border crossing take 2

[redsock guest post]

So Laura felt that our detention at the US border last November would be a "one time incident". ... Bzzzt! Wrong.

We left the house at 8, hoping to get to the airport in Buffalo at 10:30 for L's 11:30-ish flight. Monday morning traffic was less than expected and we drove over the Peace Bridge at about 10. Laura was driving and handled the booth guy our passports. There was the usual questions (citizenship, destination/why) and the passport swipes, and then:
BG: So you had some trouble the last time you crossed the border?

L: Yes, I did.

BG: Why was that?

L: Because of my political activism in Canada.

After a brief pause, he asked Laura to put the car in park, unlock the doors, turn off the engine, and hand him the keys. She did. He asked her to get out of the car and I think someone else opened our hatchback (nothing back there but white dog hair).

I was motioned to get out of the car also. I was asked if I was carrying any weapons or sharp objects, perhaps a knife, or a cellphone. Four border patrolmen escorted us to the same building we had been detained in last November. At some point, one of the men must have turned back and gone to move our car, which was still silently parked alongside the booth, into the parking lot.

This time they took us in the back way so we entered the main waiting room from another direction. They told us to sit. When Laura asked to go to the ladies room, they simply waved her across the room. This was very different, since last time we had been separated the entire time and L had needed an armed guard to take her to the rest room.

We couldn't imagine what they could talk to us about. Pretty much the last thing the border guards told us in November was "You are not breaking any US laws, but we don't like how you live your life in Canada, so we are going to delay you for two hours and search through your suitcases and notebook because we can." Not a direct quote, but that was the gist.

We had been waiting about 25 minutes when someone signaled for us to come up to the counter. No questions this time, though; the guy said we were free to go. The man who brought us out to our car apologized for the delay. He said it was because "we had to call someone". We did not ask who was called. L's suitcase had been searched, of course -- it was turned the opposite way in the back seat and some of the zippers had not been closed.

It was about 10:40. It seemed like they had wanted to delay us long enough for Laura to just miss her plane. But we got to the airport at about 11, L dashed inside, and when I got home, there was a message from 11:13 saying she had made the flight.


johngoldfine said...

Welcome to the Homeland!

M@ said...

Well I'm glad Laura made the flight... but still, what. the. fuck.

James said...

Not that surprising, but still a pain...

I'm glad my one little run-in with INS didn't manage to propagate itself this way.

Northern Girl said...

Are you kidding me? This is very disturbing.

I really thought last November’s incident was a one time thing, but it seems the Homeland goons are not done harassing you yet. I hope the BP guard that opened the trunk got white dog hair all over him.

The 4 border patrolmen escorting you from your car are a tad overdone, don’t you think? You were removed with such haste that your car was still at the booth!

The US border is a very scary place. This is why tourists don’t want to come to the US anymore.

Can’t wait to be outta here, but like you we still have family in the States.

House went up for sale today, yay!

redsock said...

Border Guy: Hey, remember that war blogger woman I called you about last Thanksgiving?

US Attorneys Office: Uh ... yeah, I think so. Travelling with some moody gentleman, wasn't she?

BG: She's back. Going to Jersey again. Flyin' from Buffalo.

USAO: I told you last time she's not doing anything wrong.

BG: She's against the war(s)!!11!

USAO: You mean like most of the fucking US? I suppose you wanna round them all up, too?

BG: Yes. Yes, I do. ... (sigh) But she wrote about what happened last time and she made fun of us. A lot of people there did. Called us silly names, basically said what we did was bullshit and made no sense.

USAO: Sounds about right to me.

BG: I know. I'd still like to lock her up though. You sure there's nothing we can charge her with?

USAO: Being annoyed on the internet is not illegal.

BG: Shit. Well, thought I'd check, you know, see if any laws had changed. ... It's fuckin' wild, Obama's playin' as hard right as Bush and the media's got like half the country believing he's some kinda socialist. ... Whatever that is.

USAO: Barack V. Debs!

BG: Who?

USAO: If you want, have her sit out there long enough so she misses her plane. But how can this shit be fun to do every day? Don't you wanna do a puzzle book or something, maybe look for real threats.

BG: Heh -- oop, some brown people just came in. Gotta run.

redsock said...

I'm curious what will happen when I go by myself on Thursday. (That post above probably didn't help!) Is my passport flagged/linked to L's?

Northern Girl said...

HA HA! Sooo funny, Redsock.

Scott M. said...

I'm certainly not surprised. In fact, I would say it's worthwhile ensuring that you give yourself an extra hour to cross the border each time now until you get waved through at least three times.

Amy said...

Oy. Welcome to the USA!

L-girl said...

Here I am at my mom's in NJ. Ha ha, DHS, I didn't miss my flight.

JetBlue flies from Buffalo to NYC several times a day, so even missing it wouldn't have been a disaster. But if had to make a connection in JFK, now that would suck.

Extra time is definitely called for. Scott, is three times the charm or something?

James said...

Scott, is three times the charm or something?

I wouldn't be at all surprised if the DHS used Lewis Carroll Logic:

"Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true."

L-girl said...

Ha ha, just read Allan's phone call "transcript". Me likee.

Northern Girl, congrats on the milestone!

Northern Girl said...

Thank you.

We’re working towards moving to Ontario by mid to late June.

MSEH said...

I'd like to say I'm shocked, but...

Glad you made it to the city safely.

Mike said...

Ya know, I think I like our border guards better. Tonight slouched in his chair, takes my EDL taps a few keys, "bringing anything back with you?" "No". "Have a nice day" "Thankyou"

redsock said...

That reminds me. I got more than the usual "welcome back" from the Canadian side. He did whatever they do with my PR card and asked me the plate # for our car because it was not showing up (I assume on their cameras as I pulled up). I spelled it out for him, but had to come out of his booth and check it out visually.

"What does that mean?"

"It's the web address for my partner's blog."

"Okay, bye."

geek guy said...

glad you got there OK!!!.

Scott M. said...

There may be operational reasons you may not be stopped but still be flagged. Those kind of things are rare though.

So if you manage to get through three times without being stopped, chances are you aren't being flagged anymore and you didn't just happen to hit a bad day three times in a row.

redsock said...

A bit of the conversation at the border on my way to pick up L yesterday.

BG: Citizenship?

Me: US.

BG: What is your status in Canada?

Me: Permanent resident.

BG: Where are you going?

Me: Just to the airport, to pick up my wife.

BG: And what is her status in Canada?

Me: Permanent resident also.

BG: So why did you move to Canada? [They are actually not allowed to ask a question like this.]

Me: Why did we move to Canada?

BG: Yes.

Me: Because we wanted to.

[short pause after that, asks what I do for work, then asks if I am bringing anything purchased in Canada into the US (yeah, this car, for one thing!)]

Me: No, I'm just going to the airport, then coming right back.

BG: When did you drive her to the airport? [Said in a way that he clearly knows exactly how she got there earlier in the week.]

Me: On Monday.

BG: What was the date?

Me: Monday.

BG: No, the date.

Me: You mean the number?

BG: ...

Me: Ummm, I guess it was the 12th or the 11th.

BG: Are you sure about that?

Me: Well, let's see. I know today is the 15th, so (picturing a calendar in my head, counting backwards to the left-hand side) it should be the 12th, yeah.

[I swear I saw a very slight smirk during when I was saying this.]

BG (pausing): Alright, you're all set.

Boyd M L Reimer said...

That reminds me of a scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" when the bridge guard asks "What is your favorite color?" ...clearly trying to make the person nervous. The person is so nervous that he gets the answer wrong and is therefore immediately punished.

Gareth said...

As a non-US citizen who has endured some lengthy Q&A sessions at the border, I was wondering if there's any good source for what kinds of question are considered acceptable/off-limits by border guards when entering the US. I don't mean what they do ask, but rather what they are supposed to be able to ask, kind of like what is and is not acceptable in a job interview (!).

L-girl said...

Gareth, see this post.

Gareth said...

Thanks for that post/link; I'll watch the rest later today, but the first ten minutes were very educational even after dozens of crossings/airport arrivals.

redsock said...

Not much tops the guard who asked why, since we said we were married*, Laura's last name was different than mine.

(He had asked: "And how do you two know each other?" ... "Well, it was back in July 1985 and ...")

L-girl said...

Not much tops the guard who asked why, since we said we were married*, Laura's last name was different than mine.

He actually asked, "How long have you been married?" After I answered, he said, "And you still haven't taken his last name? Are you planning to?"

impudent strumpet said...

Why are people allowed to be border guards if they aren't worldly enough to find that situation unremarkable? Don't you need a certain degree of worldliness to recognize when a bad guy is trying to smooth-talk his way through your border?

L-girl said...

Why are people allowed to be border guards if they aren't worldly enough to find that situation unremarkable?

It's safe to assume worldliness is not a job requirement. In Northern Passage, Hagan makes the point that border guards are often former military people and there is overlap between CBSA and RCMP (which he calls paramilitary). He's using this in connection with border guards' lack of sympathy for military deserters/resisters. But the same may apply for other attitudes as well.