A Frustrated Video Game Developer Gets Nabbed at the Border

PHOTO: smolders

Sam Smolders/Facebook

The tech industry has been at the forefront of the immigration debate this year, calling for more visas for programmers and engineers.

But the lack of progress in Congress may have forced one video game developer to skirt the law in order to enter the United States.

Sam Smolders, a Belgian national, according to federal immigration authorities, was taken into custody by border agents on September 5 after they found him soaking wet on a boardwalk near the Detroit River, which divides the U.S. and Canada.

[Update: Smolders told Fusion in July 2014 that he was not a Belgian citizen. “My allegiance is to the United States,” he said. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told Fusion that Smolders was a Belgian national and that he was deported to that country in October 2013.]

Agents reported that Smolders had a waterproof bag and a personal flotation device with him. When they ran his name, they found that he had applied for entry to the U.S. in 2008 but was denied.

Back in March, the industry publication Develop recounted Smolders’ story as a “deported, homeless, moneyless” game creator.

[Update: Smolders told Fusion in July that he was not “deported,” but voluntarily left the U.S., as described below.]

The developer told the magazine that he was born in Belgium but had lived in Arizona from when he was 5-years-old to when he turned 18. He said that due to improperly filed immigration paperwork, he was told he had to leave the country.

He’s since gone on to develop a role-playing game called “Victim of Xen,” and someday hoped to launch gaming companies in the U.S. and Europe, according to the magazine.

His plan to return to the U.S. wasn’t quite working out, according to posts on his Facebook page this April.

He chatted with other Facebook users about a failed appeal to the U.S. embassy in Belgium:

After these years, being forced out here. Not even getting my paperwork looked at on the wim [sic] of the staff, I am now officially not believing in the system. I am going to be pursuing practical, non-system means (meaning that according to the governments, they would be illegal).

Smolders wrote about his journey cynically in the comment thread. “Just give me a few days to f**k myself up before I begin this ‘illegal expedition,’” he posted [expletive deleted].

Update, July 1, 2014: After speaking with Sam Smolders at length, this piece was updated to reflect his input. We previously reported that the role-playing game was “Victim of Zen,” but it is “Victim of Xen.”

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Immigration Reform is a heated political issue that we view from all angles in the hope of getting politicians to address those impacted by the decisions they make.

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