Maybe they’re reading this post right now

Neddie finds something rather disturbing: a border guard leaving a comment in a blog, flaunting his knowledge of the comings and goings of the blogger at a border crossing. It’s vaguely threatening, in a “I know where you live” kind of way. The assertion that “you do not have a right to privacy” is even more creepy—I think someone on the border patrol is a little too full of himself.

I’ve driven up to Canada a couple of times now, and the remarkable contrast has been how pleasant and casual the guards at the entry into Canada have been, and how surly, snide, and officious the guards coming back into the US have been. I don’t quite understand the point of having the guards at the border treating people as potential criminals; it’s not as if real criminals and terrorists are going to be at all dissuaded by supercilious snottiness, but legitimate visitors to our country are going to be dismayed by our gracelessness at the doorway.

Even us residents aren’t at all thrilled with their behavior. After showing multiple forms of ID and answering all their questions, they still acted suspicious and resentful, as if they were offended that I had dared visit a foreign country, and they weren’t sure if they should let me come back home. (Uh-oh…next time I visit Canada, are the guards going to mutter about my blog and subject me to a strip search now?)


  1. says

    Take it from me–muttering, “What makes you think I’d want to live in your country, anyway?” doesn’t help.

    And never admit that you’re between jobs even if you have one waiting for you… the “unemployed” are doubly under suspicion.

  2. says

    I skimmed the border patrol guard’s anonymous comment. It’s odd that Mr. Border Guard doesn’t think anyone else is required to learn a foreign language. Diplomat? Intelligence agent? Translator, f’God’s-sake? My heart bleeds. In Toronto, in some neighbourhoods bank tellers and sales clearks must know a foreign language (Greek in mine).

    I would hope that making subtle “we know where to find you” comments is against the Border Guards’ Code of Ethics. I wonder what the FedGov would say about him posting that kind of remark on someone’s blog?

  3. says

    PZ, if they are so foolish as to subject you to a strip search, their rash deed will undoubtedly be its own punishment.

  4. G. Tingey says

    Some of us remember another case of this, and the US is undoubtedly heading in that direction….

    Many years ago, I walked right up to the notice that said:

    Just in front of the cleared strip, watched over by the DDR Grenzpolizei.

    Not nice at all ….

    I don’t think I’ll be visiting the USA, any time at all, until this nonsense is got rid of – which probably means never, since you are heading for Gilead, sometime about 2016.

    What you should be doing, is making sure that you can get OUT when the shit hits the fan

  5. bernarda says

    Thanks to der fuhrer, pardon Commander Guy, Bush’s “war on terror”, anyone can now be terrorized by the border patrol.

    “A Canadian psychotherapist who conducted research with LSD was denied entry to the United States after a border guard Googled his work.”…

    “The official said that under the Homeland Security Act, Feldmar was being denied entry due to “narcotics” use. LSD is not a narcotic substance, Feldmar tried to explain, but an entheogen. The guard wasn’t interested in technicalities. He asked for a statement from Feldmar admitting to having used LSD and he fingerprinted Feldmar for an FBI file.

    Then Feldmar disbelievingly listened as he learned that he was being barred from ever entering the United States again. The officer told him he could apply to the Department of Homeland Security for a waiver, if he wished, and gave him a package, with the forms.

    The border guard then escorted him to his car and made sure he did a U-turn and went back to Canada.”

    It isn’t only a one-way street. Canada has implemented similar procedures under pressure from the Bushies.

    “There, in a room he estimates was filled with 60 other concerned travelers, he was told he was “a person who was inadmissible to Canada.” The problem? A conviction for marijuana possession.

    In 1975.

    Welcome to the new world of border security. Unsuspecting Americans are turning up at the Canadian border expecting clear sailing, only to find that their past — sometimes their distant past — is suddenly an issue.

    While Canada officially has barred travelers convicted of criminal offenses for years, attorneys say post-9/11 information-gathering, combined with a sweeping agreement between Canada and the United States to share data, has resulted in a spike in phone calls from concerned travelers.

    They are shocked to hear that the sins of their youth might keep them out of Canada. But what they don’t know is that this is just the beginning. Soon other nations will be able to look into your past when you want to travel there.”

    Welcome to the world of Big Brother Bush.

  6. Stephen says

    … but legitimate visitors to our country are going to be dismayed by our gracelessness at the doorway.

    Too true. I’ve just been to the US for a business conference. While the guards weren’t as bad as the ones mentioned here, they certainly weren’t friendly, and the ludicrously exaggerated procedures meant we exceeded even the apparently generous time allowed by the airline for changing flights. We missed our internal flight and had to spend a substantial part of a day in the airport.

    When it comes to trips that I have to pay for myself (holidays) rest assured that I will go to countries that make me feel more welcome.

  7. Kat says

    I can’t even begin to tell you the full story of my (non-us citizen) driving across the canadian border with a US citizen friend to a Canadian friend’s wedding and finding I was missing the bit of green visa waiver card that the US immigration official in Boston had forgotten to staple back into my passport.

    After 2 hours of a US gurad giving us a lot of crap and reducing my friend to tears, he told us to wait and left. He never cam eback, another lovely female immigration offical helped us out, sorted the missing card in 2 minutes, cost $6 and apologised for her colleague “who was just going off duty and resented that he ahd to deal with some paperwork”.

    US immigration people (with the exception of that lovely lady) are now known to me and all my US friedns as “the border b@st@rds”

    Memo to US immigration: we don’t want to live in your country anyway. And if you’re going to treat people like sh_1_t take down all those notices saying how you’re there to welcome us!

  8. hyperdeath says

    I think that this is less of a problem with US border policy, and more an issue of what happens when idiots are given a bit of authority (cf. Eric Cartman).

    99.999% of people passing through the border are completely legitimate, and the guards’ job essentially consists of waving them through. Gaining cheap thrills by harassing anyone and everyone is a good way of relieving this monotony.

  9. says

    I shared your exact experience during my trip to Niagra last June. Going over, the Canadian guys were nice, friendly, and just asked a few quick questions about our plans. Coming back, the guy looked like he was ready to punch someone if they gave him attitude – a real dick. He made my friend wait about 30 minutes off to the side, and confiscated a pipe as “paraphernalia” which was brand new (bought in Canada; no residue) and could definitely be used as a tobacco pipe. Dick.

  10. says

    When we came back from Canada several years ago now (going into Canada had consisted of driving past the booth and saying “no, we aren’t staying”) the guard collected all our passports and ids (two of us were still using birth certificates) and walked away with them. When he finally came back, he began interrogating (not too strong a verb) us on what the weather was like in our respective home towns – what? Had he just looked them up on the internet and was hoping to trip us up? I have no idea how long we’d have been stuck there or how much more obnoxious he’d have gotten; somebody decided to blast through the gate and the guard threw our papers back and said for us to go as he shut down the gate after us to jump in a car and chase after. We’d been waiting an hour anyway – I felt sorry for the guys behind us.

  11. Richard Harris, FCD says

    This isn’t anything new – the contrast between Canadian & US customs & immigration, from Buffalo to Honolulu, goes back nearly forty years in my experience.

  12. says

    Customs and immigration officials are invariably bastards. But then, the ranks are made up of (i) people who want to be border guards, which speaks for itself; and (ii) people who don’t want to but are compelled by circumstance, in which case they’re probably having a pretty miserable time of it, not at all improved by hanging out with (i). It seems like a job specifically designed to turn people into paranoid, self-important thugs, if they weren’t already.

  13. Anne says

    I don’t think anyone but Mexicans and African refugees want to come and live in the States anyway, the US reputation is very bad in the outside world. It’s not seen as the Land of the Free and Opportunity any more for anyone who has an alternative.

    As for visiting, tales of queues and endless delays at immigration are legion, who wants to go on holiday to a country that makes it so difficult to get in? The US clearly doesn’t value its tourists, so why should they bother to come?

  14. says

    I’va had no problems. In fact, a couple of years ago, I went up to see the International Peace Garden on the N. Dakota/ Manitoba border, with my son, and didn’t realize this (until I returned) that this was regarded as leaving the United States. And at that stage, while I of course had a driver’s license, my son, like a typical high school freshman, had no documentation. So the guard proceeeded to quiz him, and, of course, he decided to respond in monosyllable. Where do you go to school son?, “East”. East what? “East High.” East High where? Ben looked at him like he was an idiot. “Lincoln”

    “There you go”, I said, “could anyone but an American high school student be so uncommunicative?”

    The guard laughed and waved us through.

    On the other hand, in West Germany in 1986, I was stopped and searched at gunpoint on a highway in central Germany, in the driving rain, by the Auslanderpolizei, for no reason other than they were looking for a “Turkish terrorist’. At the time, they’d had a little trouble with the Red Army Faction, but nothing like 9/11. And I do not look like a Turk.

    In my experience, border officials tend to react to the attitudes of those they’re dealing with.

  15. Joel says

    Back in high school (15 years ago, even pre-first WTC bombing) we were on a school trip to Stratford, ON from Michigan. We barely stopped going into Canada, but on our way back, the American guards borded the bus and one commented that he didn’t see any “slant-eyes or darkies” on board and let us go after checking our teachers’ documentation. Obviously our teacher reported the incident the next day and we were told the guard was fired. One wonders how many guards like this are either never reported or re-hired as part of homeland security. Amazing that with all the background checking that can be done, racist attitudes seem to be so surprising to employers.

  16. Dunc says

    Customs and immigration officials are invariably bastards.

    Maybe, but the ones in the States are in a league of their own. I haven’t been over there since long before 9/11, and even back then the experience was far worse than anywhere else I’ve ever been.

  17. Mike says

    I can still remember the Jamaican customs agent…

    “Got any drugs?”

    “Want some?”

  18. AnonymousCoward says

    In 2004, my partner and I drove across the Niagara Falls border crossing to visit Canada for a few days. When we came back, the US guard asked to see our identification, then looked at both of us men and asked, “Which one of you does this car belong to?”

    “Both of us.”

    “How did that happen?”

    “I had the registrar put both of our names on the title.”


  19. AnonymousCoward says

    I forgot that angle brackets are HTML tags. That last line should read

    “[blink blink blink] OK.”

  20. Interrobang says

    While crossing from Canada to the US at Detroit (the worst) one time, the Customs goon asked the two of us in the car, “When was the last time you were in jail?” Another time, while going through the US Customs at Pearson Airport in Toronto (why do we put up with that?!), the agent asked me about a million questions that got progressively weirder, and when I finally said, “Look, sir, I’m late for my flight and my fiance has already gone through — he’s standing over there. If you’re going to turn me back, tell me now so I can tell him,” he said, “Aw, I’m just playin’ with you…”

    The Canadian Customs agents are much more well-behaved, largely because the Canadian federal government employs “mystery shoppers” from both sides of the border to cross at random and do spot checks. If an agent is unprofessional or impolite, s/he can be disciplined or fired.

  21. says

    I am now forced to cut and paste an email from a dear friend on flying from Toronto to Halifax…

    “Yeah, it’s a forty five minute flight but by the time you’ve gotten to
    the airport four hours ahead of flight time, been anally probed and had
    your shoes examined for explosives at security, been held on the runway
    for fifteen hours due to signal problems at Ipswich but with
    complimentary southern Ontario champagne as compensation, been delayed
    by headwinds and then have to divert to Chicoutimi and take a school bus
    to Nova Scotia due to a plague of locusts on the runway in Halifax you
    might as well have ridden your bicycle. And that’s assuming they didn’t
    screw up the metric conversion and underfill the fuel tanks and you have
    to make an emergency glide landing at the U.S. Air Force base in
    Hairyarmmpit, Maine from whence, as an enemy combatant, you will be
    subject to extraordinary rendition to the Haliburton-built concentration
    camp in Guantanamo for questioning under “rigorous” conditions.”

  22. richard says

    “The Canadian Customs agents are much more well-behaved..”

    That MIGHT be true now, but Canada is arming its border guards. Many of the ‘pleasant’ officers you encounter when entering Canada during the summer are university students hired to deal with the tourist traffic, not full-timers. When the guns are handed out, the students will be replaced with full-timers, who will end up acting just like their American counterparts (whom they greatly admire, BTW).

    Its been my experience that the US officers are more focused on illegals, whereas on the Canadian side, there has always been more interest in catching Canadians who are exceeding their duty-free limit.

  23. Caledonian says

    You can’t enforce the will of society without giving lots of authority to individuals, many of whom will be small, petty people.

    Kindly remember this the next time you want to expand the authority of society.

  24. says

    I spent seven years living near one of the smaller crossings, and had no trouble but for an incident where I left via one crossing and returned to Canada thirty miles away–before my entry had been processed–making them think I’d skipped across somewhere. They were good people, mostly.

    As a trucker I noticed an increased hostility on the part of the US customs agents. But they were usually professional, mostly. And at that time the worst hassle I had was from a Canada Customs agent.

    Then came the Department of Fatherland Insanity and its bully-empowerment recruiting programs.

    The first time I went down following the World Trade Center attacks I consulted the US Customs website. Canadians required only drivers’ licenses to cross.

    But the Fatherland Insanity @$$#0!3 on the gate wanted my passport. He demanded my social insurance number–something I wasn’t sure he could legally do, then told me that because I was “foreign born” (in the Commonwealth thank you very much!) I had to provide a passport.

    So I had someone bring it, an hour’s journey. When I got it, I realized it had expired earlier that year. I explained this to putz-face.

    “Oh,” he said “that’s okay. We just wanna make sure you got one.”

    On my honeymoon, same deal. I consulted the site, brought passport to travel to France. When I quoted the website and showed the boob in the booth the printout, he repeated his demand and said: “Well you’ll need your passport to get to France, right?”

    Had I not been recently married I might have fought him on this.

    Since the FI office was invented, the nicest guard I met was the lady in Detroit who waved my wife and I through. But the long line of women in chador and men of colours other than white spoke volumes.

    By contrast, the last two Canadian border guards I dealt with didn’t even look at my face, let alone my papers. I suppose Fatherland Insanity is taking care of business for them. But once they get those guns Harper’s demanding I expect things will change. I expect them to adopt the same bully-with-a-badge attitude and paranoia.

  25. carlsonjok says

    A brief counterpoint: Last year, I made an even dozen trips to Mexico on business and never encountered a surly customs agent in either Houston or Dallas. They weren’t slap-you-on-the-back friendly, but none were ever belligerent either.

  26. Fnord Prefect says

    I have never had much trouble the dozen or so times I have returned to the US in the last few years. Once in particular I recall being asked what was in a shopping bag I was carrying. When I responded “Buncha drugs; human head, you don’t want to know what else”, I was waved through with a laugh.

  27. bernarda says

    How long will it be before the criminal Bush regime re-institutes travel bans for Americans? You know, like in the past with Paul Robeson. From Wikipedia:

    “In 1950, after he refused to sign an affidavit that he was not a Communist [8] the U.S. government took away Robeson’s passport and, with it, his freedom to travel outside the United States. When Robeson and his lawyers met with officials at the U.S. State Department August 23, 1950 and asked why it was “detrimental to the interests of the United States Government” for him to travel abroad, they were told that “his frequent criticism of the treatment of blacks in the United States should not be aired in foreign countries”–it was a “family affair.” (Duberman, p. 389)

    In the travel ban, Robeson joined other radicals whose right to travel was prohibited, including the writers Howard Fast and Albert E. Kahn, W.E.B. Du Bois and Richard Morford who headed the National Council of America-Soviet Friendship. In his biography of Robeson, Duberman sought and received answers to his requests under the Freedom of Information law. One such answer came in the State Department’s ‘memorandum for file’ summarizing the August 23, 1950 meeting between U.S. officials and Robeson and his attorneys. (Duberman, p. 389, 411).

    The internal State Department memorandum reveals that U.S. government officials asked Robeson to sign a statement guaranteeing not to give any speeches while outside the U.S. When Robeson refused, the State Department declined to reconsider his passport application. His attorneys protested that this amounted to an unconstitutional violation of the right of free speech.”

    “While no U.S. citizen needed a passport to travel to and from Canada, the State Department also took steps to prevent Robeson from leaving the U.S. to sing at a concert in Vancouver, British Columbia in January 1952. Falling back on legislation passed during World War I “during the existence of a national emergency”–to prevent the entry or departure of its citizens, U.S. officials stopped Robeson from singing in Canada.

    In an act of defiance against the travel ban, labor unions in the U.S. and Canada organized a concert at the International Peace Arch on the border between Washington state and the Canadian province of British Columbia on May 18, 1952. (Duberman, p. 400) Paul Robeson stood on the back of a flat bed truck on the American side of the U.S.-Canada border and performed a concert for a crowd on the Canadian side, variously estimated at between 20,000 and 40,000 people. Robeson returned to perform a second concert at the Peace Arch in 1953. (Duberman p. 411), and over the next two years two further concerts were scheduled.”

  28. George Atkinson says

    Here’s my favorite border crossing tale:
    A man approaches the U.S. Port of Entry from Canada, and is asked for identification.

    “I lost my wallet and all cards.”

    “Do you have other evidence of citizenship?”

    “Sure do. I have a picture of Ronald Reagan tattooed on one butt cheek, and Richard Nixon on the other.”

    “This I gotta see,” said the official.

    With that, Joe drops his pants and bends over.

    “By golly, you’re right,” exclaims the official. “Go on home to Texas.”

    “Thanks. But how did you know I was from Texas?”

    “That middle picture of George W. Bush.”

  29. Richard says

    I’ve traveled through US airport security many, many time both on a temporary visa and on a green card. I’ve only experienced a bad attitude once when the guy tried to persuade me that he originated from my home area and that the town I claimed to live in didn’t actually exist. In fact 30,000 people live there.

    Other than that I’ve never experienced a bad attitude but more than once have been told that my visa was invalid. Stupidity rather than bad attitude appeared to be the requirement of the job.

    And as another poster commented on the German police on a terrorist hunt, more than once traveling in Northern Ireland I was asked to get out of a car at gunpoint and empty the contents of luggage in heavy rain to prove that I wasn’t a threat.

    And #27 I wouldn’t recommend joking with these folks. A friend made a similar quip going through Israeli security and earned a cavity search as his reward.

  30. nicole says

    As an American who went to university in Canada, I’ve crossed the border between Quebec and upstate New York many, many times, and once in a while I would get a Canadian with a bad attitude, but it was infinitely more likely that the Americans would give me a hard time. The Canadians mostly seemed surprised that I didn’t have any duty-free booze, and I had to explain that I was under 21 and thus couldn’t buy alcohol in the States, which they found quite comical. The Americans, however, seemed determined not to allow me back into my own country unless I had a very good reason why I wanted to return. Gee, guys, I’m going home, perhaps?
    My best friend was on her way back to the US after visiting me once in January, when it is bitterly cold in Montreal. The American border control wanted to look in the trunk of her car, which was frozen shut. He spent about twenty minutes trying to open it before giving up and letting her go through.
    But the thing that bothers me about the other blogger’s situation is that he’s not actually crossing the border. In his story, he’s never actually left the country, and yet he has to go through a Border Security checkpoint. After September 11, they set one of those up in upstate New York, maybe 70 or so miles from Canada. If I lived up there, I would be outraged that driving around well within my own state I could be subjected to questions about my citizenship, hometown, and purpose of “travel.” And there was definitely racial profiling going on there too. If the people in charge want security checkpoints all over, they should consider moving to Baghdad.

  31. says

    It’s important to point out that the checkpoint under discussion at Phronesisiacal and my place is 30 miles inside the US, and is not a border crossing. And Barba de Chiva is a US citizen who passes the checkpoint every day.

  32. Baratos says

    My family goes to Montreal every year, so Ive noticed the changes alot. I remember back in the 90s, the border guard and my parents did little more than grunt at each other. Now it takes like 3 freakin hours to enter America.

  33. tony says

    Firstly – let me apologise for the length of this post….

    My wife & I are green card holders…

    I had a job opportunity in Switzerland, which meant getting parole so we could officialy leave the US, and still be allowed back… We did this and off we went. so far so good!

    Anyway – while in Switzerland my wife got pregnant. Just after our daughter was born, I was transferred to Canada (still on US parole).

    We decided to take a little extra time en route to canada, and route through the US to have a short vacation with some of our friends. (it had been a year or so since we’d seen them)

    We arranged a passport (UK) for our new baby, and got confirmation from the US embassy that we needed to be on US soil to apply for her green card, and that it was OK to visit but to make the application within 6 months of birth.

    So far so good.

    Our flight plan meant we had to go through US pre-entry security in Frankfurt.

    The dick of a border guard kept us in line for almost two hours, claiming that we could not travel to the US since — ‘we did not have return tickets…. and my daughter did not have a US visa!’ WTF????

    Our flight was an open jaw via Philly to Toronto. (i.e. entry INTO then OUT OF the US). that’s about as ‘return’ as you need. The rest of us had our green cards. I had complete documentation from canada (Visa, etc) regarding our pending entry there in a couple of weeks. As UK passport holders we were STILL eligible for up to 3 months non-visa non-working tourist access to the US

    We took this all the way to the airport duty commander… who ‘let us on the flight’ (remember so far a 2 hour delay) but said that we would be ‘held in philadelphia and would definitely be denied entry until we purchased a return ticket to our point of departure’…

    Another dick.

    Luckily we had arranged a longer layover at Franfurt (originally to water & feed the kids…. as it happens – just to stand in line and argue with dickheads)

    Anyway — we arrive in Philly, and another officious oaf spends thirty minutes looking through our documentation, then tells us we need to go through ‘special screening’ because of my daughter. (we’ve now been en route for about 14 hours)

    However, there is a light at the end of this particular tunnel…

    We’re escorted to ‘special screening’, and the agent there is extremely helpful…. and he’s appalled by the behavior and attitudes we seen so far…

    He asks ‘do you have a small photo of your daughter’?
    We do, as it happens.

    So he takes the photo, and asks us to wait for a couple of minutes. He comes back 2 minutes later with a completed green card application for my daughter, including a pre-paid envelope. He apologised for the ‘jobsworthy’ assholes (not his words)… and asks if there’s anything else he can do for us.

    10 minutes later we’re in a car to the hotel, and my daughter’s green card application is en-route to processing.

    We are caucasian native english speakers. What the hell do folks have to go through who don’t have those particular qualifications?

  34. Mooser says

    Have you little octopusses been keeping up with the latest studies about the mental health of our soldiers in Iraq, and the surveys of their attitudes towards non-combatants?

    And those guys will come home to get jobs with your local Police Department, Homeland Security (which has, by the way, no experience or training for operating under the normal Constitutional restraints), TSA and other Federal agencies. Not to mention all those “security” companies.

    And those will be the ones stable enough to hold a job.

  35. Mooser says

    Have you little octopusses been keeping up with the latest studies about the mental health of our soldiers in Iraq, and the surveys of their attitudes towards non-combatants?

    And those guys will come home to get jobs with your local Police Department, Homeland Security (which has, by the way, no experience or training for operating under the normal Constitutional restraints), TSA and other Federal agencies. Not to mention all those “security” companies.

    And those will be the ones stable enough to hold a job.

  36. Graculus says

    What the hell do folks have to go through who don’t have those particular qualifications?

    Well, our then 60-year-old Fijian friend got detained for travelling while black* at LAX (changing planes on the way to Canada). Erm, he lives in paradise, why the hell would he want to enter the US?

    *Melanesian. Don’t get me started on idiot racists. Yes, that’s redundant.

  37. Min says

    There is a story I was told happened a few years ago at the Canada-US border. A group of students from a canadian University had decided to go to a research congress on evolutionary biology, and to spare on the trip money, to share a car as the location was not too far away.
    Arrived at the border, they are of course stopped and asked what their purpose is entering the US, and what they are doing for a living. After trying to explain their case, the reaction of the border guard was along the lines : Evolution ? But why would you want to study something that doesn’t exist ?
    I don’t recall whether they underwent more hassle before being let through…

  38. yoshi says

    In a trip to Japan two years ago my party was stopped walking back to our hotel by local beat cops. One member of our party didn’t have his passport with him and another member’s passport showed that he used to live in the country. This caused all sorts of issues and we sat there for a good 30 minutes while the only member of our party who spoke Japanese explained why we were in the country and that were weren’t ‘evil-doers’. My point? I travel out of the US at least twice a year and I have never found border guards or cops -anywhere- to be particular nice or clue full people. With one exception – NYC. For some reason – the two experiences I’ve had with NYC cops have been oddly pleasant.

    oh @bernarda

    The part you leave out is that the Canadians are actually -happy- to have that capability so just don’t dump it on the Bush administration. I work for a Canadian company and one of its principle problems is hiring people who can actually travel to Canada from the US. I have a feeling over time that these restrictions will lax a bit due to pressure from companies.

  39. says

    We are caucasian native english speakers. What the hell do folks have to go through who don’t have those particular qualifications?

    Screening, interrogation, wholly unconstitutional demands to change one’s t-shirt, searches of one’s person and luggage, etc.

    I’ve had a couple experiences of the above. One was a flight from Kansas City to San Diego, where I made the mistake of wearing my “¡Viva la evolución!” t-shirt, which apparently warranted my being patted down, my luggage tested for bomb residue, and a half-hour interrogation about my purpose for going to San Diego, etc. Apparently even parodies of Che are not something which should be worn by right-thinking Americans (or maybe the gent from airport security was just a creationist).

    The real fun came when I returned from a trip to the Middle East–and this even before 2001. I’m white, but I have an olive complexion which allows me to tan without burning, and it’s very easy to tan in Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, etc. So by the time I came back, I was almost walnut-brown and therefore got the inestimable pleasure of being forced to strip off to my underwear and being grilled so long that I missed my connecting flight, despite a generous layover of two and a half hours. Highlights of the interrogation included being asked if I spoke Arabic (I do), my opinions on the conflict in Palestine, my political philosophy, and a whole lot of other wholly irrelevant matters designed to enforce political conformity rather than protect anyone.

  40. Keith says

    When I was back in university, a bunch of us traveled to Vermont to spend March break skiing. You should have seen the grief some of the grad students got from the border guard who seemed absolutely convinced that two British women and an Australian man were trying to sneak into the country. Apparently, as everyone knows, the British and Australians don’t ski, so something had to be wrong with the story.

  41. Kseniya says

    G. Tingey, I swear, when I was in 8th grade chorus I was SURE the song went, “There is a bomb… in Gilead…”

  42. Kseniya says

    G. Tingey, I swear, when I was in 8th grade chorus I was SURE the song went, “There is a bomb… in Gilead…”

  43. Kseniya says

    Wow, double-post – and I checked after the first failure. Surely this is a sign of the coming Apocalypse.

  44. Kevembuangga says

    hyperdeath : I think that this is less of a problem with US border policy, and more an issue of what happens when idiots are given a bit of authority

    I “think” this is less of a problem with idiots [being] given a bit of authority (there are BP guys in every country), and more an issue with American culture.
    Do you recall that America’s early settlers were mostly bigots and outlaws?
    Centuries later the rightousness of the bigots and the rudeness of the outlaws is still there!

  45. MJ Memphis says

    “…and more an issue with American culture.
    Do you recall that America’s early settlers were mostly bigots and outlaws?”

    As opposed to the kind, gentle Europeans of the 17th and 18th century, right? Abuse of power by petty officials is hardly a uniquely American problem.

  46. Enzo says

    I’m a Wasp and my wife is Iranian. We travel abroad at least once a year. We seem to breeze past the border guards like greased pigs. The key is to keep a stone face and answer their inane questions with brief but honest responses.

  47. Kseniya says

    Welcome to Friday’s Quote-Mining Workshop.

    “[B]order guards like greased pigs.” – Enzo

  48. says

    I remember my last border crossing. The guard had both the appearance and demeanor of a steroid junkie and insisted upon berating me about not carrying my birth certificate with me at all times. I had my wallet with at least 35 forms of incidental ID, Social Security card, drivers licence, the whole bit. Finally, I pulled out the last item, my voter registration card. This jarhead had the audacity to argue with me for a full 15 minutes over wheather or not non-citizens could vote. In retrospect, I probably should have stayed in Canada.

  49. says

    That’s definitely a good thing about living in Europe. From Kopenhagen to Bukarest, there’s hardly any bugging you to show off your ID card (no need for passport). But make sure not to drive a van or they might stop you everywhere in the middle of the night to search for khat…

    But I got 2 more stories for you. First ones an American woman. White, caucasian, with husband and 2 little girls on the way to her family in 2002. When they arrived in Philadelphia on the airport, security searched the kids first. The younger one (2 years) starts to wander away. Mom’s shouting but no guard bothers to catch the girl. So she, just removed her shoes, started to run after her daughter before she gets lost. When she finally got her and turns around the guard’s pointing at her with his gun. O.O

    Second one’s my flatmate. She went to the US with her bf last year to visit the exchange family he lived with. Whilst on the plane they got forms to fill out with questions like “Are you a terrorist?” “Are you planning an terror attack?” They also showed a video to help people fill out the form, twice. Stuff like “If you are male, tick ‘male’. If you are female, tick ‘female’.” Which terrorist would say that he’s about to blow up something? And what’s with the old lady who ticks male because she didn’t bring her good glasses?
    When they finally arrived after 14 hours there’s even more to do. Like waiting. And answering questions like who you are staying with, how those people earn their money and if they support terrorist opinions. And giving your fingerprints – that’s what only criminals had to do, some years ago…
    Right in the middle of the vacation they went on a trip to Florida and when they checked-in for the flight back, the woman at the counter told her, her luggage had excatly the same weight as before. What the hell is that good for? Figuring out who threw away his old pair of shoes or bought a second one? As long as you’re not exceeding the limit and the x-ray’s fine it’s none of their business.

    Welcome to the brave new world!

  50. Caledonian says

    If the people in charge want security checkpoints all over, they should consider moving to Baghdad.

    They’re doing their very best to bring Baghdad to us, nicole. One day we can look forward to the very same freedoms and liberties that the Iraqi people now enjoy.

  51. says

    I live in Michigan and am from western New York, so I drive through Ontario every time I go back to NY to visit my mom. I have long complained about the poor treatment I receive from US customs in comparison with Canadian customs (who have told me, in reaction to finding out I had too much alcohol with me (2 bottles of wine instead of 1 – uh oh!) “Oh honey, it’s no big deal, don’t worry about it” and waved me on). I did notice that after I started always using my passport, even if I didn’t need it, that I generally was questioned less thoroughly and my best time in customs so far is a good 7 seconds. Knock on wood here.

    Anyway, I noticed a comment above about a customs official’s racist treatment of students on a bus coming back from Canada. I’m really impressed and happy that it was reported and the guard was supposedly fired. I have been at the receiving end of some rather sick treatment from these brave defenders of my nation, and it never occurred to me to report it because I suppose I assume that I will be strip-searched every time I cross the border from then on.

    The worst and most memorable incident: I was traveling from Ontario to Michigan to visit my current institution, before I enrolled. For context, I’m a young white woman, and at the time I was 24. In response to the question of why I was going to Michigan, I answered that I was a PhD student enrolling there in the fall, studying Japanese literature. The guard, who was a white guy about my age, responded with, “Oh, so you’re gonna marry some little Japanese guy then?” He laughed and I said no, kind of shocked. And then he proceeded to ask me a bunch of really sexual questions for the next 2 minutes. Being in a position of not wanting to pick a fight with a customs officer, I couldn’t think of anything else to do but sit there and put up with it until I could leave. I’m usually a very argumentative woman who will stand up for myself no matter what the situation, but I’m also not stupid.

    I wish now that I had reported his ass, although I’m also happy that I am not singled out by customs every time I go across the border.

    Weirdest question from US customs: “Do you have any fresh flowers with you? Are you SURE you don’t? No one GAVE YOU ANY FRESH FLOWERS?? (sininster emphasis)…. oh, okay then. Proceed.”

    As to why they’re assholes, I think it’s the same with cops. People who want power, in a position of having a bit of power, on a power-trip. I don’t think getting that “US Dept of Homeland Security” patch on their uniforms helped any.

  52. says

    By the way, all those drives back and forth across the border have led to me wondering what their system is, why they ask what they do, and so on.

    I have a very old passport and it doesn’t ever scan properly. It often takes them at least 5 tries to get it to scan, and often they have to type in all the numbers anyway. While they’re doing this, they ask me all kinds of random questions. The flower question was definitely the strangest, but I have never been able to figure out the pattern to the other random and sometimes completely trivial questions they ask. After a while, they peer at the compter screen, give me my passport back, and wave me off – sometimes in the middle of an entire series of related questions.

    It would seem like they were getting to a point – that there was a goal question at the end of that topic that would make the others make sense. But honestly, it seemed like the officials were more interested in asking the questions than in what information I gave them in return (although they did ask a tricky one sometimes: How long has it been since you’ve last been in Canada? cue mental math of how long it’s been since I visited my mom). So why the questions?

    One time I was there and they made a comment about the passport data taking a long time to come up. That’s when the light bulb went on for me. It’s my impression that there are two goals: to see if they can trip you up or make you lie or freak out with the questions (I think the commenter’s advice to have a stone face and serious answers is the best way to get through customs quickly), and to stall or kill time while they’re waiting for the info they really care about – your data – to come up on the screen.

    It made me a lot less nervous about answering the inane questions once I realized what was going on, so I’ve been making a point of passing on this experience on to others too.

  53. says

    I’ve been refused entry to the US several times because I was travelling with my (then future) husband, who is an American, and they suspected that I wouldn’t return to Canada, since I was currently unemployed and didn’t own my own house etc. etc. (I was 19 and attending college). There really isn’t any way to prove definitively that you are planning to leave once you enter, so if they don’t like the look of you, they can turn you around using any excuse they like. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that I’m now flagged, and this guarantees that any time I try to cross the border, I (an anyone else I’m travelling with) will be hassled for what is sometimes an hour or more, even though I am now a legal permanent resident, and they will inevitably let me come home because of it. Plus, it doesn’t help that my hair is often pink or another unnatural color. You can bet your ass that these days I always dye it brown before I travel internationally…

    It’s basically their policy to assume that anyone entering the United States is a criminal unless they can prove otherwise.

  54. says

    Y’know, with NAFTA, it seems that Bush now has the best of the world of the dictatorial, rich bastards. Large corporations are free to move jobs across borders and leave U.S. citizens in the lurch, and Bush’s border crossing policies makes it all but impossible for U.S. citizens to follow their jobs across those same borders.

    I wonder how many people swim to Mexico just to avoid the hassle at the border?

    And, does the US Travel and Tourism Agency even exist any more?

  55. Keanus says

    In all my travels I’ve never had any particular hassles, although I’ve encountered my share of unfriendlies. Back in the 1970’s, when airline security was being invented, on both domestic and international flights I was almost always patted down for weapons. Initially I couldn’t figure out the reason–I’m a WASP and always wore a well-tailored suit–and then it dawned on me: I wore a neatly trimmed jaw-line beard (sort of like Lincoln’s). When traveling with others who were clean-shaven or female, I was still selected for a pat down and a thorough search of my carry-ons. The latter provided some amusement in that I traveled with a pair of barber shears to keep my beard in trim. On at least a dozen occasions, they gave my shears to the pilot for safekeeping and then returned them when we landed. I never could figure out how I’d highjack a plane with a pair of barber shears, especially on full flights where I had a window seat.

    And during the ’80’s when we lived in Buffalo, we used to attend six to eight productions as the Shaw Festival about 45 minutes away in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Entering Canada was never a problem, the questioning seldom lasting more than 20 or 30 seconds. But returning the US always took longer. The US guards always wanted to know what we’d bought and were bringing back. sometimes searching the car. But interestingly, whenever we declared something, like a basket of fruit (that part of Ontario is famous for its fruit), they always looked pained like we shouldn’t have mentioned it. We left Buffalo ni ’91 and haven’t returned so I don’t know whether the practices have changed, but I suspect they’re much more officious these days, especially towards anyone of color.

    I also has a interesting experience in Moscow back in the summer of ’01. We were visiting and staying with several Russian friends on a three week trip, so I had brought along boxes of Vermont maple sugar candy as house gifts packed in my suitcase. When that suitcase was X-rayed by Russian immigration they thought the maple sugar looked suspicious, so I was shunted aside and made to open my bag. Not having seen maple sugar before, the customs/immigration guard was at a complete loss as to what to make of the candy. I didn’t know the Russian word for candy and the guard was clueless as to how to read the English labels. It took the better part of 15 minutes before I was allowed to proceed with the candy packed back in my bag!

  56. Sea Creature says

    Ever hear of the Michigan Women’s Music Festival? I’ve attended many times (it’s a big fest that attracts I’d say about 5,000 women, 95% lesbians every summer. I always heard tales of the border refusing entry for women from Canada driving in (we used to tell Canadian Women to say they were visiting friends to avoid this problem – apparently lesbians are a threat to the US with their vegetarian food and folk music).

  57. rather not say says

    Last time I drove back into the US after visiting a friend in Canada, the US border guard emptied everything out of the car, opened everything, tore up the carpets, scattered the tools on the pavement, found nothing at all suspicious.

    So they took the aspirin tin they’d removed from the glove compartment, and one of them took one of the aspirins out, put it in his mouth, and spat it back in the tin, closed it and shook it and said, ‘OK, just aspirin, you can go, pick up your stuff.”

  58. rather not imagine says

    > they ask me all kinds of random questions. The flower question was definitely the strangest, but I have
    > never been able to figure out the pattern to the other random and sometimes completely trivial questions

    Voice recognition system, recording you and comparing your voice against what you sounded like the last time you phoned your mom from home?

  59. says

    Ed Darrell: Your point has been raised by labour activists for some time; capital is globalized, but movment of labour is not …

    As for “border” guards, I don’t usually have a problem, but I do note that it seems (at least from a naive perspective) that the smaller US-Canada crossings are less hassle. (This in both directions.)