6.05.2010

buffalo war resisters event, more harassment at border

The pioneers of a warless world are the young men and women who refuse military service. - Albert Einstein


I was in Buffalo, New York, last night for a screening of "War Resisters Speak Out" and a discussion about Iraq War resisters in Canada, and why we work to win them sanctuary.

It was a great event. I think people learned a lot and were moved by the resisters' stories, told on film in their own words. We strengthened connections with the peace movement across these artificial national borders, and people gave generously to the war resister legal defense fund. The organizers are building support for a larger event on the Canadian side which will bring together peace activists and war resisters, and continue this important work.

For me personally, it was also wonderful to see my friends who I've met through this blog and through peace activism, Russell Brown, who writes the excellent blog Adopt Resistance, and Bruce and Mary Beyer, legendary veteran peace activists. And it was terrific to meet a few more friends in person, like Jim Hart, father of war resister Patrick Hart, and New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) Western Region Director John Curr. With Western New York State being an important border crossing, you can imagine that the defenders of our rights and civil liberties are pretty busy.

Speaking of which, the answer is yes, I was detained. Same drill as last time, but they held me twice as long. The border guard in the booth asks the usual questions, then swipes my passport. As soon as he does that, I am asked to surrender my car keys, four armed guards descend on the car and escort me inside. This time the inside guard also asked a series of ridiculous and meaningless questions, seemingly trying to trip me up or catch me in a lie. They held me for an hour, then returned me to the car, which had been searched.

A campaign friend urged me not to minimize this harassment, which is obviously based solely on my political opinions and legal political activism. I understand his anger, and I would share it about anyone else's border troubles. But for myself, I need to minimize the implications for my own peace of mind. Call it a coping mechanism. I don't want to have extreme anxiety and trauma flashbacks every time I fly out of Buffalo or drive down to see my mom. I have to approach it lightly and irreverently. Okay, this is the dance we do here at the border crossing. They will do their thing, I will not be hurt, and I will go on my way. The experience will last however long it's going to last, whether I'm wound up and anxious or daydreaming and deep-breathing to relax. I'm good at protecting myself that way.

But it's wrong, and it sucks.

13 comments:

Northern Girl said...

Unbelievable! I was concerned you would be harrassed at the border again.

What jerks!

johngoldfine said...

Probably you'd rather not write about it or think about it further, but this passage below begs for a bit of dialogue.

"This time the inside guard also asked a series of ridiculous and meaningless questions, seemingly trying to trip me up or catch me in a lie."

L-girl said...

'Sokay, I don't mind talking about it. I just didn't want to bore everyone with a lot of minor details. But sure, here's the kinds of things they were asking.

Where you are going?
Where is that?
Why are you going there?
Who invited you?
Who?
Who?
Who?
How do you know that person?
Why did they invite you?
What kind of event is it?
What kind?
What kind?
When will you return to the US?
When is the last time you were in the US?
Why did you travel to the US that time?
Have you been out of the country since then?
(Me: Out of Canada?
Them: No, out of the US.
Me: I live in Canada. I live outside the US.
Them: Have you been out of Canada?
Me: Yes, I've traveled to the US.)
What is your status in Canada?
Are you attaining Canadian citizenship?
Are you transporting any hazardous materials?
Any alcohol?
Any firearms?
Any weapons?
Where are you going?
What kind of event is it?
Who invited you there?
Why are you going?
When will you return?
What will you do there?
What is your status in Canada?
When is the last time you were in the US?

....

And so on.

This isn't a verbatim transcript, obviously, but it's the general idea.

johngoldfine said...

I imagine it's a felony to lie to them, and a 'lie' might be construed as any answer not in complete alignment with every other answer, never mind that the only people whose story is always straight are people who need a story and have it memorized.

That's a great list of questions, and reading it allows me to imagine a questioner, a scene, and an l-girl working on her inner spiritual practices as she is catechised.

L-girl said...

Yes, being caught in a lie (of commision or omission) to a border agent can land you in a world of trouble, including being declared inadmissible. Not a proposition I care to test.

Allan and I can both be wise-asses in those situations (you're shocked, I know), so we practice a lot of self-control techniques, then vent to each other once safely on our way.

We were sitting near some men, white guys from rural Ontario as far as I could tell, who were going to West Virginia to hike, fish and maybe sell some gear to some folks they met online. The guards were grilling them separately, and were obsessing on the fact that they didn't know *exactly* where they were going, only roughly, and that their wives would only have their cell numbers but not addresses for them. I wonder if they made it over.

They kept being asked, "What if we don't let you in?" The guy would say, Then I guess I'll turn around and go home. And this wasn't good enough.

Northern Girl said...

“They kept being asked, "What if we don't let you in?" The guy would say, "Then I guess I'll turn around and go home". And this wasn't good enough.”

Sounds good enough to me, if they don’t want my money, I’ll go spend it at home. What answer were they looking for? Were the two gentlemen expected to beg to be admitted to the US? It beggars belief.

Recently a Canadian couple were attempting to enter the US at the Niagara Falls border to shop at a mall – imagine that! They were pulled over for additional interrogation and threatened with arrest when they could not name the specific stores they planned to visit in the mall.

No wonder tourists don’t want to come to the US anymore. The border guards scare them all off. This is why tourism to the US is falling, despite a weakened dollar and despite the fact that tourism overall has been increasing.

johngoldfine said...

UK immigration and passport require an address where I will be staying. The last thing they want to hear from me is, "Well, I'm off on a walking tour, not sure where I'll be tonight exactly, no reservations, but I've never slept under a hedge yet, ha ha."

So, I always give my friend's address in Surrey, which satisfies them, though why it should is a mystery since my friend mostly works and lives in Hong Kong.

I've noticed in the last few years in UK and USA that the passport people want to look into my eyes when they check me against that picture I took when my hair was much longer and all windblown from a motorcycle. One look into my baby blues seems to seal the deal.

They kept being asked, "What if we don't let you in?" The guy would say, Then I guess I'll turn around and go home. And this wasn't good enough.

Nice vignette--last sentence says a lot and then keeps echoing.

johngoldfine said...

"What if we don't let you in?"

I suppose the answer they are hoping to hear is, "Then I will just try slipping past at some other border crossing, of course!"

But how likely is it that anyone with wits enough to be let out of the house alone would answer like that?

L-girl said...

Northern Girl, although I agree with you completely, that audio of the supposed couple's trouble at the border was fake.

L-girl said...

Yes, it's the same for searching our car. Knowing we are getting stopped and searched every time, would we be stupid enough to carry anything illegal? Not that I have anything illegal to carry - I certainly don't - but if I did, how stupid would I be to take it over the border by car these days?

I think the car search is a way of them telling us, we've been here, we can do this, we will do it, any time we want.

Andromeda Mesmer said...

Well -- you or Allen could have had a worse adventure, as when biologist/science fiction writer Dr. Peter Watts was trying to get *into* Canada from Port Huron, to beat a winter storm. He was stopped for an extra inspection, finally wound up as a convicted felon and is barred from entering the US. Conclusion of his months long saga is here -- http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=1298#comments

If Peter Watts goes from Toronto to Australia for a convention, he should not take a flight across the Pacific, just in case there is engine trouble, and the plane has to land in Hawaii.

I must confess that I had not heard of US border guards giving ordinary Canadian shoppers a hard time - detrimental to the mall store owners. Not a positive sign for future trends either -- I suspect the hassles and problems at the border are only going to get worse.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Andromeda, I know all about Peter Watts' ordeal. Redsock and I have had much worse times. See the "The Gray Area: In Which I Am..." on the sidebar.

The mall shoppers' ordeal that is making the rounds on the internet is fake.

L-girl said...

Also, many people seem to forget when making these comparisons, I am a US citizen with a US passport and no arrests. The hassles pointed out are usually of people holding passports of other countries, which is bad enough. This is with a US passport - the hallowed document that's supposed to be a free pass to everywhere.