Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Glass Outhouse Art Gallery artist turned back at border

Robert Markle Kinnard
Canadian artist, Robert Markle Kinnard, was driving with his wife from their home on Vancouver Island to Wonder Valley, California last week to participate in a group show at The Glass Outhouse Art Gallery. They had spent several of the previous winters in Wonder Valley, and have ties to the community. They gave themselves four days to get to the gallery. They never made it. They were turned away at the U.S. border by Customs and Border Protection officers.

The population of Wonder Valley swells in the winter from around 900 to around 2000 as snowbirds, retirees, weekenders, and expats come to enjoy the mild winter and the beauty of this remote area. Wonder Valley has one restaurant/bar, one thrift store, and one art gallery - The Glass Outhouse. This was where Kinnard was headed.

After hearing that Kinnard would not be in the show I contacted him in Vancouver Island and asked about his experience.

Kinnard and his wife had a reservation for a vacation rental in Joshua Tree, where they planned to stay for a month. He hoped to show his work, visit with friends, and enjoy the park.

When they arrived at the Blaine, Washington checkpoint, five hours from their home, the CBP officer asked the purpose of their visit. Kinnard told the officer he was delivering artwork to a show to which he’d been invited. Kinnard had crossed the border several times before, with paintings and equipment.

The officer asked them to pull off to the side for further inspection.

Inside the station Kinnard presented their passports and sat on a bench to wait, for four hours. An Asian woman sat beside them, sobbing. A few feet away an officer berated an Asian man who wanted to attend a club meeting across the border. The CBP officer replied, “That’s not a good enough reason for me to let you in.”

Kinnard described the atmosphere in the room as one of suspicion: that they felt as if they were under arrest and had to prove their innocence.

When Kinnard was called to the counter the officer said he needed to be fingerprinted, promising to soon get him on his way. When the officer finished fingerprinting he asked Kinnard to step back for a photograph, took the picture, and immediately told Kinnard that his van and his artwork were denied entry to the U.S., which meant that he was, as well.

Kinnard was shaken, and said he never would have agreed to the fingerprinting if he knew he would not be admitted. A police car escorted Kinnard and his wife back to the border, and with flashing lights still on, returned their passports and told them to have a good day.

The show at The Glass Outhouse Art Gallery went on. Kinnard and his wife were the main topic of conversation among their many friends at the opening.

UNDR, Robert Markle Kinnard
Wonder Valley is home to a diverse population: pioneer families, artists, writers, musicians, academics, working people, veterans, retirees, and foreign nationals from all over the world who add to the distinct and vibrant mix of cultures that makes living in Wonder Valley such a rich experience. The new president’s immigration policy has had a very real and unsettling effect on many in Wonder Valley, and raises concerns about whether other immigrants will be allowed to return to the desert that has become their second home.

The economy of the Morongo Basin, and Joshua Tree National Park, is largely dependent on tourism. If tourists stop visiting because of how they might be treated at the border, the economic impact could be devastating.

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