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Archive for the ‘Canada/U.S. Border’ Category

Northern Border Follies

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In our last episode, I reported that I was on my way to Canada on family business. My traveling companions and I drove from Central Illinois to Southwest Ontario beginning last Friday at about 5 p.m. We arrived at a little town near Stratford ON at about 6 a.m. EDT the next morning. The only harsh part of the drive was this part of 80/94 near the Indiana/Illinois state line where you go about a 10 mph for about 2 hours. But after that, the driving was good, even though until about midnight the traffic was very heavy. Not surprising since it was the start of Labor Day weekend.

Getting through the Canadian border was a breeze, though I was a little worried that Canadian Customs might be suspicious of anyone choosing to go through at 4 a.m. But no, the nice man just waved us through upon learning we did not have thousands of liters of booze in the trunk.

Fast forward to Tuesday (you really don’t want to hear about family reunions and in laws and stuff). Left small town Ontario at 8:30ish a.m. Goofed around in London ON for an hour or so and got to the Blue Water Bridge from Sarnia to Port Huron Michigan around 11:30 a.m. EDT.

Piece o’ cake so far we all thought (four people, two male two female, one young couple, one couple not so young). But when we got the car in line we discovered that the line was moving verrrrrry slowly. And a bunch of the border thugs – er, I mean nice border patrol DHS/ICE guys were standing together like they were plotting something.

When our car finally got to the booth for the perfunctory interview, the guy looks at everybody’s passports and asks about vegetables and booze and stuff we were or were not bringing back. He was out of questions but he still didn’t wave us through.

Awkward pause.

Finally he said (with a straight face) “The computer has selected your vehicle for a secondary review” or something like that. What it meant was that we had to park the car leaving baggage and cell phones inside the vehicle. We were instructed to take our passports and wallets and money to the administration building.

I thought at that point we would just go inside and wait on the Group Dubbya benches and wait for them to toss the car. But no. Turns out there was a lineup to get into the building, a lineup composed of other hapless motorists waiting to be interviewed inside.

While we waited I freaked. “What if they put me in jail for having prescription drugs?” A fellow passenger thought that the ICE people would steal her antibiotic ointment – legal in Canada but not the U.S. Happily, they did not confiscate any drugs but the anxiety just added to the party atmosphere.

As we waited to be dealt with I observed a curious fact. I seemed that the majority of the people waiting for their third degree were from South Asia. “That’s some racist computer,” I told myself, “randomly selecting all these people from India and Pakistan to grill and humiliate.” Or maybe the computer was racially profiling. I dunno, I’m not a cop.

It’s true. It seemed like a majority of the innocents caught up in whatever sweep was going on were just a little browner than real Americans (sarcasm). But I had no way of quantifying the phenomena nor of calculating the odds in favor of specific ethnic and racial groups being under or over represented in out little sample size.

At the same time I spotted a young blond mother, no more than 30, working hard to keep a similarly golden haired toddler entertained. I noticed as well that the child had bandages on both hands. Maybe it was a computer generated crackdown, for what cold hearted dickwad would so inconvenience such a sweet young family. Btw, I don’t know if there were anyone traveling with this Madonna and child.

In any case we were all in line together, in a sort of vestibule or foyer inside a set of doors but not within the customs and immigration building proper, waiting for we knew not what. Actually, what we were waiting for was the the ICE/DHS people take each carload of pilgrims into the actual customs and immigration building for some sort of intensive interview, at the end of which, if all went well, the happy traveler or travelers would exit the building and continue into the United States of America.

Inside the building were two rows of counters, behind which agents were examining passports and visas, and typing something into computers, the monitors for which were of course invisible to the examinees. Washrooms and a water fountain were situated near the exit door, which was next to where we came in.

So We arrive at the border at 11:30 or so, wait 20 minutes to talk to a DHS guy, then stand in line for about half an hour. Home before dark was getting to be out of the question.

Finally we were allowed into the building and directed to a female agent who had our passports – they had been seized when we handed them over while still in the car. Our interrogator asked questions and typed, but in between questions made small jokes about, um I don’t remember. They were pretty inane and we were all tense and fairly pissed off, so the laughter offered was merely polite. I got the feeling that the agents had been instructed to make jokes and show a sense of humor to in order to keep tensions at bearable level – or something.

Twenty minutes of typing and questions were apparently sufficient, because at the end of that time, our agent informed us that she had enough and just needed to take a quick look at the car. So we got to wait over by the washrooms where there were maybe four plastic chairs to sit on. All the time we were waiting for our agent to finish inspecting our car, there was a very young couple (Caucasian if that matters) waiting as well. Something about their case was taking longer than everyone else. I had noticed them well before our interview began and were still there when we were finally released.

Which we actually were, after our lady agent finished looking at the car and its contents and declared us to be neither criminals nor combatants (not in so many words of course).

Funny story. One of out passengers was suffering from a respiratory ailment and had some nyquilly stuff in the car. After we had driven several hours after leaving the border, she discovered that the inspectors had opened the medicine but not re-secured the bottle cap. So when she went to use it, it spilled allover everything. Ha ha. Those ICE/DHS people sure know how to prank, don’t they?

I have heard people say – on teevee, not in real life, oddly – that they don’t mind all this inconvenient extra security at airports and border crossings if it makes us safe. I have never agreed with that sentiment.Well, actually, I would agree if all this extra security were making anyone safe. But me dumping my shampoo before boarding an airplane, or thousands of innocent travelers interrogated for maybe an hour, neither and none of these measures adds to anyone’s safety. And everybody knows it. And everybody ignores it.

Bin Laden gets a hard on of course whenever the U.S. engages in these empty charades of pretend security. Because its a waste of resources and wealth to conduct them. One successful terrorist attack has caused the United States to undermine its economy with needless and costly security measures that add nothing to security. No need to bomb any shipyards if we will do it for him . Or them.\

I don’t know why security was so tight a t Port Huron the day after Labor Day. Maybe it was the same at all border crossings, or they rotate or who knows. I did not get the feeling it was personal on the part of the border guards.

OTOH,Porrt Huron is where Dr. Peter Watts was attacked by border guards.

And apparently, its not just the U.S. side that seems to be less user friendly. I have heard reports from friends about difficulties faced by professionals trying to enter Canada for work. But I need to investigate that more before I start throwing out definitive accusations of wrong doing or paranoid stupidity.

Bottom line: Both canada and the U.S. have for a long time benefited from an open border. Making it more difficult to travel between the two countries will harm the economies of both and piss off a lot of innocent people. But I suppose that’s all been factored in.

Written by slothropia

September 9th, 2010 at 8:51 pm