WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last year The Portland Press Herald carried several articles about Dean and Laura Franks, the British couple who owned and operated a restaurant in Wells for 10 years. It was called Laura’s Kitchen.

Two years ago, the Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) at the California Service Center refused to extend their E-2 investor status because the business was deemed by an overzealous adjudicator to be not profitable enough. This finding was a very subjective one, since there are no specific profit margins written in the law to qualify.

The Franks left the country as ordered by CIS and went to Canada. They returned for a short trip thereafter to oversee (unsuccessfully) the selling of their restaurant in Wells and their home in Arundel. Again they left within their allotted time. To better facilitate subsequent travel to the U.S. as tourists, they applied for visitor visas at the U.S. Consulate General in Montreal.

The visas were granted. On a recent visit to the U.S., however, they were denied entry. Why? Because the border inspector believed that they would stay illegally, again a very subjective finding, especially given the fact that the Franks had always left the U.S. before their period of lawful stay expired.

In recent email exchanges with the Franks, I have learned the following:

They were held for four hours at a Vermont port of entry, had their valid visas canceled and their car searched, with some of its contents damaged. Mr. Franks was fingerprinted seven times even though the fingerprints should have been on file from his last entry.

During the four hours they were held, they sat on hard wooden benches. They were escorted to the bathroom and given some “tepid” water “only after we pleaded.” Unfortunately, this kind of treatment is meted out with some regularity at ports of entry in the U.S.

Ironically, in several of their emails to me, they reiterated that they know they could have stayed in the U.S. illegally but they “were not brought up that way.” The border inspectors thought differently.

Since 1996, the U.S. Border Patrol has been given additional authority to inspect foreign nationals entering the country. And, strange as it may seem, the visa issued in Montreal did not give the Franks a guarantee of being admitted into the U.S. — about 1 percent of visa holders are denied entry.

The 1996 legislation was aimed at criminals, terrorists and other miscreants who when confronted at the border exercised their rights under our law to gain entry and be “paroled” into the U.S. promising to show up in the future for a hearing. Most simply disappeared.

But this stringent legislation was not aimed at innocent tourists such as the Franks, although they recently bore the brunt of the new legislation. It behooves Customs and Border Patrol to encourage its inspectors to exercise more discretion when inspecting and questioning innocent foreign nationals such as the Franks.

The Franks have only one option now — to return to England, a country, they note, with high unemployment and dim prospects for two people nearing 50 years of age. “We have to kiss our beautiful home in Maine goodbye and sit back and watch as the bank repossesses it. We worked hard and put every penny we earned back into our home and restaurant and managed to pay off the restaurant mortgage early, so what? We can never run it again or even see it again. If we are really lucky we might sell it, eventually, but likely we won’t.”

Because they were denied entry in Vermont, they may well be barred from coming back to the U.S. for years. In short, a decision made by a faceless bureaucrat 3,000 miles away in California has ruined their lives. They have exhausted their savings trying to comply with our laws.

What can be done? The Franks should contact Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins again. In 2005, Sen. Snowe contacted our Embassy in New Zealand to assist Scott Downie in entering the U.S. after he had been denied a visa for a previous overstay in the country.

Senate offices have staffs that can communicate with U.S. embassies and speak to a sympathetic consul who will reissue an E-2 visa to the Franks or contact a port of entry in Maine to arrange for them to be admitted as tourists from Canada.

When I was a U.S. consul, I regularly received calls from interested members of Congress whose intervention proved successful. It is the least our senators can do for them.

– Special to the Press Herald