visa waiver country visiting the US.
The US Customs and Border Patrol recommends that you apply for one at least 72 hours before departure. You will only need it if you are arriving by plane or cruise ship.
It currently costs $14, which is around £9 in British money. That’s if you decide to apply for one on the ESTA website. You will probably pay more if you do it through a travel agent.
If you are refused entry to the US you will only be charged $4. If it goes through, however, it will be valid for two years and you can make multiple trips back to America during that time.
You cannot just renew it when it runs out, you have to re-apply for it each time. If you are looking to stay for longer in the US you would need a different document, such as a work visa.
Mr Roblett said: ‘I work in England, I’d saved up a lot of money to go and see my girlfriend. We were going on a road trip and I’d saved up enough to be able to survive.’
But he claims the immigration officials did not believe him, saying: ‘They were like, “you’re going to have to come to our control room”. So they took me to their waiting room. They interrogated me and went through my phone and messages. It took ages.’
Mr Roblett had previously flown to his girlfriend’s home city of Miami and the pair drove to Chicago, where Ms Iglesia is studying to become an actress, late last year. This time, they had been planning to visit New York and Los Angeles.
Having met last year in England, Mr Roblett said he’d been to see her twice in the US. He said: ‘We love to travel. We’ve only been together a year but we’ve been to France, Holland, Italy, Spain.’
They both also enjoy eating food and watching sports together. The pair even have their own food blog. And Mr Roblett has said he think their relationship will last a very long time.
But a rogue text message, sent during an argument, proved to be their undoing. It read: ‘In terms of a break up, I don’t know what I’ve done to make you forget that in a months time I am moving to be with you.’
But Mr Roblett insists he just meant for the duration of the holiday, adding: ‘I wouldn’t say ‘visit you’ if it’s three months.’ And he added: ‘I was almost crying, trying to hold back the tears. One of the officers told me: ‘Man up, get over it.’
The guards continued to comb his messages and Mr Roblett says they made comments about his relationship which were ‘below the belt’.
The whole time heartbroken Ms Iglesia was waiting at the airport’s arrivals lounge for Mr Roblett to turn up. When he didn’t, she was left feeling ‘scared’ and ‘angry’.
The whole time Mr Roblett was being questioned, a heartbroken Ms Iglesia was waiting at the airport’s arrivals lounge for him to turn up. When he didn’t, she was left feeling ‘scared’ and ‘angry’
Mr Roblett had previously flown to her home city of Miami and the pair drove to Chicago, where Ms Iglesia is studying to become an actress, late last year. This time, they had been planning to visit New York and Los Angeles
After the interrogation, Mr Roblett says he was thrown in a cramped cell with four other people. He added: ‘It was the worst thing you’ve ever seen. The toilet was literally a hole in the ground.’
He says he did not eat, shower or sleep, and bright lights were left on overnight.
The next morning Mr Roblett spoke to the British Embassy, and paid £700 for a flight back to Heathrow with a stopover in Dublin. He was taken to the plane in handcuffs.
Since returning to the UK he says he has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and now wants to warn others that US border officials will comb visitors’ phones.
The couple are going to try and stay together, despite Mr Roblett’s ban.
‘It’s horrible, the love of my life is in another country and I can’t even see her,’ he added.
A spokesman for the the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: ‘Our staff offered advice to a British man who was denied entry to the USA, and were in contact with the US immigration authorities regarding his case.’