Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Canadian v. U.S. Security ... Or Home At Last

Would you be surprised to learn that a United States Government Accountability Report released yesterday cited major failures by the US Customs and Border Protection at their 'Ports of Entry", with the result that "several thousand" individuals who were inadmissible under the immigration law, were nevertheless permitted to enter the country?

This despite “significant progress in certain areas" and the fact that in 2006, officers turned away 200,000 travelers ineligible to enter the country, with "574 noncitizens and 63 criminal aliens" said to be refused daily.
The Report cited instances of officers’ waving vehicles and pedestrians into the country without stopping them or even looking up from a computer screen. Officers did not interview passengers in back seats or board recreational vehicles to see who was inside.

Seven of the ports were so short-staffed that managers had to cancel training sessions to keep operations running, the report said. Some officers balked at searching for drugs because they had not been properly trained.

Officers exhausted from double shifts called in sick to avoid overtime duty, the report said, and poor morale had driven officers out of the agency.

Two of the Congressional investigators who tested the inspection system at one land port of entry were simply asked by an officer at a desk if they were American citizens. They said “yes” and were passed through.
It doesn't surpise me much. Simply because whether pre or post-911, entering the United States has always been 'easy as pie' for us. I remember as a kid taking multiple car trips to and through the States. And when we drove to Florida two years ago, although I had my husband sign formal certificates stating that I had his permission to take our children out of the country without him, no one even questioned the issue. At least, not until we crossed the border back into Canada. Only then did Canadian officials ask about the status of the kids. Waved through by the US officials, yes, we were.

Even more interesting was my trip to California in 2003. I flew from Halifax to Boston and the only questioning I really faced was the exact address of where I would be staying in California. Which (long story) I didn't have readily available to me. The Customs officer sent me to phone an American friend to confirm an address. But when I went to a stewardess for directions to a phone, we chatted for a few minutes and when she found out that I had with me the address of another American friend (even though I told her that not only was I not staying there but I wouldn't even be actually going anywhere near there), she insisted that I should just use that.

Coming back home, however, was another story. There were a few Americans who got off the red eye flight with me in Halifax. One guy even had a gun case with him. When I first got off the plane, I went to the restroom and when I came out, the other people from the flight were gone. So I was a little surprised when I picked up my suitcases and was told to go wait 'down there".

My luggage was eventually thoroughly searched by a rather uptight, cranky Canadian Customs Agent who had lots of questions to ask. Why was I in the US? she wanted to know. Well, once upon a time a person could get away with a 'business' or 'pleasure' response. So I replied "Pleasure". Nope. What exactly was I doing there? Visiting friends. Were these friends American? Mostly, but one couple was from the UK. How long had I known these friends? About 6 years. Did I meet them online? Why, yes I had. Were they all female?

Now by this time my poor sleep-deprived brain was starting to wake up. But only starting to. I told her that one person was male and must have given her a bit of a perplexed look. Because she immediately told me that there was no need to be embarassed, it happened all the time. I told her I wasn't embarassed, just confused by her questions.

And then 'Ding, Ding' .. the bells went off and the lights came on. Boy, had she went down the wrong road! I started laughing and told her that no, I had a daughter with seizures on a special diet and had met a group of moms online whose children had the same condition. And finally after six years of corresponding, some of us manged to get together.

Talk about an attitude change... she immediately asked if my family was waiting for me (Yes, they were). Well I am sure that my socks, underwear and the $10 T-shirts I had bought for the kids appreicated being finally left alone. She quickly repacked my suitcase, told me to have a nice day and sent me on my way.

Yup, always has been harder to get through Canadian Customs, I find. And to think that I live here. And actually pay their salaries. Its probably a good thing I was half asleep and stunned through most of that latter incident or I most likely would have told her that I would be happy to answer her questions ... if she could show me by what authority I had to. THAT no doubt would have resulted in extending that four day trip by another five or six hours.

Ah well, better safe than sorry as they say.

H/T to James Patterson Law Office


doorkeeper said...

Only surprised that I never heard this story! I've no problem with being stopped, having my documents thoroughly checked, even having to HAVE said documents. No problem, even, with occasionally being searched and/or questioned.

I know it's not possible to do that for every person, but I sure wish it was. It'd make it harder for the bad guys (gals?) ;-)

MMC said...

Thanks for the comments, d. Looks like its about time I opened this up to the rest of the world, you think?
BTW you did hear this story before. Or at least I did tell it in the Cafe sometime after my return. It probably just got buried in that heady over-the-top email rush we had. Remember?

Anonymous said...

Ahhh frontier stories.Checkpoint stories.I find everytime you cross into a neighbouring country you will have a tale to tell. Crossing into Chile from Argentina several years ago we had to go through the usual document showing, question answering and then alack,alas! boot and backseat checking :( they found a bag of raisins, nuts and some apples. Ignorant that we were we never thought raisins and nuts would have to be left behind! (we had been munching these on our trip. The apples, okay but ... the long and the short of it all is that no way were we going to leave our stash of goodies for them to end up eating - so we sat in the car and ate all we could -there were 4 of us. The rest we made sure it went into the rubbish bin! I know, a bit childish ... but we were young and fun back then. On our return trip we sailed through back into Argentina - it must have been their coffee break!Nobody cared what we carried!
A case of the luck of the draw!