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Developer Jailed on Immigration Charges After Swimming to the U.S. [UPDATE]

An independent games developer is in custody and charged with violating U.S. immigration law after allegedly swimming the Detroit River, which forms the U.S.-Canadian border, to gain entry to the country.

Sam Smolders (pictured), creator of the role-playing game Victim of Xen, was found by border agents around 2 a.m. on Thursday, soaking wet on a boardwalk in Detroit. The Detroit Free Press reports that Smolders told agents he was from Arizona and that he’d jumped into the river to retrieve his bag after being accosted by three men who threw his belongings into the river.


Smolders’ bag was found to be wrapped in waterproof material, according to the agents’ report. He refused medical attention, said his identification was left in a hotel room, then said he wanted to go to the nearest hotel to get out of his wet clothes, preferring to lodge at one that cost “one hundred euros.” Border agents ran a background check and discovered Smolders’ Belgian citizenship and the fact he’d been refused entry to the U.S. in 2008. A search turned up a Belgian passport with a Canadian arrival stamp dated the day before.

Update: Smolders disputes the Detroit Free Press account and tells Kotaku “I’m not a Belgian Citizen and am a U.S. Citizen.” He says that the Belgian passport was issued to him incorrectly by the Belgian government and that his allegiance is to the U.S., the country where he grew up.


Smolders was profiled in March by Develop magazine, in which he described the creation of his game under hardships that included homelessness, poverty, and being effectively stranded in a country where he didn’t speak the language, though it was the place of his birth. Smolders told Develop he had moved to the U.S. with his mother when he was five years old, living here until he was 18.

Around that time, Smolders told Develop that he was informed that improper immigration paperwork meant he would be classified as an illegal immigrant on his 18th birthday. He left for Belgium, and returned to the U.S. for short periods before being refused entry in 2008 and ever since. Smolders also said his mother was arrested in Arizona, her property confiscated, and then deported to Belgium.

Smolders told Develop that he eventually gave up trying to resolve his immigration status with the United States, choosing to put his earnings from factory jobs into the development of Victim of Xen. Smolders noted, however, that “there’s no game industry out here [in Belgium], it’s all in the U.K. and in Germany as well.”

Smolders and a team of 13 unpaid volunteers completed Victim of Xen, which was published in early January by Big Fish Games. It was listed on Steam Greenlight a month before.


Belgian man jailed after alleged attempt to enter U.S. via the Detroit River [Detroit Free Press via Develop]

Deported, homeless, moneyless: An indie’s story [Develop]

Editor’s Note: An image of Smolders atop this post was removed following a copyright complaint.


To contact the author of this post, write to or find him on Twitter @owengood.

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So basically:

Your parents bring you to a country when you are 5. You spend the next 13 years living here, but because someone typoed when your parents came in, you, a resident of this country for 13 years, aren't sent to a country you haven't lived in for over a decade. Then, when you apply to rejoin the country that, again, you have spent the vast portion of your life in, that you are effectively told that you can't come here?

Christ our immigration system is laughable. This is literally why we will never have another Olympic games.