A Missouri man who took his family's dying grandfather on a cruise to the Bahamas says Carnival Cruise Line should have never let them on the ship — it led to his family's separation.
Joseph McDevitt told WTLV that he and his wife, Jia McDevitt, are outraged after officials with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol detained Jia's 60-year-old parents — both Chinese citizens — after the cruise docked Monday in Jacksonville, Florida.
"I would have rather lost my money on a cruise than my family," the husband told ABC.
Jia McDevitt's dad, Yuanjun Cui, has stage 4 cancer.
"We took this trip because her dad is terminally ill with cancer," Joseph McDevitt told WTLV. "They've already removed his stomach, he already has trouble eating. It's not good."
The family from Kaiser, in the Ozarks region of Missouri, chose to go to the Bahamas because "we were told that Chinese citizens and the Bahamas have a mutual agreement where they can go with only a passport, no visa," Joe McDevitt told KOMU. However, Carnival said in a statement to WTLV that "... when you cruise departing and returning to a US port like the passengers you inquired about, a passport is not required. For foreign nationals however, a passport is required."
He told ABC that his in-laws, Cui and Huan Wang, came to the U.S. in December after Cui endured eight rounds of chemotherapy because they wanted to meet their granddaughter.
But once the family returned from the Bahamas, the trip turned into a nightmare.
Border Patrol officials detained the family within minutes of getting off the ship, according to media reports.
"Eventually, my wife was released, and my kids, and we never saw her parents again," Joseph McDevitt told ABC.
Jia McDevitt posted a video showing a conversation with a Border Patrol officer to Facebook. Her husband said in the video that he wanted to give the grandparents money and let them say goodbye to their grandchildren.
"The Border Patrol officer would not let us protect our legal rights!!" she wrote with the video.
The family then called a lawyer.
The couple had a 10-year visitor visa issued by the U.S. Embassy in Shenyang, China, according to a letter from the family's lawyer, Susan Pai. She said she sent it to Customs and Border Patrol. Pai redacted Cui and Wang's name in the letter posted online, but she published a blog post regarding the incident on her website. The visa does not expire until 2027, according to the letter.
In a video posted to YouTube by Pai, an officer calls the detainment a withdrawal. A withdrawal "usually means the visitor voluntarily withdraws his or her application to enter the U.S.," Pai said on her website.
"Wang and Cui did not voluntarily or knowingly withdraw their application for admission under their ten year B1/B2 visas," Pai told WTLV. "(They were) forced ... to sign a paper, the contents of which are unknown to them (as they only understand Chinese)."
Since then, the McDevitts have stayed in a Florida hotel room while they work to find out where Cui and Wang were sent. The couple had no money or keys to their China home when they were detained, WTLV reported.
The family told ABC there may have been "red flags," including an "issue" with the family's paperwork when boarding the ship. Still, they were able to board the ship.
"I one hundred percent feel like Carnival could've prevented this," Joseph McDevitt told KOMU. "If there was any reason they couldn't let us return to the U.S., they should not have let us on that boat."
A spokesperson with Carnival issued the following statement to WTLV:
"We do not know what the issue is with these passengers or why they were detained nor would we know. It is up to each passenger to comply with US immigration law."
A Columbia, Missouri, immigration attorney told KOMU there are many reasons the grandparents could have been detained.
"If an officer suspects violation of visa or that the immigrant no longer has intent to return to their home country, the officer may detain the person," Stephen Blower said.
Pai said in her letter that Cui and Wang had a return flight home to China scheduled for June 2018.