Tony (right), 48, and his wife Michelle Singer (left), 51, with their son Brandon (centre), 21
A British family’s dream holiday to Florida turned into a ‘nightmare’ – after they were held over a visa blunder.
US officials allegedly arrested, stripped and threw the Singers from Ashington, Northumberland, in jail with criminals facing life sentences – despite them insisting they had no criminal record.
The next day the family were deported – with their £4,500 trip to Universal Studios in Orlando in tatters.
And father Tony Singer warned: ‘This could happen to almost anyone.’
Mr Singer, 48, and his wife Michelle, 51, treated son Brandon to the trip as a 21st birthday surprise. But after landing, border officials claimed the couple had not declared a money laundering arrest from 2007, of which they were cleared.
They were allegedly ‘marched away’ in handcuffs and driven to the barbed wire-fenced Orange County Correction Centre.
Mr Singer said: ‘They stripped me and my son, searched us and they put us in a jumpsuit which was about four sizes too big.’
Files by US immigration officials on the Singer family from Ashington in Northumberland
And the family, who had hoped to spend their holiday enjoying thepark’s Halloween Horror nights, said they soon found themselves face-to-face with real-life villains.
‘There were 30 inmates in with me,’ claimed Tony. ‘There was one young lad, about 19, who was in for having a concealed weapon, grand theft auto and kidnapping.
‘My son Googled him and he is a big one – I said, ‘what are you in for’ and he said he was facing 15 years to life. It was horrific’.
The family say conditions inside the prison were unbearable. Mr Singer said: ‘There was no toilet roll, nowater, it was freezing cold and I had no lights or pillows. If prison was like this in Britain, they would all be empty.’
In a further blow, the family fear they won’t get a penny back. Mrs Singer said: ‘The insurance doesn’t cover deportation and the travel agent doesn’t want to know.
A passport stamp showing one of the family members was refused entry to the US this month
‘Dawson and Sanderson said they would try and get some of the theme park ticket money back, and the tickets have not been activated so I don’t see why I shouldn’t. I’ve lost everything at the minute.’
But the couple are most baffled by the fact they have previously been allowed into the US.
This could happen to almost anyone
Security worker Mr Singer said: ‘We’ve been coming for about ten years and never once had a problem getting in. But it seems any sort of arrest you now have to declare, even if you were never charged.’
Mrs Singer added: ‘They told us something has changed because of Donald Trump.’
But the US Embassy said laws stating anyone who has ever been arrested, cautioned or charged cannot enter the US via the visa waiver scheme existed pre-Trump.
The section of the Esta (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) form to which US immigration officials objected
The scheme allows people to enter the US for 90 days on a $14 (£10.70) Esta (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) visa rather than a full visa – as long as they meet the criteria.
But the Singers have asked their MP for help. Labour party chairman Ian Lavery’s office said that the MP is looking at the case after the family asked him to urge the American authorities to re-word the Esta question behind their ordeal.
It asks if the applicant has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime which caused ‘serious’ harm to another person, property or Government authority. The couple insist they haven’t.
Asked if they will ever return, Mrs Singer said: ‘I would need a guaranteethis will never happen again. It was terrifying.’
A Dawson and Sanderson spokesman said: ‘Whilst we cannot comment on individual cases, we would emphasise how important it is for travellers to answer visa application questions fully and accurately.
‘However, the ultimate decision of entry is for the relevant country’s border control.’