11.25.2009

"the gray area": in which i am detained, harassed and threatened at the border

In September, I helped a war-resister friend of mine take care of some paperwork. Unable to obtain his birth certificate, he needed a friend with a US passport to attest to certain facts. As I slid my passport under the window at the US Consulate, I thought to myself, I wonder what will happen the next time I use my passport...? I was aware I was taking a slight risk. I didn't think it was a big deal. I still don't.

Two days ago, on Monday, November 23, Allan and I drove our usual route down the QEW to the Buffalo border crossing. The female border guard in the booth asked us the usual questions - where we're going, reason for our visit, how long we're planning to stay. Then she swiped our passports, and that's when things changed.

We saw her writing - a lot of writing. She asked Allan for the keys and to pop the hatchback (which was already unlocked). A group of guards descended on the car with mirrored devices used to check under the car. I was in the passenger seat. Someone tapped on the window. I turned around to see a border guard in full paramilitary get-up motioning for me to get out and come with him. Without a word of explanation, he led me across the parking area into a building. I asked, "Can you tell me what this is about?" He said, "If I knew, I would tell you. I was only instructed to bring you in."

He led me through a waiting area with numbered wickets - like at a Motor Vehicles or other kind of processing centre - and into a separate, more secure waiting area, behind a plexiglass wall, that he had to get buzzed into. He asked if there was anything in my pockets; there was not, because my cell phone was in the car. Had I been carrying anything, I would have had to surrender it to him. He told me have a seat. I sat.

So I sat there, by myself. No ID, no phone. Just sitting there by myself. At that point I was a little nervous. After a while, I saw guards escorting Allan into the outer waiting area, which I could see through the glass. We nodded and smiled to each other, and I felt a little better.

I waited in this inner waiting room for quite a while. Eventually a guard came out - a big tall guy, shaved head, reflecto glasses - and walked me to the far corner of the room. He said they were short on space and he would question me right there. He stood directly under the TV, which was blasting the whole time, and had me sit in a chair in front of him, so I had to crane my neck to see his face, and try to hear over the TV noise.

"Do you want to tell me about some of the trouble you've been in?"

That was his first question.

"I haven't been in any--"

"Do you want to tell me about some of the trouble you've caused?"

"I haven't caused--"

"Did you try to cause trouble at the US Consulate?"

"I went with a friend--"

And that's how it went. He would ask me a question, I would say three words, and he would interrupt with his next question. After a few rounds I realized he wasn't interested in what I had to say, and I just sat there while he delivered a lecture in question form.

"The US government doesn't look kindly on military deserters, or on people who help them. Did you think you were just going to waltz into a US facility and help a military deserter? You could be in a lot of trouble. You can't just break the law and think that because you're in Canada it won't matter."

"I didn't break the law--"

"You were aiding and abetting a felon, that's a federal offense."

Now, none of the war resisters in Canada are felons. They have not been charged, tried, or convicted of any offense. There are arrest warrants out for some of them, but none of them are felons.

Also, Reflecto Guard pronounced this supposed crime "aiding and abedding". Allan and I had a good chuckle about that later. "What? You've been a-bedding war resisters?"

But I wasn't chuckling just then. I was nodding, and occasionally trying to speak but being interrupted. Reflecto never mentioned the war resister's name, but he clearly had personal information about him. He asked, "This individual must have deserted right after he signed up?" I said I wouldn't know about that. He said, "Well, he was born in 1985, I was born in 1985, so I'm thinking he probably joined when he was 19 years old, and that means..." I didn't follow his logic. I just waited for him to finish and said, "You'd have to ask him about that, I don't know the details."

"Why were you helping him?"

"Because he's my friend and he needed a favour."

"He's your friend? This individual is your friend?"

"Yes."

"He's much younger than you."

"Yes."

"Who is the gentleman who are traveling with?"

I told him. He asked the same question later, and again after that. He seemed generally unsatisfied with the answer.

This went on for a while. I'm not sure how long, but well past the point of amusement. Then he said, "I'll have to get another officer to adjudicate your case. You're not going anywhere for a while."

I asked him if I could use the washroom.

He said, very roughly, "You can't leave this room."

I went back to where I had been sitting, farther away from the TV. Allan, who could see me through the glass so he knew the "interview" was finished, came over to the glass, and we mouthed a few words to each other.

Allan said the name of the war resister who I helped -- meaning, is that why we're here. I nodded yes.

"Are you under arrest?"

"Not yet."

"Are they going to let us in?" (Meaning, to the US.)

"I don't know."

One or two exchanges later, a different guard came over and ordered Allan to move away from the glass and sit at the other end of the room.

They left me sitting in the inner waiting room for a while, and by this time I really had to use the washroom! One of the border services employees behind the computers was female, so I motioned to her and said, "I have to pee." She walked me to a washroom, waited outside until I was finished, then walked me back. I passed Allan along the way. It was nice to see each other for a moment.

Then back to the inner waiting area, for more waiting.

Eventually two men showed up. One was my old pal Reflecto. The other was an older, more senior-looking officer wearing a baseball cap. He was carrying my notebook. My notebook which had been in my backpack, in the car. I thought to myself, That's my notebook. That man is carrying my notebook. A very strange feeling.

The older man said, "Come with us." They led me through a door behind the waiting area and opened a door to what I can only describe as an interrogation room: a tiny, bare room, with a desk and three chairs. At this point my heart raced a bit.

This is it. This is the room you've seen and heard about. The little room. I have no ID, no phone, no anything. I'm alone. I'm powerless. I don't wish to sound overly dramatic, but it was unnerving.

I thought, I'm sure glad I'm wearing my white skin and my non-Muslim-sounding last name. I'd hate to be walking in here without those protective devices.

In addition, the only time I have ever sat alone with police in a room like that was the night I was raped. So I felt little triggers flashing in my brain, old triggers but real, and for a split-second I thought I might cry, or faint - not from the present situation, but from August, 1982. I breathed deeply, and it passed.

Most of my brain knew that everything would be fine. Another part knew that having done nothing wrong is no guarantee of anything.

So I sat down on one side of the table, with the more senior officer across from me and Reflecto on the side of the table. Officer Baseball Cap showed me his ID. It's amazing how when your brain is stressed, you can't process information. I saw and immediately forgot his name.

Officer Baseball Cap said, "Do you want to tell us about some of the activities you're involved with up in Canada?"

He seemed to want me to speak, so I did. I told him, very matter-of-factly, that I work with a group of people, we campaign the Canadian government, trying to persuade them to allow these men and women to stay legally in Canada.

He said, "What you do in Canada is your own business, but as a U.S. citizen, you have to be careful. You're in a gray area, and you have to watch what you do."

Here are some things he told me.

That I have to watch what I say and do, because I'm a U.S. citizen, and the U.S. government does not approve of military deserters or people who help them.

That I have to watch what I do, because I want to be able to travel to the U.S. in the future to see my family.

That I should be careful of what I say, because he could make trouble for me.

At one point, he leaned over the desk and said, "I could call the U.S. Attorney's office right now and have you arrested."

Inside, I thought, Have me arrested for what? Hello, US Attorney? I have a woman here who signed a paper attesting that she's known someone for two years, come on in and pick her up. But I didn't respond. It wasn't a question. I just nodded.

Sometimes he gave me space to speak. I said things like, "We're not some kind of shadowy, underground organization. We're very public and above-board. We meet with our Members of Parliament, we have a bill in Parliament now. We hold public events. It's very legal and open."

I told him, "I have no wish to break the law. I've never broken the law in Canada, and have no intentions of doing so. Had I known that filling out that form in the US Consulate was illegal--"

Before I could finish he said, "It's not, but something else you do might be..."

Oh man, it was everything I could do to keep myself from turning to Reflecto and rolling my eyes at him. See that, Mr Reflecto? Officer Baseball Cap has just admitted that you are full of shit.

Baseball Cap seemed to be playing good cop and bad cop all by himself. He allowed me to talk, and he nodded his head and listened, and said, "Yes, I believe you." And he also growled and threatened to arrest me or not allow me to cross the border.

I felt very calm and unafraid.

At one point, early on, Baseball Cap went off on a little political rant. "I don't know who these guys think they are. They think they can join the military and then when they don't like some policy or something, they can just get up and leave. It doesn't work that way!"

I waited for a pause, then said, very neutrally, "I have a different perspective, but you don't really want us to discuss that, do you? You're very entitled to your opinion, and I respect that--"

His face softened. "Yes, yes, and I was about to say the same to you, you are very entitled to your opinion and I respect that right. And you're right, we're not here to discuss that. We're here to discuss what you may or may not have done to help military deserters."

I also managed to get in a little political jab. When I described our "activities" in Canada, I said, "We want the Canada to accept these men and women, like during the Vietnam War - because you know, not all of those were draft dodgers. Many of those guys were deserters, too." I don't know if he got that, but at least I said it.

If he wanted information, he was going about it very badly. And clearly, in retrospect, we realize that he didn't want information and had no intention of even trying to get it. (Perhaps he's not authorized to.) He never said, for example, Do you know where [specific war resister] lives? How long have you known him? Who runs the organization? Where is it based? And so forth.

On the contrary, he seemed determined not to follow up on anything that could lead to actual information. For example, here's an exchange.

"Do you know military deserters in Canada?"

"Yes."

"You do? You know them?"

"Yes. Lots of people do. They live in apartments, have jobs, talk to the media."

"But you're an American. Do you know other U.S. citizens who also know military deserters?"

"Yes."

"Have you ever helped a military deserter?"

"I support their cause."

"Have you ever housed a military deserter or given money to one?"

"No one is living with me now."

"Who is the gentleman you are traveling with?"

See what I mean? "No one is living with me now" is not exactly a full response. But he never followed up.

Between Reflecto and Baseball Cap, I was asked a total of six times about "the gentleman" I was traveling with. They had Allan's passport, too. They can easily see that we travel together, and anything else they need. I later learned they spoke to Allan for about one minute. (He can report on that later.) I felt like saying, "If he was a war resister, would I be bringing him into the country???"

Baseball Cap said, "What about this notebook?"

I said, "It's my notebook."

"What do you use it for?"

"I take notes. I go to meetings and events, and I take notes."

"What do you use the notes for?"

"I'm a writer, sometimes I use the notes for writing and blogging, sometimes just to help me focus in a meeting."

[As an aside, I've always made it a point not to take notes on anything highly confidential about a resister's case. Anything we don't talk about by phone or email does not go in my notebook. Now I feel vindicated in my discipline.]

Baseball Cap flipped through the book and opened to a page with some numbers. He turned it towards me and said, "What are these numbers?"

I did my absolute best to suppress a smile and answered, "Those are course numbers at the University of Toronto. I'm in graduate school and those are courses I'm considering taking next term."

There are many names of war resisters in that notebook - including my friend who I helped at the consulate. But he asked no questions about that.

This went on for a while, Baseball Cap alternating between threatening - "You don't want to have any trouble when you visit your family" - and matter of fact. Several times, he said I was in a "gray area" and I'd better "watch what I do" - and I should tell other U.S. citizens in Canada to watch what they do.

Then he said, "Well, I don't want to keep you any longer than I have to, you have a long drive ahead of you." He started to slide my notebook across the table to me, then stopped. I didn't reach for it.

The two men led me back to the inner waiting area. I stood by the door, expecting someone to buzz me out, but instead someone shouted, "Sit down! You're not done yet!"

I sat. In a few minutes, the first guard, the one who had escorted me from the car, appeared. He handed me my notebook and both passports, and motioned to follow him. As he led me out to the car, he said, "I'm sorry, I didn't work on your case, so I have no information for you."

I said, "No, that's ok, I'm good."

He said, "Yeah, you're ok?" and smiled. Strange, eh?

I said, "Yes, thank you, I'm fine, have a good day."

In the car, everything had been opened and searched, of course. The whole experience took about two hours.

A first for me. Something I've now seen a bit from the inside.

We took off down the highway, and I called the Campaign.

* * * *

In case it's not crystal clear, I've done nothing illegal. Going to the US Consulate with my friend was not illegal. And my friend is not a felon.

Driving from Buffalo to New Jersey, Allan and I had ample opportunity to talk about this adventure, with each other and with some campaigners. The more we talked, the more obvious it became that this was simply harrassment and an attempt at intimidation. And why? Because of my political beliefs and the people with whom I associate. Good old USA, freedom on the march.

83 comments:

redsock said...

So when they took Laura's away -- the tapping on the window and "Get out", not even the more usual "Please get out of the vehicle" -- I stayed in the turned-off car at the booth while the woman wrote some more. They removed the (bomb-checking?) wheely things from under the car and told me to drive behind a walking officer "You drive at his pace!" they barked at me -- to park the car.

As it turned out the walking officer did not even bother walking 20 feet. He told me go park over there, pointed to a lot, and said to then go in Door #2. So I did.

I was in the waiting room area and could see Laura in the further, plexi-glassed room by herself. We waved. I was watching as the first officer questioned her under the TV. It was hard to tell what the tone of the conversation was, the various hand gestures did not give much away. It did seem like a vigorious conversation, though I know now that was not the case.

During the interview, I moved to a closer seat and when it was done I walked over to the glass. We tried to communicate a bit before I was told to go sit at the far end of the room.

At some point, I was called up to the window. The officer asked me maybe 7 questions. The first was "How are you doing today?" I looked at him and did not answer. WTF question is that?

"Do you know why you are here?"

"I think so, maybe." (Now I wish I had said I have no idea, to see what he would have said. It seems that at no time did anyone tell either L or myself exactly what the issue was; it was only vague and hinted at.)

He then asked me where we were going, who we were seeing, how long we were going to be in the US.

"Is she planning to do any of these activities in the US this week?"

"No."

"Is she bringing any materials about these activities with her?"

"Not that I am aware of."

"Does she spend a lot of her time on these activities?"

"What would constitute a lot of time?"

He did not answer.

"I wouldn't say she spends a lot of her time on it, no."

"Well, she said she does spend a lot of time."

(Keep in mind that this guy did not questions Laura and anyway Laura was not even asked about how much time she devotes to this work.)

"Well, perhaps she and I have different opinions of what constitutes a large amount of time. She works, she's in school, we have time together, so I wouldn't say she spends a lot of time on it."

"Okay, go back and sit down."

And that was the extent of the Qs I was asked. I'm sure you can think of dozens of questions I should have been asked if these goons were truly interested in what they claimed to be interested in.

Indeed, while L told the first guy that I am not much involved and go to a few events, they made no attempt to verify that, or see what I would say. To see if she was lying.

They did not do a very good job of hiding the fact that, in the end, this was a farce.

James said...

Wotta farce. When they turned me back at the border back in 1994, they didn't bother will all this rigmarole -- they just told me to get back on the bus, and that they didn't have to tell me why.

Karen said...

That's awful but unfortunately not unusual. My good friend's father is a US national but Palestinian by birth. He is very active in helping Palestinians in trouble in the US as well as in other issues in the Middle East, and often directly working with those governments. Last year Syria asked him to help move a Palestinian out of prison in California to Syria. Hamas agreed to pay for the move with agreement from the State Dept. Money was wired, WITH THE STATE DEPT'S AGREEMENT AND HELP, to my friend's father and then he paid all the transfer costs with that money.

Since then Homeland Security has had him flagged and when he visits his daughter here in Waterloo, my friend, he is ALWAYS stopped at the border and interrogated for at least 4 hours. He's missed two flights as a result.

The ridiculous part is that State and Homeland Sec can't talk to each other and get this sorted out and they don't seem to want to.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well at least someone's providing gainful employment for those out of work Stasi fellows. Now, about that wall.

L-girl said...

Believe me, I never thought it was unusual.

But remember, I have a US passport. It's bad enough to turn James away with no reason. But a US citizen... they're supposed to let me in.

L-girl said...

he is ALWAYS stopped at the border and interrogated for at least 4 hours. He's missed two flights as a result

Man, that sucks. I was thinking how the last time we were in the US, we were flying out of Buffalo to our nephew's wedding in Santa Fe. We obviously would have missed that flight. This time it was an inconvenience, but another time it could be a major nightmare.

redsock said...

...he is ALWAYS stopped at the border and interrogated for at least 4 hours.

L says that a few years ago another person in the Campaign was given the same BS treatment L was subjected to, but that it was a one-time thing and now he breezes through -- despite doing the same, if not more, of the bad things they supposedly stopped him for.

The more we were talking about it, the clearer it was that they did not even bother asking the most basic questions: how did you hear about the group and when did you join being two of the more obvious.

Nothing like that, though. And although they asked L 6-8 times who I was, they never asked me who I was. Or questioned me at all. I felt sort of left out.

I do hope that if they need to truly question someone, they get their shit together a bit more than they did for us.

E.g.:

"Have you ever smuggled illegal explosive materials?"

"I have not smuggled any explosive materials this week...."

"Moving on, why do you drive a red car?"

Stephanie said...

Yikes!

Here I thought my last couple crossings were bad...

A car full of female graduate students pulled over for saying we were going to a Linguistics conference...we remained in public view the entire time but still they held us up for almost two hours no interrogation just staring at us (I really think they were scratching their heads trying to figure out why we were there so were we...).

I am glad you are both okay. Have a happier day tomorrow.

Some Person said...

From now on, you should end every blog post with a standard, "To U.S. Homeland Security in Buffalo - nee-ner nee-ner ooga booga!" line. They probably read this blog, so why not?

Ferdzy said...

Ugh, sorry to hear about your bad experience.

I have not been to the U.S. since I renounced my citizenship, and this is why.

Cornelia said...

OMG, the border guard people seem to be flying off the handle even more than usual!!! Absolutely freaked-out indeed. And no, Laura, your friends are no felons, but I couldn't say that for the former boss of the border guys (I mean Bush). OMG!!!

Cornelia said...

I meant Bush is felon.

Cornelia said...

I do hope that if they need to truly question someone, they get their shit together a bit more than they did for us.

E.g.:

"Have you ever smuggled illegal explosive materials?"

"I have not smuggled any explosive materials this week...."

"Moving on, why do you drive a red car?"

Exactly. They didn't even follow up on getting info.

Cornelia said...

What about grey area bad customer service at the borders???

Cornelia said...

I would like to know if the two weirdos were Republican, at least the first guy who obviously was particularly clueless. And also if the person who ordered them to question you for 2 hours was Republican!! And what their job exactly is AND IF THEY WERE FORMER DRINKING BUDDIE'S OF BUSH FROM THE TIME WHEN HE WAS STILL A DRUNKARD BEFORE HIS ADDICTION PATTERNS TURNED MORE TO FUNDAMENTALIST RELIGION...

Lorna said...

That sucks. I have been getting TN Visa's for 10 years and this last time was by far the worst. I was there for 4 hours as though this time they were going to find some reason to deny me, where the 16 other CBP people hadn't. I only answer in the most minimal way possible because it is my opinion that they are trying to trap you into saying something incriminating because they don't have any actual incriminating things to base their behaviour on.

I hope that this is an isolated incident for you.

deang said...

I am fuming. Glad you're okay, and glad it was relatively minor, but God those are some evil fuckers! Stupid, but evil.

Kim_in_TO said...

At least they let you across after all that. I mean, not that it makes the stress any better, but to have been turned away when you know they have no valid reason would have been just insanely stupid. I mean, more insanely stupid, you know?

Amy said...

Holy shit....

I will be thinking about this tomorrow as we celebrate Thanksgiving. Is this what the Pilgrims came here to escape? Is this why we broke away from England? Is this the American dream?

Thanks for sharing...and depressing the hell out of me!

Hope the rest of your visit is better.

tim said...

WOW!!!! What an experience. This story brings a few key words to my mind...words like "gestapo" and "SS"

[guess I shouldn't have said that, I'll probably be red flagged now]

Clearly a fear tactic, they obviously had you flagged and wanted to try and shake you up a little bit. You did nothing wrong or illegal, and they knew that damn well.

Good to hear that nothing worse came of this for you guys and that you were able to continue your trip as scheduled after this stupid stop. Hope you have a great holiday weekend! Canada will welcome you back with open arms, lol.

tim said...

Oh and regarding:

"I thought, I'm sure glad I'm wearing my white skin and my non-Muslim-sounding last name. I'd hate to be walking in here without those protective devices."

YUP!!!!!!! So true its actually pathetic.

Canada Calling said...

This is nothing but harassment. We also have been detained at the border when we have traveled back to the States. The GI Joe at the border took one look at our passports and said with a very snarky attitude, "Soooo, you are Americans living in Canada? Pull your vehicle over to the inspection area." Then we are detained and the vehicle inspected (read: torn apart) Note: This never happens when flying only with land travel at the border.

Scott M. said...

Funny... it sounds like they were simply delaying/intimidating you (or the officer had the WORST interview technique ever!). That's a lot of manpower used to delay/intimidate someone when you can just lock them in a cell for a couple of hours and have the same effect.

L-girl said...

Thanks, everyone. I agree with all of what's here.

I was very glad we got to cross - and also glad this happened on a drive down to NJ, not one of the many times we fly from Buffalo, as we would have missed our flight.

Ferdzy, I knew you did not travel to the US, but after all these years, I did not knew you were originally from there, too, and that you renounced your citizenship. We must chat about that sometime!

As long as my mom is alive, which I hope is for many years to come, I will want to travel to the US. And I still want to travel there just for travel - for baseball, for National Parks, for friends, for New York City. So I do hope to continue to have that option.

Thanks for the support, you guys.

MSEH said...

I'm both appalled and not surprised. Mind if I share a link to this on fb and with my students in Human Rights?

Cid said...

I think that in asking why the gurads did not follow up on or even let you finish answering their questions assumes a minimum level of intelligence. One of things that has always amazed me when being stopped on either side of the border is how random and unofficial the whole process seems to be. You were flagged when they scanned your passport but then they obviously had no idea what to do next so when in doubt be a bully.

tim said...

I think that in asking why the gurads did not follow up on or even let you finish answering their questions assumes a minimum level of intelligence.

These types of people are the easiest to break.

The flag. Bald eagles. Military flyovers. Patriotism. Bullshit.

Like you said, pure bullying. They can't do anything more intellectual than that.

Cornelia said...

I'm glad the supportive comments have been helpful Laura. By the way, your answers to Officer Baseball Cap were very good!!!

"No one is living with me now."

"Who is the gentleman you are traveling with?"

Between Reflecto and Baseball Cap, I felt like saying, "If he was a war resister, would I be bringing him into the country???"

I thought as much.

OMG, Reflecto must be so clueless!!!

redsock said...

At least they let you across after all that.

We were talking about that. I suppose they could have turned us around and sent us home -- whether they had the actual right to do that or not -- but I am curious what the "rules" are re: completely innocent US citizens (as the second questioner admitted to L we were) attempting to enter the US and how much leeway the guards have to do whatever they feel like doing.

deang: Fuming. That is the exact word I kept thinking of as I sat there.

And I was thinking about the current laws of the US: that someone sitting there like Laura or I could be labelled a threat (for whatever imagined/mythical reason) and be put in jail for the rest of his or her life with no hearing or trial and no access to anyone (lawyer, family, etc.). One of the "disappeared".

That is legal in the US now.

Boyd M L Reimer said...

Speaking of Thanksgiving Day:

Today, on US Thanksgiving, the Canadian CRTC approved the media outlet "Al Jazeera English" in Canada

We should "thank" the thousands of Canadians who wrote to the CRTC about this.

If this media outlet had been in place in 2002 - 2009 then there would have been a more balanced truth and less one-sided lies about the US invasion of Iraq war, and those who resist it.

(The first casualty of war is the truth.)

In light of this good news, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope this makes up for the bad experience.

L-girl said...

Oops, forgot:

MSEH, yes, of course. Anything I post here is already public, to be shared as any reader sees fit.

MSEH said...

Thanks. I figured, but just wanted to double check. Have a great time in NYC!

johngoldfine said...

Your calm, deflective, minimally hostile, temperature-lowering responses to the interrogation are impressive.

johngoldfine said...

Pretty slick narrative too!

the rev. paperboy said...

IANAL, but I'm pretty sure that Fatherland Security and the Border Patrol and Customs and Immigration and all the other pistol-wearing badge-wavers cannot keep a passport-packin' U.S. citizen out of the United States.
They can arrest you on suspicion of committing a crime in the United States or take you into custody pending an extradition hearing if you are wanted for a crime elsewhere in the world, and they can certainly - as your experience shows - act like a bunch of dicks, but I don't think they can deny citizen the right to enter their own country just because they don't like what you've been doing elsewhere.

Stephanie said...

Border Harassment (Now available in Canada)

Shaun said...

This is horrific. I've never been through anything like that but I was detained at the border in St. Stephen, New Brunswick this summer, but only for an hour. It wasn't political either.

I was traveling with a professor to work on a marine biology project on the Bay of Fundy, but on the Maine side. We were taken out of the car by US border guards, and sat in the office for an hour while they ran checks on all our documents. We had to explain over and over again that it was a volunteer project. On the way back in to St. Stephen, the Canadian border guard didn't even check our passports. He just waived us through and said "Have a nice weekend."

Of course you must have heard by now about Amy Goodman's experience at the border on the Canadian side in BC. They kept asking her if she was going to cover the Olympics. She was an hour late for her speech at a local library.

The border is getting really scary. I told a Cdn friend that I was afraid to cross the border. He didn't discredit me at all. He told me that a friend of his was going to the US through St. Stephen. She was taken out of her car, and she and her 8 year old son were strip-searched. Why would you strip-search an 8 year old?

I don't go over the border unless it's a dire emergency. I'm always afraid I won't make it back in.

L-girl said...

Thank you John :)

And thanks Stephanie, for posting that. (Shaun, I would certainly not have heard about it - we're on holiday and not checking the news frequently if at all.)

Most people here must remember that peace activists Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright have been refused entry into Canada several times. And of course there's George Galloway! So it's not without precedent.

I don't feel particularly scared, and I have no intentions of traveling to see my family and friends any less frequently than I do now.

James said...

We had to explain over and over again that it was a volunteer project.

At all the Toronto IT companies I've worked at -- and I'm sure it's not limited to IT, or Toronto -- there's a standing rule that if you're going to a US office or client site for work, you always say that you're going for a meeting. If you say you're going to be doing actual work, there's a good chance you'll be turned back because "an American could do that work" -- even if you're the person who designed and built the systems you're going down to service.

L-girl said...

IANAL, but I'm pretty sure that Fatherland Security and the Border Patrol and Customs and Immigration and all the other pistol-wearing badge-wavers cannot keep a passport-packin' U.S. citizen out of the United States.
They can arrest you on suspicion of committing a crime in the United States or take you into custody pending an extradition hearing if you are wanted for a crime elsewhere in the world, and they can certainly - as your experience shows - act like a bunch of dicks, but I don't think they can deny citizen the right to enter their own country just because they don't like what you've been doing elsewhere.


I've been wondering about this. Since they had nothing to arrest me for, and were not inclined to fake it and arrest me anyway, could they legally deny me entry into the country, even though I have a valid passport and have committed no crime? We should find about this and not assume.

L-girl said...

If you say you're going to be doing actual work, there's a good chance you'll be turned back because "an American could do that work" -- even if you're the person who designed and built the systems you're going down to service.

The reverse is also true, but with much, much stricter rules. Canada routinely searches cars and trucks to make sure US companies aren't bringing in workers and equipment for jobs that could be done by Canadians. My brother-in-law's company goes through this all the time. Those are just protectionist labour laws.

James said...

What makes the "an American can do the job" bit especially ironic for me is, I have a friend, a Canadian, who's been working in IT in Silicon Valley for about 10 years now. When his company needed to send someone to a Department of Defense site to help them with the software they make, they found that had exactly no American technical staff: everyone qualified to do the work was Canadian, Indian, Korean, or Chinese, and none of them had citizenship, so none could enter the secure DoD site.

In the end, they sent the guy who was closest to getting his US citizenship, and even then he wasn't permitted to touch the computers: he had to watch over an officer's shoulder and tell him what to type.

redsock said...

IANAL, but I'm pretty sure that Fatherland Security and the Border Patrol and Customs and Immigration and all the other pistol-wearing badge-wavers cannot keep a passport-packin' U.S. citizen out of the United States.

But if they say No!, what choice do you have? They may have no right (or true cause) to turn you away, but you cannot challenge it right then. You can't tell them they are exceeding their authority and therefore you are continuing on your way as you legally can. You have to go home, miss your flight, etc.

redsock said...

Your calm, deflective, minimally hostile, temperature-lowering responses to the interrogation are impressive.

As L said afterwards, it's good that it was the 48yo version of her being questioned and not the more combative 25yo version!

David Cho said...

Wow. I finally got around to read this. Even if the resisters you help were fugitives, what is wrong with helping them in a country where the laws which convicted them don't apply? How can you arrest you for what you do outside the jurisdiction?

accudart said...

Wow Laura, talk about a Thanksgiving adventure! I'm glad your were able to see your mom though.

M@ said...

Frankly, it would have been awfully cool to hear about L-25 giving 'em what for. But I'm happier that L-48 just got through it with dignity intact, and that you guys made it to your Thanksgiving.

The way border guards' powers work, I imagine they could just detain you indefinitely until you gave up and went away. They can't deny you entry, but that doesn't mean they have to grant you entry at any particular time. Seems like the kind of loophole border guards can exploit.

Incidentally I once stupidly admitted I was going to the USA to work for a client. Luckily I had a copy of the contract, a letter from the employer, and a copy of both my degrees. An hour wait, a five-minute interview, and boom! I was through. Whee.

Next time I said I was going for training.

Radio said...

Thank you for enduring what you did.
I only hope that strengthens your resolve. Continue to speak truth to power-one secondary inspection at a time.

Radio said...

Please let the ACLU/NYCLU office in Buffalo know about these experiences when they take place. you can call (collect if necessary) 716-852-4033 or via email westernregion@nyclu.org

Collectively these experiences and stories may go further than they could individually.
Thanks!
jc

L-girl said...

Thank you, Radio, I will do that.

Ray/Accudart, M@, David, thanks. :)

Frankly, it would have been awfully cool to hear about L-25 giving 'em what for.

It would have been a much longer story, what with the bail hearings and all.

Cornelia said...

I am so glad you will tell the ACLU Laura. Great idea Radio.

M. Yass said...

. . . could they legally deny me entry into the country, even though I have a valid passport and have committed no crime? We should find about this and not assume.

The answer is no, they can't. If you had committed a crime, they can arrest you for that, but beyond that, as a U.S. citizen you have the right to freely enter and leave the country.

That said, they can make your life difficult, as you found out.

I am taken aback, however, at just how amateurish their interrogation of you was. It's as if they learned from watching cop shows, and they probably did. The whole point of an interrogation is to elicit a confession and constant interruptions won't do that.

L-girl said...

I am taken aback, however, at just how amateurish their interrogation of you was. It's as if they learned from watching cop shows, and they probably did. The whole point of an interrogation is to elicit a confession and constant interruptions won't do that.

I think it's very clear their goal was not to elicit information of any kind, let alone a confession. Their intent was only to harass and intimidate (or attempt to). I think that was obvious.

I don't believe they have any authority to muck around in any open cases. That's likely why they never mentioned any WRs by name. And they knew that I hadn't committed any crime, so there was nothing to confess.

redsock said...

The answer is no, they can't. ... as a U.S. citizen you have the right to freely enter and leave the country.

But if they had said, "Sorry, we cannot allow you to enter the country today", what choice would we have had?

Some Person said...

But if they had said, "Sorry, we cannot allow you to enter the country today", what choice would we have had?

Any U.S. citizen could sue in court to be let back into the country and easily win. This is a fundamental right of citizenship. If it wasn't, then arrangements would have been made long ago to bribe other governments to accept deported U.S. citizens who committed violent felonies. Since no U.S. citizen can be refused right of abode, then this program is not in place and the USians are "stuck" with violent citizen-felons.

Skinny Dipper said...

Gee, I've only had to deal with the German cigarette cops at their border.

L-girl said...

Some Person, we understand that. But Redsock's question is, I believe, what could we do on the spot? To enter the country at that time?

Suing later is one thing. Getting to our family on Thanksgiving is something else.

Some Person said...

Oh, well if you put it that way, then I've never heard of a U.S. citizen with a passport being refused entry to the country, so I'm at a loss for advice beyond the court route. My apologies for not being more helpful.

L-girl said...

On the contrary, you are very helpful. I believe this is a question for an immigration lawyer. "Radio" suggested I contact the ACLU in Buffalo - a good place to start.

M. Yass said...

This is not legal advice. You are not a client. I'm not even a lawyer. If you want legal advice, contact a lawyer admitted to your jurisdiction's bar association/law society. What I am saying here is probably 100% wrong and if you do anything in reliance upon it, you are a blithering idiot who deserves whatever bad shit is very likely to befall you.

That said, you are right. The border people were full of both shit and hot air. The provision of law he's referring to is 18 USC § 1071, harboring a fugitive. There's a big difference between a "fugitive" and a "felon," the only thing they have in common, in fact, is that they start with the letter "F."

The elements of the crime of harboring a fugitive are:

(1) Proof that a federal warrant had been issued for the fugitive's arrest,

(2) Knowledge of the accused that a warrant had been issued for the fugitive's arrest, and

(3) That the accused physically harbored, concealed or secreted the body of a fugitive with the intent to prevent said fugitive's discovery or apprehension.

As I understand the facts, you went with the war resister to the U.S. consulate in Toronto to sign a certificate of fact so that he could get his birth certificate or somesuch. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that waltzing into the U.S. consulate with him is a far cry from physically hiding him from the authorities. That they didn't call the Mounties to pick him up is proof positive that he wasn't wanted by the authorities.

We haven't even started talking about the whole myriad of jurisdictional issues because there's no need to. The beginning and end of the argument is that you didn't physically conceal him.

So there. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Reflecto, and quit watching the cop shows.

redsock said...

(1) Proof that a federal warrant had been issued for the fugitive's arrest,

I believe that not every deserter has a warrant out for his or her arrest. So it would be possible that L would not know if one existed for any particular resister. (And it would be hard to get solid "proof" anyway.)

(2) Knowledge of the accused that a warrant had been issued for the fugitive's arrest, and

Again, hard to know for sure.

(3) That the accused physically harbored, concealed or secreted the body of a fugitive with the intent to prevent said fugitive's discovery or apprehension.

The US military/law enforcement is not coming into Canada to get these men and women and the Canadian government are not arresting them. And since I have seen many of them being interviewed on major Canadian TV news shows, they are not in hiding.

Looks like we fail on all 3 of these tests.

redsock said...

Since they made no effort to arrest anyone at the US consulate, I guess the fact that the building is within Canadian borders trumps the "US soil" claim.

So, again, fuck huuuuuuuugh.

Mary said...

Just popping in for a moment. Only 76 days to the Games and I've been up to my eyeballs for months already.

No, they cannot refuse entry to US citizens. But they can make your lives utterly miserable. They can detain you for inspection, yes. If they catch you in a lie, they can charge you with lying to a federal officer (they will try to set you up, if they don't like you). It is never a good idea to lie. Also, if they find, say, a rolling paper in your possession, they can seize your vehicle, along with anything else they decide was the fruit of illegal acts (i.e. drug possession/dealing) and you will have to prove it wasn't to get it back. Seriously.

My daughter is a dual citizen who travels back and forth frequently. Last year, before she got her US passport, she was singled out for "enhanced" questioning. She answered all of their questions, including how she knew me - her mother! And when they belatedly realised she was a US citizen (she handed them both her Canadian citizenship card and her US birth certificate but they looked at only the Canadian ID before launching in), they told her that had she not been a USan they could have had her "sent away."

I've been to the States only twice in the past eight years, both times last summer when my daughter and most of my USan friends were gathered just across the border. But I have no plans to return, partly because it would cost me a bundle to get a passport (I was born in the UK and would need to renew several documents before applying for my Cdn passport) but mostly because they can and do disappear non-USans. Of course, they probably wouldn't disappear me: I'm a middle-aged woman with pink skin and an Anglo-Saxon name. But it seems wrong, somehow, to take advantage of an accident of birth when my brown friends, even those who are US citizens, are routinely subjected to interrogations like the one you described. It's kind of a pathetic gesture of solidarity, but one that my brown friends appreciate.

L-girl said...

I believe that not every deserter has a warrant out for his or her arrest. So it would be possible that L would not know if one existed for any particular resister. (And it would be hard to get solid "proof" anyway.)

This is true on all counts.

(3) That the accused physically harbored, concealed or secreted the body of a fugitive with the intent to prevent said fugitive's discovery or apprehension.

It is not illegal for any one in Canada to give housing, employment or financial assistance to a US war resister.

Since they made no effort to arrest anyone at the US consulate, I guess the fact that the building is within Canadian borders trumps the "US soil" claim.

Indeed. The Consulate staffer said, "We have information that you are a military deserter. You will have to clear up your issues with the military before we can proceed."

We collected our paperwork and left.

They knew he was a military deserter and they knew I was a U.S. citizen, and we said, have a nice day and walked out.

M. Yass said...

I believe that not every deserter has a warrant out for his or her arrest. So it would be possible that L would not know if one existed for any particular resister. (And it would be hard to get solid "proof" anyway.)

It's SOP for the military to request the issuance of a warrant when someone deserts. You guys would have no way of knowing that for sure, though. And those warrants only apply directly on U.S. soil anyway (see below). Contrary to popular relief, there is no such thing as an "international arrest warrant."

The US military/law enforcement is not coming into Canada to get these men and women and the Canadian government are not arresting them.

That's not even the issue. Despite their delusions to the contrary, American authorities can't just go waltzing into other countries willy-nilly to pick someone up. The U.S. government would have to request, through the proper diplomatic channels, that the Canadian authorities apprehend the WRs pursuant to the relevant extradition treaties. It was true during the Vietnam era, and I believe it is still true in the Vietraq one, that military desertion is not covered by those treaties. Even assuming arguendo that desertion is an extraditable offence, that a request had been made pursuant to the treaty and the Canadian government had acted on it by issuing a Canadian arrest warrant, L didn't hide the WR's body from the authorities. In fact, L took him to the one place in Canada where the warrant would most likely be discovered. Even then, the personnel working at the consulate would have had to call the Mounties to come pick him up because the warrant in that instance would be from the Canadian side, not the U.S. one.

And since I have seen many of them being interviewed on major Canadian TV news shows, they are not in hiding.

Exactly. They're living openly in Canada and openly pursuing refugee status through the proper governmental channels in Canada. They are legally living in Canada and are not wanted by the Canadian authorities. The media has referred to them as "fugitives living in Canada," but that's not technically accurate.

L-girl said...

But it seems wrong, somehow, to take advantage of an accident of birth when my brown friends, even those who are US citizens, are routinely subjected to interrogations like the one you described.

That's what privilege is, an accident of birth. I feel this very keenly as I spend Thanksgiving with my family, and my war-resister friends cannot.

It's kind of a pathetic gesture of solidarity, but one that my brown friends appreciate.

I don't think it's pathetic, but it is obviously only a gesture. It doesn't help your brown friends cross the border any easier. (Not that you are implying it does - and I don't mean to discount your gesture, which is a good and important one.)

Everyone who cares has to figure out what to do with their privilege. In this situation, I can't see how not using my privilege to cross the border helps anything. I'd rather keep my life sane and happy in whatever way I can, and fight for change at the same time. Not seeing my family isn't going to do anything but make me and them unhappy. It also gives MORE power to the border guards. They "win".

But I totally understand where you're coming from. One of the many reasons my (male) partner (who posts here as Redsock) and I did not get legally married in the US is because same-sex couples are not allowed to marry there. A huge movement of refusal - thousands of mixed-gender couples refusing to marry until everyone has the right - could make a big difference. Alas.

L-girl said...

It's SOP for the military to request the issuance of a warrant when someone deserts.

It varies a lot more than you might think.

L-girl said...

In fact, L took him to the one place in Canada where the warrant would most likely be discovered.

Heh. More like he took me. His lawyer said it was fine. :)

The media has referred to them as "fugitives living in Canada," but that's not technically accurate.

But fortunately we've all given up on expecting accuracy from media long ago.

OTOH it's not really inaccurate, either - they are fugitives in the sense that they can't return to the US without serious consequences. It's accurate enough for public information without getting into legal technicalities, I think.

M. Yass said...

It is not illegal for any one in Canada to give housing, employment or financial assistance to a US war resister.

Exactly. The only way it might be is if the Canadian government had issued a warrant pursuant to a request for extradition from the U.S. authorities. And if anyone was going to prosecute you based on that, it would be the Canadian authorities, not the American ones. 'Course, all of these little subtleties are way, way over the head of Mr. Reflecto, the Overpaid Security Guard and his buddy, the Col. Flagg wannabee.

This brings us back to the issue that desertion is not an extraditable offence. Even if it were, practically speaking, authorities often know where wanted persons are and do not request extradition. Why? Simply because they don't want to pay for a plane ticket to ship their asses home.

Since they made no effort to arrest anyone at the US consulate, I guess the fact that the building is within Canadian borders trumps the "US soil" claim.

Another one from the Contrary to Popular Belief Department. International law is primarily based on the concept of comity, i.e., "play nicely with the other children." Countries voluntarily establish diplomatic relations with each other as part of their foreign policy. To that end, Canada voluntarily allows the U.S. to set up shop in Toronto and elsewhere, probably in office space rented from Cadillac Fairview or some other large corporate landlord. That space isn't property of the U.S. government, it's the property of Cadillac Fairview. Similarly, countries can and do break off diplomatic relations with each other at any time. That's what they do when they get pissed off at each other. That's when you hear news stories about so-and-so's ambassador being expelled from such-and-such country.

Indeed. The Consulate staffer said, "We have information that you are a military deserter. You will have to clear up your issues with the military before we can proceed."

We collected our paperwork and left.

They knew he was a military deserter and they knew I was a U.S. citizen, and we said, have a nice day and walked out.


Well, there ya go. Granted, this means he probably does have a warrant issued by the U.S. military. That being the case, I wouldn't try to sneak him across the border or anything like that, but beyond that, you're fine.

Some Person said...

I did not get legally married in the US is because same-sex couples are not allowed to marry there. A huge movement of refusal - thousands of mixed-gender couples refusing to marry until everyone has the right - could make a big difference. Alas.

My opposite-sex partner and I didn't marry for the longest time for the same reason. Then when I got my professor job at a state college, I was told in no uncertain terms that she would have to be my legal wife (not domestic partner) in order to get health and dental benefits. She could not stand her telemarketing job anymore and really needed to quit so that she could prepare to enter grad school. So very reluctantly, we both got legally married and exercised that bit of heterosexual privilege.

I still feel some guilt about it, like I betrayed someone. If and when we can immigrate to Canada, at least we can put that bit of regret behind us.

M. Yass said...

It's SOP for the military to request the issuance of a warrant when someone deserts.

It varies a lot more than you might think.


Oh yeah. Having served in the U.S. military, I know for sure that procedures aren't always followed to the letter.

L-girl said...

Having served in the U.S. military, I know for sure that procedures aren't always followed to the letter.

It often seems so arbitrary, just a function of how big an asshole any given officer is.

That being the case, I wouldn't try to sneak him across the border or anything like that, but beyond that, you're fine.

Heh, that's a funny thought, since this person never wants to set foot in the US again and I have no way to sneak anyone anywhere.

In general, though, the WRs and the WRSC have excellent legal representation. But, as we've all been saying, what that means when you're actually at the border is another story.

Col Flagg :)

L-girl said...

My opposite-sex partner and I didn't marry for the longest time for the same reason. Then when I got my professor job at a state college, I was told in no uncertain terms that she would have to be my legal wife (not domestic partner) in order to get health and dental benefits.

That's a very valid reason to get married and you have nothing to feel guilty about. When it came mto benefits, we always said we were married and no one ever checked.

We also have a lot of other reasons, at least I do. I don't like legal marriage for myself for many reasons. But that's a story for another thread.

If and when we can immigrate to Canada, at least we can put that bit of regret behind us.

It was VERY cool to apply as common-law partners! I felt so good about that.

L-girl said...

PS How gross that a state college doesn't cover domestic partner benefits!!

Some Person said...

PS How gross that a state college doesn't cover domestic partner benefits!!

It's in a southern state where even civil unions are constitutionally banned, if that tells you anything.

M. Yass said...

I had an interesting experience about a month back crossing the border.

I live in Vancouver but go down to the U.S. at least once a week to fill up my car and collect my mail.

I also get Mexican food because they don't have a lot of that in Vancouver. Every kind of Asian food known to man, yes, but not a lot of Mexican and what they do have isn't very good. A quick jaunt to Bellingham fixes that, but I digress.

I have a Nexus card so I have become accustomed to just being waved through with little or no questioning. This time, though, my name came up for a "Nexus compliance check" as it has twice previously in the four years I've had my card. No problem, I pulled my car over to the side and went in.

The guy at the counter had me filling out a written declaration form. He then began asking me what I did for a living. When I told him I was a journalist, he started asking me if I intended to work in the U.S. I said that I sometimes do research and attend court hearings for my work, so yes.

His eyes got narrow, as if he had found something to hang his hat on.

"You know, that's a really grey area you're in," he said.

"Excuse me?" I said.

"Yes, sir, that a very grey area."

"How is that?" I asked.

"Well, sir, here in America we have immigration laws, you know," he said.

At this point, I reminded him that I was a U.S. citizen and thus had the right to work in the U.S. any damn time I chose. To drive the point home, I whipped out my U.S. passport card and showed it to him.

It was a sight to behold. His whole being changed.

"Oh . . . oh, I'm . . . I'm . . . so sorry. I didn't notice that you were a U.S. citizen. I thought you were a Canadian. No problem, have a seat and we'll have you on your way shortly."

About 10 minutes later, I was told I was free to go. It seems like they enjoy using this "grey area" speech when they really don't have anything, eh?

L-girl said...

I thought I recalled where you were from. *sigh*

L-girl said...

It seems like they enjoy using this "grey area" speech when they really don't have anything, eh?

I didn't realize it was a catch phrase til I Googled it - try it with border, or immigration. Very popular!

M. Yass said...

what that means when you're actually at the border is another story.

True, although I'd like to think that the threat of getting sued and having to pay a large damages award serves as at least a modicum of a deterrent. The money to pay the damages award along with the plaintiff's attorney fees would have to come out of somebody's budget, and as we all know, Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat denied funding.

impudent strumpet said...

Yuck. I think I'll just not go to that country, at all ever.

macweenie said...

As an American I can only say that I am terribly ashamed how my country, which mouths the words of freedom with nationalistic fervor, seems incapable of actually behaving in anything other than an authoritarian manner. I am sorry on behalf of my countrymen for your experience with Baseball cap and Reflecto, our country is FULL of those jackboot afficianados. Their game was obviously intimidation though it was performed in a very ham handed way.

Now I am not only embarrased by their low IQ thuggery but by their inept execution! We can't even produce a quality THUG in this country anymore... damn outsourcing.

Tom Kertes said...

Thank you for sharing this with such detail. For anyone else with politics that may contradict US policy and politics it is helpful to know what such an experience could entail. I think that this is in fact a violation of the democratic values of freedom of expression and association, going against core democratic values. Sorry you experienced this first hand, as democracy and human rights values should be cherished and respected by and for all.

Cornelia said...

Thank you for sharing this with such detail. For anyone else with politics that may contradict US policy and politics it is helpful to know what such an experience could entail. I think that this is in fact a violation of the democratic values of freedom of expression and association, going against core democratic values. Sorry you experienced this first hand, as democracy and human rights values should be cherished and respected by and for all.

I agree. Absolutely. Great post, thank you!