HIGHLAND PARK — A Canadian church group looking to do volunteer with Superstorm Sandy victims at the Jersey Shore was turned away at the border over concern that they were trying to take away jobs from Americans.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection said they were enforcing the same border laws that were put in place after 9/11.

Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park wrote on his Facebook page that the 12 volunteers were turned away last Saturday at the Queenston-Lewiston crossing between New York State and Ontario.

"They were told they could not pass because the work they want to do had to be done by U.S. workers. By coming here they were stealing American jobs," Dale wrote.

Dale, who is also the Green Party's candidate for governor, said the U.S. border patrol at the crossing wanted a description of what duties the group from the Rehoboth United Reformed Church of Hamilton, Ontario, would be doing.

After an initial explanation was rejected, Dale said a second letter emphasizing the "team building" aspect of their trip was also rejected.

Erik Hoeksema, the Canadian church's outreach director, was told by the border agent, "next time just say you are going for site-seeing and a short vacation."

"In other words, lie," Dale said,  adding that President Donald Trump is to blame for "creating a culture of lying and hiding."

U.S. Customs spokesman Dave Long said that groups such as the Ontario church group intending to perform work for humanitarian purposes "must provide documentation in advance to the port where they are seeking admission to the U.S., that should include a letter from the municipality stating what the arriving group will be doing."

"Agents attempted to assist the group, but ultimately the group was unable to obtain the proper documentation to support this visit," Long said.

Long said there has been additional attention to border laws since Trump took office. There were similar policies in place when Canadians came to the U.S. to help with recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

No new policies have been implemented since January and the border patrol's primary mission remains the same: "to prevent the entry of terrorists and their weapons into the U.S., while facilitating the legitimate flow of trade and travel over the border," Long told New Jersey 101.5. "[Customs and Border Patrol] is also responsible for enforcing U.S. laws and regulations that safeguard American industry, including laws that restrict employment of foreign visitors."

Long said there are 328 patrolled entrances between the United States and Canada and that 1.2 million people cross the border daily.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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