5.29.2006

border crossings

Here's something I missed. On May 17, the day we got home from Peru, the US Senate voted to delay plans to require passports or other special travel documents at the Canada-US border. The new regulations were to take effect on January 1, 2008, but the new bill would delay that until June 1, 2009. (The bill hasn't passed in the House yet.)

Regardless of either of these dates, many border guards are acting like the new regulations are already in effect, and are asking for passports.

According to a recent survey, many Canadians say they wouldn't travel to the US anymore.
One-half of Canadians would either travel less to the United States or never go again if the Americans made it mandatory to show a passport or other identification at the border, a new poll suggests.

The Leger Marketing survey indicated 33 per cent of Canadians would go south less often, while 17 per cent would no longer go at all and 39 per cent would go just as often.

The poll of 1,500 Canadians was conducted May 16-21 and distributed to The Canadian Press. It is considered accurate within 2.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Of course, sometimes these things don't turn out to be as dire as people first think. When cities pass smoking bans, bar owners claim it will put them out of business, and smokers claim they'll be socializing at home... but very little changes, except the life expectancy of the wait staff. My co-workers who love to travel to New York City will probably still do so. But I can also see how, if someone didn't have a valid passport, they wouldn't bother renewing it just to have the option of impromptu US travel.

Either way, it's silly. A valid driver's license or other government-issued ID should be enough.

25 comments:

Lone Primate said...

A lot of people are naturally concerned with what the drop in cross-border trips will mean for Canada. We get most of our tourists from the US (though I believe the reverse is also true). If the US decides to put up a screen that means their own folks can't leave without having the right documentation to get home, there's very little we can do about it, and I think I'd rather we learned to do without than go begging. One day, the overreaction of the current administration is likely to go by the wayside. If we've learned to get along without, then it's all gravy. But to me, this is really nothing more than a soft-peddled attempt to get Canada and Mexico to knuckle under, join some sort of "Fortress North America" scheme, and effectively let the United States decide who will and will not enter our countries. You hear people justify the measures with such untruths, still circulating, that the 9/11 terrorists entered the US from Canada (in fact, they lived and worked in the US for years). But even if that were true, it ignores the fact that Canada didn't let them into the US; Canada let them into Canada. The United States let them into the United States -- and it's unlikely they entered via Canada anyway.

Until (and may God forbid) we can read people's minds, this kind of thing is the inherent risk of having a free society where we cross from one nation to another, where we are open to outsiders. Making other countries the fall guys and making life inconvenient for millions of people, for business and commerce, is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

L-girl said...

But to me, this is really nothing more than a soft-peddled attempt to get Canada and Mexico to knuckle under, join some sort of "Fortress North America" scheme, and effectively let the United States decide who will and will not enter our countries.

I agree. One more item in the crackdown supposedly justified by 9/11. We'll all be old and gray (or beyond) when they stop using that day as an excuse.

Nice to have you back around these parts, LP. :)

Lone Primate said...

Thanks, Laura. :) I was just riding your traveler's tales with interest and keeping my powder dry. Nice to have the political L-girl back as well!

James said...

I just read a story yesterday about how fewer and fewer European orchestras are touring in the US. One in Manchester complained that the US regulations required them to ship the entire orchestra to London to stand in line -- starting at dawn, and surrounded by armed guards -- to be "processed", one by one, to get the paperwork to visit the US. The whole process (including transportation, accomodation, and so on) would have cost the orchestra 15,000 pounds. So they decided to tour Europe instead.

It rather reminded me of the inverse of what orchestra musicians (and other performers) had to go through in the Soviet Union to make sure they weren't a defection threat.

Canadian Mark said...

I live in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario - A border town to Sault, Michigan. Truth be told, I haven't set foot over the bridge since 911. There are too many other reasons and inconveniences other than requiring photo ID that keep me on Canuckian ground. I think you've got something there - like the smoking issue - actually the smoking issue is a good example... When the Sault banned smoking in the bars, many folks started cabbing over the border to hang out at smoking-permitted bars, and I'm sure that lot will get over the inconvenience of having to have photo passports real quick.

Great post!

L-girl said...

Thanks! And thanks for stopping by.

sharonapple said...

I wouldn't be surprised by the whole "Fortress North American" issue, but I also get the impression that there are a fair number of people in America who would like to see their borders sealed shut. I got this idea from all of those paranoid stories about illegal immigrants and "human interest" pieces on people patrolling and building fences at the border.

It's an odd situation. Americans want to lead the free world, but at the same time they want to be removed from it. It doesn't make sense, and sometimes the actions seem contrdictory, but then, it seems as though foreign policy is one of the last things people think about when it comes to their government -- which makes sense since it only touches the lives of people outside of your borders, not
on yourself.

L-girl said...

My guess is more Americans want to seal the country's borders than want to lead the free world. I don't think most Americans care about "the free world" until their leaders stir them up into a war frenzy. I think isolationism runs a lot deeper than the impulse to lead.

Lisa said...

Yes, I've always thought that to be one of the strangest things about the US. American citizens, much like Canadians, truth be told, are extremely insular, and just kind of want to be left alone. And not at all surprising: America is so dense, so rich, that I can completely understand that impulse. Hell, it's hard enough for someone in California to figure out New York, Idaho and Texas, let alone the rest of the world. But then there's the fact that the US government has its tentacles everywhere, and there's a US military base located in much of the world. A strange "empire", indeed.

Soogirl said...

Canadian Mark - I also am from Sault Ste Marie, Ontario and used to go "across the river" regularly but travelled across one time since 9/11 and do not drive so my experience was not great. I have never shown my birth certificate or any identification in 35 years of border crossing. While I don't disagree with more secure solutions, I also don't travel to the US anymore.

Scott M. said...

As a former Customs officer, I can see both sides. Indeed, I agree that an OHIP card or something of the like should work _PROVIDED_ the cards are changed to indicate country of citizenship. As you well know, the OHIP (or driver's license) only indicates country of residency which is one half of the puzzle.

It is sort of hard to determine which ID would be best... not everyone has a driver's license (esp. minors and elderly), and not everyone has a SIN. Health card is the most pervasive in Ontario, though NB has what's called a "Master ID" which would be even better (every resident has one).

That being said, I was happy with not having to prove citizenship, just relying on asking the question and a truthful declaration (or a good catch by the officer). But if we agree we have to prove citizenship, a driver's license is not sufficient.

Lone Primate said...

As you well know, the OHIP (or driver's license) only indicates country of residency which is one half of the puzzle.

This raises an interesting question. A driver's license (and, in Ontario, an OHIP card) establish the holder as a legal resident of Canada, and more specifically, of Ontario (or whatever province issued the ID). Given that customs is therefore assured that the person does in fact legally reside in Canada, why is it necessary for them to connote citizenship at all? If you live in Toronto (and presumably will be going back to it), what real difference does it make if you're a Canadian citizen or Zimbabwean? That said, what changes about the security of the US (or any country) in simply knowing what someone's legal citizenship is? I'm not saying countries don't have the right to make these inquiries... just wondering what the practical value is. You'd think proving residency would be a bigger stumbling block than proving citizenship.

Scott M. said...

Actually, proving residency is relatively simple (most ID has your residence on it). A brief primer:

Border Services cares about two big things: Customs and Immigration. In the olden days, there were separate customs and immigration officers at the airport, and they’d ask you separate questions. Even when they integrated into one person (as they had at land crossings all along), there are still two separate sets of questions. There are other roles as well, such as security, public health, etc.

Customs cares about taxes and excise... the goods you are bringing into the country. Customs laws are all written in respect to residency... if you live here, you're expected to pay the taxes and duties that you would have paid if you purchased the item here. This is to prevent people from regularly going to other jurisdictions to avoid our taxes and duties.

Wearing the Customs hat, we only care about where you live and what you’re bringing in (and, if you’re visiting, what you’re leaving). We don’t care about you (the person) per se. In the olden days, when there were separate customs and immigration officers at the airport, that’s why you’d only get questioned about where you lived.

From the immigration side, we have treaties with countries that state that their citizens do not need visas to enter the country. There are other treaties which allow permanent residents (aka resident aliens) of some countries to waive the visa requirement for those residents wanting to enter. So we need to know what country you’re a citizen of, what country you’re a resident in, and what is your status in your resident country to be able to make the determination of whether or not you’re permitted to enter. (Which is why a Driver’s License isn’t enough).

For everyone’s edification... The standard questions that are asked for Customs are:

(Reason Code: I – Immigration, C-Customs, S-Security, O-Other)
I - You’re a citizen of which country?
IC - Where do you live?
I - (depending on the answer) What is your status in that country?

(It then breaks into two streams).

For Residents:
C - How long were you away for?
C - What is the total value of any purchases you are bringing home with you?
C - Did you receive any gifts? What is their value?
C - Do you have any alcohol or tobacco with you?
O - Do you have any plants with you?
ICSO - Any other questions deemed necessary by the officer for clarity and to provoke a complete declaration (eg. A resident of Canada can NOT travel to the states, rent a car in the states and drive it back into Canada, so foreign plates on a returning resident would provoke questions)

For non-residents:

I - What is the purpose of your trip?
IC - How long do you intend to stay in the country?
C - What do you have with you, other than your personal effects/clothing?
C - Do you have anything with you that you’re planning on leaving in Canada?
C - Do you have any alcohol or tobacco with you?
O - Do you have any plants with you?
S - Do you have any firearms, weapons, mace or pepper spray with you?
O - (If pet present) Can you please show me proof of Rabies vaccination?
ICSO - Any other questions deemed necessary by the officer for clarity and to provoke a complete declaration (eg. you have to ask a person who is obviously a cop in the states two or three times, in different ways if they have firearms on board because they usually do and assume it’s OK).

A border services officer should be able to go through these questions in less than 45 seconds for an entire car (in general). If things are not busy you can take more time and ask more detail, otherwise anything that needs more detail needs to be sent over to Secondary (pull over) for investigation. HOWEVER, the full declaration is taken at the first person you get to. The declaration is recorded and you cannot change it when you talk to the person in the pull-over area… if you do, you can be charged. Officers in secondary are trained to specifically NOT give the person an opportunity to reopen their declaration.

I could go on at great length (I guess I have?!) but I'll stop there. Needless to say, if you want to have the full picture, you must know the citizenship, residency and status of an individual.

Lone Primate said...

And there you have it. :)

I suspected it might be something like the visa thing. Frankly, if you're a legal resident of Canada, crossing into the US for a day trip or a vacation (or vice versa), I think that ought to be good enough; the visa thing then becomes, to my mind, pointless red tape. But these are the rules, I guess, except in Europe when they're at least half-way sane these days, and until the enlighted days of Star Trek and marrying people with strange forehead ridges makes our parochialism a thing of the past. :)

Scott M. said...

Why the US gets concerned about the Visa requirements (and rightly so, IMO) is that people can come to Canada and become a temporary resident while they're a student, etc. They could then get a driver's license and use that route to enter the States.

Bear in mind that both US and Canada have much more lenient requirements for a person from certain countries to enter in certain circumstances (a death in the family, attending school, etc) but that doesn’t mean that the temporary resident of one country is welcome in another.

L-girl said...

Scott, thanks so much for the lesson in border control! It's very interesting. Even crossing the border as much as I do, and being a citizen of one country and a resident of the other, I never knew most of this. The reasons behind the questions and the regulations are not self-evident. So, thanks.

eg. A resident of Canada can NOT travel to the states, rent a car in the states and drive it back into Canada, so foreign plates on a returning resident would provoke questions

This is true??? We have done this. We actually did it right after landing. The World's Fullest Minivan, which we drove here when landing, was rented in NYC and returned to the airport in Buffalo.

Then, as new residents of Canada, we rented a smaller, cheaper vehicle in Buffalo, drove it back to Canada, and kept it until we bought our new car.

We answered all questions honestly. No one asked about the car rental, and we never thought about it. Were we unknowingly violating a law?

L-girl said...

But then there's the fact that the US government has its tentacles everywhere, and there's a US military base located in much of the world. A strange "empire", indeed.

Just wanted to note that most Americans don't realize this, either. They're not taught it in school, and it's not generally on the TV news. It's just not known.

I am constantly struck by the enormous gulf between most Americans' view of their country and prevailing views of the US around the world. A gulf I can't even begin to describe. An abyss.

Scott M. said...

Then, as new residents of Canada, we rented a smaller, cheaper vehicle in Buffalo, drove it back to Canada, and kept it until we bought our new car.

We answered all questions honestly. No one asked about the car rental, and we never thought about it. Were we unknowingly violating a law?


That's a grey area. One can reasonably argue that having New York car plate makes it obvious that the car is from the states (and the officer looks at the plates everytime anyway), and therefore the declaration was self-evident (similar to the declaration that the gum you're chewing in your mouth will be left in Canada). The officer(s) just chose not to enforce the duty requirement.

Here's the deal: a car purchased in another country being driven by a resident of Canada into Canada is deemed imported. Therefore you must pay duty and taxes on that car, irrespective of whether
you're the owner or not.

If you are temporarily importing it, you'd need to pay the duties and taxes as a deposit which could be returned when you left the country with it. It's a giant pain both from the travellers side and from Custom's side.

Most officers can tell a rental right away and some choose not to enforce that rule. Almost all will question a bit about how your travels brought you there to ensure that the rental is not being used for big-time smuggling (as happens often -- who cares if a rental is seized?).

My rule of thumb was that if the person went to the states JUST to rent a car and drive through Canada I'd enforce it (ie. their brother drove them from Toronto to Buffalo just to rent a car to traipse through Quebec). However, if a person came from Vancouver to Buffalo, stayed in Buffalo for a few days, visited the Adirondacks and then went up to Kingston for a few days, I'd look the other way.

L-girl said...

Here's the deal: a car purchased in another country being driven by a resident of Canada into Canada is deemed imported. Therefore you must pay duty and taxes on that car, irrespective of whether you're the owner or not.

In fact, that law is why we had the rental in the first place. We didn't want the trouble of buying a car in the US and importing it to Canada. We were waiting to buy our car in Canada and avoid all that.

Last year, while still US residents, we flew from NYC to Burlington, VT, rented a car, visited friends and family in the Burlington area, then drove up to Montreal, visited some folks there, drove back to Burlington, and flew home to NYC.

At the border, the guard wanted to know why, as residents of New York City, we crossed the border at that point, between Vermont and Quebec. I explained it fairly simply, but I could see it might sound odd. He asked to look in the trunk, which was empty, and sent us on our way.

But this rule wouldn't have applied, I guess, because we were still US residents?

Scott M. said...

But this rule wouldn't have applied, I guess, because we were still US residents?

If the officer had reason to believe you were importing it, he could have demanded a deposit in the amount of duty and taxes, to be returned when you leave.

It would never happen though, without really, really good reason.

Back on the ID thing though, I've been giving more thought to it, and am still torn two ways.

The current system of observation and -- dare I say it -- profiling has a major advantage: speed. This advantage is not to be minimized... the vast, vast majority of those crossing the border have no immigration issues and are welcome in our country (Canada at least). Our job as Canadian Customs officers is first and foremost to facilitate the crossing of the border. The unfortunate thing is that this means that while we can catch a lot of people crossing illegaly from an immigration standpoint, we are not guaranteed we catch 100%.

Now, if you decide that ensuring 100% of people who enter via a port are legitamite, and that you really don't care if you slow down the border or make things difficult for the vast majority of legal visitors, than having a border card makes sense.

It's difficult. All the US is doing is changing the balance of inconvenience (which all borders have) and security (which all borders strive for). Where's the right balance? I don't know.

One advantage to the Border Services folks requiring ID is that they will no longer be accused of racial profiling when pulling people over for immigration issues. That's a major plus... not because there's no profiling-- in fact, there is. There must be. All of customs and immigration is based on profiles: this look of person with this accent with this route is more likely to be a drug runner so search them.

You can only take a second glance at 5% of folks (at a maximum). You've got to choose wisely, random's not good enough.

So, if you decide to check immigration status of 100%, there is no profiling argument. Unfortunately, the customs side of the house will still require profiling and all the controversy around that.

L-girl said...

Right, that's the trade-off. I may use your comment as a follow-up post, if that's ok with you.

Scott M. said...

No problem.

Wrye said...

My understanding is that Rental places at the Seattle airport actually have rental cars with Canadian licence plates for the specific purpose of rental to travellers going to Canada, for exactly the reasons stated.

L-girl said...

They should try that in Buffalo. It would be helpful.

Evan said...

You can only take a second glance at 5% of folks (at a maximum). You've got to choose wisely, random's not good enough.

Depends upon what you're trying to do. If you're talking Customs or Immigration (which I think you are), I agree with you.

If you're talking security vs. a deliberate attack, you should assume that any rational enemy will detect your profiling system and use it against you, so randomness has a benefit. If you are known, for example, to examine left-handed adults under 5 feet all more often then other groups, a well-prepared adversary would make sure to bring weapons in with people over 6 feet tall and right handed :-).

The profiling information does not need to be public. Careful attackers will probe the system using a variety of people, cars, and reasons for visiting. Those which draw additional scrutiny will be noted and not used for an actual attack.