More on border abuses

From reader Sarah, I heard the story of Dutch writer Niels Gerson Lohman who describes what happened to him as he was trying to enter the US from Canada by train. He had spent the year traveling all over the world and had hoped to end the trip by visiting New Orleans, a city that his father had spoken of fondly. But the US Customs and Border Protection people had other ideas. After a lengthy questioning and searching of his belongings on the train, they then took him off it so that the train left without him and took him into a corrugated tin shed.

In the five hours that followed, I was questioned twice more. During the first round I told, amongst others, my life’s story, about my second novel’s plot, gave my publisher’s name, my bank’s name and my real estate agent’s name. Together we went through all the photos on my laptop and messages my phones had been receiving for the past months. They wrote down the names of everybody I had been in touch with. In my pirated software and movies they showed no interest.

He was told that he could not enter the country and had to go back into Canada. His crime? After looking at all the countries that his passport had showed him passing through (some of which were Muslim-majority) this is what the US immigration officials told him: “We are under the impression you have more ties with more countries we are not on friendly terms with than your own. We decided to bring you back to the Canadian border.”

Lohman concludes:

I have been cursed at a Chinese border. In Dubai, my passport was studied by three veiled women for over an hour and my suitcase completely dismembered. In the Philippines I had to bribe someone in order to get my visa extended for a few days. Borders, they can be tough, especially in countries known for corruption.

But never, ever, will I return to the United States of America.

We really know how to make friends, don’t we?


  1. colnago80 says

    They wrote down the names of everybody I had been in touch with. In my pirated software and movies they showed no interest.

    Maybe that’s what they should have shown interest in as pirating software is a felony, depending on the retail cost. If this putz has bootleg software on his computer, he should be prosecuted.

  2. Pen says

    Border control have total discretion but it might embarrass their bosses if their idiocy were sufficiently publicised. There ought to be a website for it. Boy, would I have some stories to add to that.

  3. Great American Satan says

    Colnago – Expecting people to *not* have pirated software is quite classist. There’s a ton of stuff I need to operate at a reasonable level on my computer which I could never afford. Of course, I’m not crossing borders with it at the moment, and good to remind me it might be something to avoid in the future.

  4. colnago80 says

    Re #3

    Having bootleg software on one’s computer is stealing, no different then sticking up a 7/11 store, other then the absence of firearms.

  5. Vidar says

    No, having bootleg software is copyright infringement. Stealing is when the original owners no longer have the original. It’s a small, but important distinction.

  6. mnb0 says

    “I answered it would keep me dry, in case the New Orleans levees would break again.”
    This is so typical for the western part of The Netherlands. Ask a stupid question and you’ll get an even more stupid answer.

  7. Great American Satan says

    @4, As fucked up as my life is due to poverty, maybe I should just take up that equivalence and rob the 7-11. It’s the only business within walking distance of my apartment anyhow. At any rate, if people want me to pay for the industry standard bare minimum software, maybe they should charge less than a thousand bucks for it. Or are the only people who are allowed to do business already comfortably middle class?

  8. commenter says


    There is plenty of incredibly high quality open source software and even great open source operating systems that covers the need of the majority of the public. There’s no need to pirate some poorly written proprietary garbage.

  9. M can help you with that. says

    Silly peon, modern conveniences are for people with money. Just like the right to life is for people who SLC1 approves of the existence of.

  10. says

    Having bootleg software on one’s computer is stealing, no different then sticking up a 7/11 store, other then the absence of firearms.

    So the central, distinguishing feature of [i]robbery[/i] (the actual crime you mentioned), the use of the threat of violence, isn’t present you say?

    Pirated software can be entitlement thinking, but to pretend it needs a felony prosecution is to play capitalist suck up.

  11. says

    It’s even more typical of the western part of the Netherlands to complain and disavow all responsibility when your stupid answer gets you in trouble.

  12. colnago80 says

    OK, don’t like the analogy to sticking up a 7/11 store. Then how about embezzling from one’s employer?

  13. Who Cares says

    Actually he doesn’t disavow responsibility.
    From the article:

    When I’m supposed to watch my words, I tend to say the wrong ones.

  14. GPriddy says

    Back on the topic of border issues, it seems like the U.S. is adopting an isolationist stance by denying entry to people from other countries, if they’ve visited, for any reason, a country we don’t currently like. Not to mention discouraging our own citizens from visiting those countries by making it a giant hassle to return from said visit.

    The net effect, over time, is that we all have less first-hand knowledge of each other, relying only on what we see and read online and in the media.

  15. Trickster Goddess says

    My father is an American turned Canadian and growing up we had many cross border trips to visit my grandparents and other relatives. His advice to us was to answer any questions truthfully, directly and briefly. Never elaborate on your answers unless asked to and never volunteer any information that the customs agents didn’t ask for.

    I haven’t crossed the border much in the past decade, but when I do, I put myself into the mindset that I am crossing into East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie: I have no rights, so there is no point in demanding them; the border guard has complete power over me, so I will respect that and remain polite and co-operative.

    They may be assholes or just doing their job, but either way you gain nothing by being flip or pissing them off.

  16. says

    That’s generally a form of fraud, and there’s not a lot of deception in software piracy.

    The problem isn’t really your analogy, it’s the fact that you’re enough of a suck up to the market economy to think it always needs a felony charge. Most thieves who aren’t buying, either can’t or won’t even without the ability to pirate. There’s enough free knockoffs of many programs that if it isn’t a professional demand or an OS, you can get by just fine without spending money.

    Well, I guess you might be an overworried programmer, rather than a sycophant, so there’s that.

  17. AMM says

    The USA has had a reputation for arbitrary and hostile treatment of non-US citizens entering the US for at least as long as I’ve been old enough to know what a border was. Citizen or not, you have no legal rights when entering the US — you don’t count as actually in the US, so the US Constitution doesn’t apply. Whenever I’ve had foreign visitors, they routinely tell me of intrusive and hostile questioning and long waits to be admitted. US citizens are generally spared the worst treatment, perhaps because citizens have senators and congresspeople who can cause trouble for the INS. I can only imagine that it’s gotten worse since the US has been taken over by terror hysteria in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

    The one time I can recall making a land entry into the USA (from Canada), the US border patrol officer was nasty from the moment we drove up. We held our tongues, not wanting to give him any excuse to disassemble the car, but it was a small taste of what visitors to the USA go through every time they go through an entry point.

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