in which all questions about our new canadian passports are answered

The good news is the US border guards didn't care about my Canadian passport.

The bad news is the US border guards didn't care about my Canadian passport.

Several people had warned me that as a dual Canadian-US citizen, I could be hassled, denied entry or - as one person put it - "face certain criminal prosecution" for entering the US without a US passport. I know many dual citizens who hold only Canadian passports, and who regularly travel back and forth to the US without the slightest hitch, so I knew this wasn't true. I understand it may technically be true, a law on the books, but it's obviously not enforced in any way.

The only unanswered question was whether my troubles at the border would continue - whether, without my US passport to scan, if I would be flagged. That question has now been definitively answered. Border hassles are now a way of life.

The border guard saw the US birthplace on our passports, typed in our names, and we were off to the races: surrender the keys, escort into the building, the long wait, the questions they already know the answers to. This one took about an hour and 15 minutes.

Once we were cleared, Allan asked the guard returning our passports, "Can you tell us why we were brought in here?"

The guard was clearly uncomfortable with the question. "Don't you know?"

We both said, "We have no idea. No one ever tells us anything. We just come in, answer questions, and they let us go."

Guard: "Have you ever been in trouble?"

Us: "No, never."

Guard: "I'm not at liberty to tell you." He said he could give us a paper explaining how to apply for more information. We said we'd like that, and he went off to get it. When he returned, he was downright chatty. "Here's the information, you fill this out, and you will get a response. I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to tell you more, but you can apply here, and they will respond. . . . "

Yeah thanks have a nice day.

So. I am flagged with the US state department, and that is that.

* * * *

We had dinner with our friends Bruce and Mary and Russell, great peace activists from Buffalo, then stayed up til all hours talking. Bruce Beyer is kind of a legendary figure in the peace movement, a Vietnam draft resister who turned in his draft card, lived in Sweden and then Toronto, returned to the US without amnesty, and continues to work tirelessly for peace and on behalf of military resisters. Bruce is a mainstay of the War Resisters Support Campaign. And becoming friends with him is one of my favourite benefits of this blog.

We had a really good time last night, and we're now groggy and sleep-deprived. (Those things often go together, eh.) Now we're in JFK Airport with about a five-hour wait for our flight to Oakland, equipped with music, netbook and plenty of reading material.


Scott M. said...

I'm delighted to hear that you're in the US safe and sound, if only a bit delayed! Have a great time in California! I'm envious!

allan said...

And once again, the questions we were separately asked were irrelevant and random. There was *never* any logical follow-up, so outside of maybe catching us in a discrepancy, they did not care about our answers.

The lone guard that brought us inside asked "Where are you guys going?" with a mix of disgust and bafflement, with a heavy emphasis on "going", as though the mere act of travelling was borderline psychotic behaviour.

And when the guard came back with the info about how I could inquire into my "adverse screening experience" (as the sheet calls it), he suggested that the reason why we were flagged was the outside guard saw something specific that we knew was packed in a different suitcase than the one he looked into in the hatchback. Nice try.

When we get home, I am going to fill out an inquiry at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Travel Inquiry Program ("DHS TRIP"). The saga continues....

Scott M. said...

I know in Canadian Customs when requests come through from MPs that are routed through head office and sent down they are treated with the utmost seriousness and result in a quite detailed answer. If you're asking about what happened to a visitor (and you get their consent to release the private information to you), you'll get as detailed a response as if you asked about yourself.

Perhaps you might be able to get a similar response from US Customs if a US resident were to ask his/her representative or senator to write on your behalf?

Amy said...

I do hope you follow up and inquire, though I doubt you will get any real explanation.

Dharma Seeker said...

I'm disappointed that your troubles continue. I know you probably don't sweat it that much but I had hoped you'd have a more favourable border crossing experience this time. Good for your for pursuing it.

Nitangae said...

Well, thank you for going through this for the rest of us.

Wear it like a badge of honour. I remember when I was in Atlanta I saw a mock wanted poster in honour of Angela Davies: "Wanted for being a black woman with a mind of her own." The second part at least describes you.

Gunner said...

Well consistency is the preserve of small minds...

tim said...

Soooooo frustrating. I guess its good that you didn't miss the flight or anything because of it, but how incredibly annoying and unnecessary.

I'm curious to see what their response to your inquiry will be. "Adverse screening experience" - lol

I also read your cali post - sounds like a fun trip! Hope you guys enjoy it and enjoy the game with Zen today.

Oh, and re: the cali post - you said that SF is the second best city in the US. I can only assume that means Buffalo is #1 =)

laura k said...

Thanks, everyone. I really appreciate it.

Nitangae, you flatter me. I'm touched.

Scott, I think you're talking about a basic difference between Canada and the US. I'd be shocked if anyone ever treated anything like this with seriousness - or at all.

No US representative will do anything on my behalf, with or without an intervening US resident.

Tim, yes, Buffalo. Where else? ;)

Dharma Seeker, at this point it doesn't stress me inside. I don't get upset or anxious over it. It's just a huge PITA, a big waste of our time - and a bit depressing to think it will just continue ad infinitum.

Anonymous said...

Here ya go:


And I second the recommendation that you contact your U.S. congresscritter. You are still a U.S. citizen and they still have a duty to help you if you need it.

With regard to contacting Canadian MPs, I can tell you that I had a problem with an extension of my study permit. When my MP's office faxed a letter I wrote, it was cleared up the same day.

Just my $0.02 worth.


laura k said...

No, doesn't help, but I wasn't asking for help.

I would no sooner ask a US representative for help than I would flap my arms and fly to the moon. Scott M suggested asking a US resident to ask on my behalf, which - although not for me - is certainly the only possibility.

Can you imagine calling a US congressperson's office, and they ask for your address, and you don't live in the US - and haven't in 5 years?

Of course an MP helped you. MPs do that. Congresspeople do not - and certainly not for people who don't live in their district!

And my MP can't help me with this, because it has nothing to do with Canada.

And lastly, as it says in the post, we have the DHS address, on the paper that we got from the border guard. Like I said.

I'm sorry to sound snippy, but I would think a US citizen and fellow ex-pat would know the score.

Honestly, I'm not looking for help on this. I don't think there's anything that can be done. I'm just reporting that it happened.

Scott M. said...

Getting a chuckle from the online form M. Yass posted... you get to the second page, where at the top it says: "The following information is voluntary; however, it may be needed to complete your request."

So, I thought I'd just click "Continue" to see where it brought me. And the form politely told me that many fields were required.


(Yes, I find these things funny. Ridicule me at will. :)

Northern Girl said...


I'm so sorry to see that this harrassment is continuing.

tornwordo said...

So they were aware you had dual citizenship/passports and didn't ask why you hadn't entered with your US one? It'd be easier for me to just travel with the one passport but I've been too askeered to date to try it.

laura k said...

So they were aware you had dual citizenship/passports and didn't ask why you hadn't entered with your US one?

Right. Not one word about that.

And as I note, that has been the experience for many people I know, at least 99% of the time. And the 1% was questioned briefly and allowed in.