Bush's bullies at the border

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Bush's bullies at the border




I've crossed many borders in my life: I've been held up for 12 hours at the Bulgarian-Turkish border while my travelling companions, home-coming Turks, negotiated the size of the bribe to be paid to the border officials; I've had my car inspected at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin by suspicious East German police. But the border I've crossed most recently is the American one, by car between St. Stephen, New Brunswick and Calais, Maine. It wasn't pretty.

[url=http://www.rabble.ca/in_your_own_words.shtml?sh_itm=3bae3190e9e6f04fcaf0... Full story [/url]


Great article, Sharon. This stuff particularly pisses me off now as a close friend of mine who is a prof in France is now on sabbatical doing research in Harvard, as is his wife. I'd love to go down and visit them and see Boston again, but even returning here to my "own" country has become a bit of an ordeal, with arbitrary searches and questioning ...

One editorial point. PLEASE include dates of original publication when quoting an article!


Right away, lagatta. Sorry about that.


Thanks, Sharon! [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

I really hesitate to go to the US these days, too. I was hassled at the border because of my line of work (filmmaker/producer/writer) before 9/11 on the precept that I might be going down to work illegally -- in Albuquerque, of all places, with a 2 year old in tow. [img]rolleyes.gif" border="0[/img]

I will probably have to go south at some point, though. Not looking forward to it, since it seems that some of the rudest border staff in the world have gotten a whole lot worse.


I always got the same stuff too, and not just for political reasons but for being a freelance translator (don't even mention visual artist). As if a freelancer with no employer-paid health coverage would long to go live and work in the States ... [img]rolleyes.gif" border="0[/img] .

Though you've got to admit, the warm, dry desert air of Albuquerque does have its charms this time of year, no?


Sorry you've had such a rough time trying to enter my adopted country. As a dual citizen (Canada & US) I have crossed the border many times since 9/11. I have yet to have a problem with any Customs and/or Immigration person on either side of the border. In fact, my wife and I were able to fly to Halifax and back to New York without passports because we stupidly forgot them at home. While we had to answer a few questions we were able to cross in both directions with relatively little problem. I think attitude has a lot do with it. If you think you're going to have a problem, you probably will.


The Customs people at the US border are raised up and trained on a steady diet of first being assigned to the southern borders, then later, when they get some seniority, being allowed to work the northern border.

As a result, they carry the attitude problem that a lot of white Americans have about "immigrants" northward with them, and as a result the ludicrous spectacle of treating visitors from a neighboring industrialized nation as though they were all potentially illegal immigrants is often seen.

Now, I hasten to point out that I don't think that it is fair that customs officials of [i]any[/i] country be excessively, boorishly rude and unprofessional in conducting their jobs.

But nonetheless, the attitude of the officials On High in the USA validates the prevailing suspicion of all outsiders that seems to prevail at US Customs. [img]frown.gif" border="0[/img]

Rufus Polson


Originally posted by rosweed:
[b]I think attitude has a lot do with it. If you think you're going to have a problem, you probably will.[/b]

I think skin colour has a lot to do with it. And hair length. If you are, or are travelling with, someone whose complexion isn't peaches-and-cream or who does not look clean-cut, you're way more likely to have trouble.
So in this case, travelling with an Italian was the trigger. An Italian is in the worst possible shape--on one hand, they look vaguely dark, which is good enough for a good ol' boy. But on the other, they're from a first world democracy and aren't used to being treated like criminals, so they're not likely to suffer ill-treatment submissively. That may change if Berlusconi has his way, mind you.


I remember Jan Wong of all people getting a hard time at the Canadian border from a racist customs official. Yeah, race does play a big part these days - a friend of Egyptian origin who arrived here at the age of 3 really doesn't feel like visiting her family in Texas these days.

Italians, well, they can look just as "Mediterranean" as folks from nearby Tunisia - certainly the Arab strain is strong in a lot of Sicilians, and Andalusians from the south of Spain, for obvious reasons. But northern Italians can look like Swiss or Austrians.


I hope that the BBB (bushes border bullies) get even worse. The tourist industry all over usa can go down---yipee--maybe dysney land/world will take a seriouse hit--goody

Here's to the BBB long may they snarl and snivel.

(I would like to meet one hunting in a remote Canadian valley--somewhere--some time---oh well--tireus flatus and all that)


We did the Woodstock NB/Houlton ME (about an hour north of the Calais crossing in this article) this summer at about 3:00 am back in August; no problem. We got pulled into the office in Buffalo once and were about to be turned back due to insufficient ID - couldn't prove we were Canadian. The only thing that got us through was being able to identify the number and name of our Territories. It was truly a defining Canuck moment for me.

As for the unpleasantness described in this article, it brings to mind that grand old slight that the imperial British used on the subject of their neighbours: "The wogs begin at Calais."

[ 07 January 2004: Message edited by: praenomen3 ]


I go down every month or so and have never had a problem. Take a passport rather than other ID (I believe it will be required in the near future). Take a printout of your travel itinerary, tickets, reservations, etc. (especially if you have a "freelance" type occupation). These will make things easier if the agent is unsure of you. They're not friendly, talkative folks, but I've never encountered a rude one.

Those of you who say you've been hassled, can you be more specifc about what you mean? It's their job to assess your intentions and truthfulness.


I've never travelled with anything but my passport, as I haven't got a driving licence and certainly wouldn't just use my healthcare card. I'm unfailingly polite.

I've certainly always shown tickets if asked, or reservations if I was staying at a hotel for a conference (if not, I'd be staying with friends).

I've had trouble in the past for political reasons, so I wouldn't even try these days.

Tommy Shanks

I've never really had a problem either in my frequent visits to the US (a half-dozen times since November). Of course I travel with a passport, my itinerary, documents about meetings or conferences I'll attend. And actually I've been hassled more frequently and aggressively by Canadian agents about the numbers of cigarettes or booze I'm not bringing back then by US agents.

Last time though I got asked for the specific US address I was at, not simply the hotel name and city. Well who knows, so I made up a street number in NYC. The agent insisted it was a new regulation. I don't know if she was serious or pulling my chain.


I've been in 20 countries and the rudest border guards are always the Americans. This is not new. I think they take a course in bad manners. And another course in intimidation. (Can't let GW have all the fun; we want to be bullies too.)

It has all got worse since 9/11. I don't want to go into the US anymore. I'm fed up with American bullying. I don't need to be subjected to their harrassment. My American relatives, and some of my Canadian ones, don't understand my problem. Disneyland is worth the hassle, isn't it Dad? Well, no it isn't.

And I would truely like to get the US border guards out of Canadian airports.


I sneezed on a US border guard. He asked me to cover my mouth, and handed me a SARS pamphlet with a pained expression.

I went in the summer for a couple of weeks to the US. Aside from being only a Canadian citizen, I am well within the War on Terra Target Demographic. I had a letter from my hosts in the US, and this may have eliminated problems. On my way back, they did a cursory search of my luggage behind the scenes and left me a nice apology note--I am told that this has happened to people outside my Demographic, so I wasn't too worried about it.

But I am going to have to make some decisions soon. I am planning to get a doctorate, and if I'm going to pursue research in my area, I have to apply to US universities, really. There are very few places in Canada where I can do what I want to do. If I don't get into the Canadian places, then I really will have to contemplate living in the US for a few years.


My most recent trip to the US was as uneventful and unremarkable as most of the others I've made over the years have been. No problem whatever at the Vancouver airport. Minimal search of interior walls of bags with a tissue that was subsequently scanned for trace elements, conducted politely, on our return through LA airport during the Orange Lert. Some police and emergency vehicles on some roads around LAX but they weren't holding up traffic when we passed through. We even got off on a wrong road at one point and the armed guy who stopped us was most polite and helpful.

My beloved and I are 55 years old and white. Good luggage, well dressed etc.

This trip was an important reminder to me that I by and large like the American citizens I've met over the years of my life. Then again, I like most people I meet. I'm an equal opportunity liker.


Oh, I forgot the sandwich. I made the mistake of declaring my chicken bologna sandwich at Pearson. This got me sent to the USDA inspection office. There the nice Indian Lady opened my sandwich, fondled the meat with her latex-gloved hands, and sent me on. Out the wrong door, which delayed me even further. Then I had to run about a kilometer to get to my gate.

Man, Pearson 2 is long.


The varying experiences reported in this thread are typical. Some people cross into the US with ease; others get hassled. I get hassled every time. I don't know why. It doesn't happen when crossing into other countries; just the US.


When you get hassled once by US customs, you're bound to be hassled over and over again, because they have good records. When you're struggling to remember exactly when your last trip to the US was, they've got the exact dates on their computer screens. They have your passport number and licence plate number on file. One jerky INS officer or one attitude trip on your part can brand you for life.

I used to get work visas to the states all the time, and the officers were usually very rude until they decided if they were going to grant one. Once they decided to issue the visa they all turned very friendly and polite.


One thing that may be a factor is that my passport, and their records, has stamps from a lot of countries. I've heard that world travelers are automatic suspects (unofficially).


I have no desire to ever return to the U.S.,so,these issues have little effect upon my life.I'm not surprised Joe Businessman gets through with little hassles.I have a feeling it wouldn't be so easy for "hippies" from the Slocan Valley(i.e.Pot Central)driving a 1985 Chevy truck.Besides,it's time to "Boycott America".Leave the sucking up to our new Prime Minister.

Tommy Shanks

A slight quibble. "Joe Businessman" (or Jane for that matter) probably encounters more hassles from US Customs than your average folks. Issues over if you'll get paid in the US, by whom, who you work for, who is paying for your trip, have waylaid more then a few of my aquaintences. Try getting into LA from Vancouver for 1 day when you're from Toronto. Or driving to Plattsburg from Montreal.

Daytrippers and tourists out for a little vacation don't seem to have much of a problem, either driving, flying, or whatever.

Edit: spelling

[ 08 January 2004: Message edited by: Tommy Shanks ]


So, I guess crossing in a VW bus with Jerry Garcia airbrushed on the side in say, September, from the Kootenays, would be a bad idea? Would it help to be mouthy? [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img]


I too have lost interest in ever wanting to travel to this apparent distancing land of uncertain developing fascist state. I hope my sister can get out before the walls tumble. American citizens... [img]eek.gif" border="0[/img] WAKE UP !! You are fast becoming a democratic joke before the world but even more important you are fast losing the very fundamentals that you speak of so loudly ... FREEDOM and it has NOTHING to do with terrorism except for that within the hallowed borders.

[ 09 January 2004: Message edited by: dare2win ]



So, I guess crossing in a VW bus with Jerry Garcia airbrushed on the side in say, September, from the Kootenays, would be a bad idea?


Heh heh. There was a well-worn trail that crosses into Washington. Now there are sensors on it on both sides of the border-clearing. But seriously, most of [i]that[/i] traffic works the other way: multi-million dollar yachts from down south have a certain unspoken immunity to search from yankee gunboats. Must be a 'class' thing.

I'm sure that lot's of folks still recklessly cross the border by kayak and small runabout.

In the mid-nineties a shy fellow I knew got caught in a kayak during an illegal contraband-smuggling effort one night when his girlfriend had a panic attack as they approached the beach on the American side. Some guy was sitting out on his porch with binoculars at 4:00 a.m! called the authorities. He was sentenced to seven years but fortunately got deported to serve his time in Canada.


Check out this border-related nightmare: [url=http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/A...


FREDERICTON - Residents of New Brunswick's Campobello Island have become virtual castaways in a sea of new cross-border trade restrictions.

Just doing a bit of grocery shopping has become a retail waltz of one step forward and two steps back, with border officials walking on their toes at every turn.

Frustration is breaking out across the island off southwest New Brunswick - which can only be reached most of the year through the state of Maine - now that the mad cow scare has produced barriers to the movement of meat and meat products on both sides of the border.


earlier this week, a friend of his tried to bring home a couple of cans of chicken dog food, purchased on the U.S. side of the border in Lubec, Maine.

"He went across, got the dog food and when he got to Canadian customs, they wouldn't let him bring it in," Hooper said.

"He went back to U.S. customs and they wouldn't let him bring it across there, so he went back across to the Canadian side and they still said 'no."'

The man had to return to U.S. customs and was told to call the store in Lubec where he bought it to confirm his purchase. He was then allowed to take it back.

This stuff is gettin' outta hand.


I get to cross the border once or twice a week in my job as a truck driver, and I have to say that the American side is more liable to be rude than the Canadian side. I spend a lot of time standing in line waiting to clear my freight, and I have nothing to do but watch these people. I have a secret theory, and this is it: In order to be hired by the American Customs and Immigration Service, you had to be the most picked on kid in your class. That way, when they put a uniform and gun on you, you are really ready to get even. (I feel a full cavity search coming up!)
My vote for the most polite Customs service goes to Cuba.


That's a relief. My parents are flying to Cuba tomorrow. (And I'm not! [img]frown.gif" border="0[/img] )


I used to be in the design field (interiors) and had a very interesting experience in border crossings. A Canadian client that had become a friend had bought a condo in Colorado and wanted help decorating it, when I told the customs agent that I was helping a friend with her new home I was denied entry as I would take the design work away from an American citizen. I phoned my friend who then arranged for a hitched ride on a private jet that was leaving Canada that same day and belonged to a Canadian oil comapny.
The difference in treatment was astounding, there were NO customs checks, the pilot simply filled out a form for his passengers not one customs agent even poked his head inside the plane. When we landed in Colorado , dropping me off and picking up others enroute to the Cayman Islands ,a US customs agent poked his head inside the door and asked politely if we were carrying any more than 5,000 in cash or negotiable bonds, we smilingly said "we wish" and he touched his cap and that was it. The fact that an oil company jet was heading to the Grand Caymans should have at least prompted tougher questions as i later heard from one of the passengers that the purpose of these trips was certainly to move cash to untraceable accounts. This was of course pre 911, in fact it was the heady high rolling days of the 80's.
I had my eyes opened that day ; the rich live in a different world.


I adore the name US customs gives a foreign artist working down there: "Alien of Exceptional Talent."

Canada does not subscribe to the Primary Directive, you know. We are free to beam down and influence lesser cultures with our vastly superior, yet benificent presences.

brian smith

For all of you paranoid minorities out there that think you are getting hassled more than everyone else because of the way you look or where you come from, think again! The other day my uncle and I who are both American citizens by birth were returning early from a planned ski trip to Quebec. I am currently employed with the United States Air Force, and my uncle is a 50% service connected disabled veteran of the United States Army. Immediately upon arrival at the inspection station at the Vermont-Quebec border we were asked a few questions and the car was searched. Then we were told to come inside where we were physically searched. Also at this time one of the guards went back out to the car by herself and searched it again. After about an hour of stupid redundant questioning and the guards trying to get us to admit to something that we weren't guilty of, they finally let us proceed. We sure felt welcome to return to the states. We both want to go back to Canada agian, to stay! Keep up the good work border guards. [img]mad.gif" border="0[/img]


Brian, you should really write a letter to your local newspaper, detailing in full the lovely bit of harassment you and your father endured. Copy the letter to your representatives in the House and the Senate, and to the chief of the border station in Vermont where you crossed (if you know or can look up the address). One way to stop the random abuses at the border is by exposing said abuses to the USian public and your elected representatives.

(despite my name, I am being 100% serious here)

[ 25 March 2004: Message edited by: Sarcasmobri ]


I'm going soon to investigate American universities for my PhD studies and have to make a couple of short trips in rapid succession. As soon as/if I choose one, I can look forward to crossing that border many times. But short of changing fields or drastically lowering expectations, it seems to be my fate now.


[url=http://www.rabble.ca/in_his_own_words.shtml?x=74382]"My American border story"[/url] - Keith tells his story about crossing the border from Canada to the US


As Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post recently reported, a small, unnoticed regulation slipped into the Federal Register now gives the U.S. government the right to collect information on American citizens coming back over land crossings.

And they can hold and share that information with whomever they please for 15 years.

The Department of Homeland Security notice blandly states public comments are being taken until Monday, when the "new system of records will be effective."

Doubtless those that comment negatively on the new regulation will find themselves put into the greater security database.

So last year having been asked, and I stress asked, by the friendly border guard to sign my passport, this is the treatment I got on August 19 crossing back from Niagara Falls.

Sven Sven's picture


Originally posted by Michelle:
[b][url=http://www.rabble.ca/in_his_own_words.shtml?x=74382]"My American border story"[/url] - Keith tells his story about crossing the border from Canada to the US[/b]

In the last paragraph of his piece, Keith says "Or maybe I'm just being paranoid."

If he is referring to a single 90-second search as being an outrageously invasive sign of the times, then he's definitely being paranoid.


When I read it, I also thought it wasn't really much different than what happens when I cross the border by bus. The guards are often kind of gruff-talking and they generally open our bags and take a look inside them and then we're on our way. The questions weren't as detailed as the ones I get, either.

But then, I'm not an American citizen. However, the Canadian guards do the same thing when I come back, to Americans and sometimes to Canadians, too. I get asked similar questions by Canadian border guards coming back, although I've never had my bags searched yet. However, I've seen other people have their bags given the once-over.

Maybe Keith is just comparing the difference between previous border crossings and his most current one and noting an increase in security.

Skinny Dipper

Three times I have been to Europe. I landed in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and Paris. Each time, it took about five seconds to go through immigration. Give the guard the passport. Five seconds later, it's back in my hands.

I did get kicked off a train in eastern Germany in 1991 at Frankfurt an der Oder. I didn't have a Polish visa. Canadians needed one back then. Two friends and I were sent past a four foot high symbolic border fence in the middle of the platform and the Polish border guard closed the gate behind us. We stood on the "German" side of the platform waiting for a train to take us back to Berlin.


Well I'm sure everyone has a border story somewhere and some things have changed since 9/11. But routine hassles isn't one of them. So here are a couple of my examples.

Canadian side - A colleague of mine crossed from the U.S. to Canada with his son. He had foolishly left an old pair of stilts in his trunk. The car was searched, he and his 8 year old son were questioned for two hours. The offensive thing was that his son was interrogated separately without supervision. He told his dad that they spent two hours trying to get him to say his dad was performing in Canada.

A friend of mine from Mexico when she first arrived was questioned about whether she lived with her roommate romantically. They told her it was illegal to live with your boyfriend in Canada.

You think you have it tough? Almost all Mexicans travelling through US airports are kept under armed guard while waiting for connecting flights. The only time the friend of mine mentioned above had an exception made was after she married a Canadian. Rather than being sent to the room under guard separately she was allowed to leave because she was married to a Canadian who was with her at the time. They went to the beach instead.

Returning from Jamaica one year I was taken out of line to have my bags searched. I watched the line up and the vast majority of people taken out of line were either black or young white kids who had their hair in braids. Of the black persons there appeared to be no distinct image other than skin colour. Young people, well dressed moms with kids, older people etc. It even didn't seem to matter whether it was a Canadian or Jamaican passport in their hands.

Returning from Haiti one of our volunteers who travels on his Pakistan passport (he has lived here since he was 10 and was then in university) was taken unceremoniously from the immigration line at Miami and placed in a holding room. We tried to assess how long he would be there because we had the connecting flight back to Toronto. No one would say anything until one official looked at the room, shrugged and said, "He may be five minutes or he may never come out." He was released just in time to catch the flight with a few minutes to spare. He told us that they opened a file on him and was asked to sign a document that when scanned had references to being viewed in future as a threat to the US and possibly barred from re-entry. He refused to sign. (The official told him to just sign it and read it later on the flight to Toronto) A supervisor came over looked at him, looked at the info collected and told him he could leave.

As to the poster above who said he/she doesn't like US border guards at Canadian airports I have to disagree. Putting US customs on the Canadian side of Pearson was one of the best, smartest moves possible. I would rather go through customs for a brief moment on the Pearson side than try and get through customs at any US airport. Miami has convinced me of that. Coming back from Haiti can be a nightmare if you have tight connecting flights. Two or three metal detectors in Haiti to get to the plane and two very long separate security/immigration checks in Miami. In contrast going to Haiti it is a relatively brief line up at Pearson and no lineups in Miami which allows you to get off the plane and go have lunch, a drink and calmly wait for the connecting flight to Haiti.

As to the poster above who rants about US tourism, get a grip on the rhetoric. If US citizens decided to stay home even for a year rather than visit Canada our tourism industry would collapse. I'm sure some Americans resent Canadian actions for one reason or the other but we really have to stop lumping all Americans into the Bush column. I traveled by car with my roommate and his daughter to Disney World in Florida a couple of months after the Iraq invasion and not once did anyone ever hassle us. In fact the further south we went the nicer people were in our case.

I think racism plays a part at all border crossings around the world. So claiming some new changed environment due strictly to the Republicans is futile nonsense. All this would be happening under Al Gore/Kerry/Clinton whoever after 9/11. And it will continue under Obama. "Bush's bullies at the border" is really a ridiculous assessment.


To be honest, I haven't noticed much difference pre and post 911. Immigration guards have always been a pain in the backside (Canadian ones are much ruder and inquisitive than their American counterparts) but I really haven't noticed much of a change.


The border kops have given me a very hard time before and since 9-11. Remember that Mulroney TV commercial promoting free trade with the Yanks? The one where the women are trying on shoes state side, and one remarks to the others, "Just think with free trade, we won't have to wear our old shoes back to Canada!!!" Ya, that was all a crock. What they should have said was, "All our finite reserves of fossil fuels and hydro-electric power will have experience zero bureaucratic foulups as they leave Canada for the U.S. and enjoy more rights than actual Canadians themselves. And they'll tell us to shove our lumber up our derrieres at the same time."

At the border, the Yanks used to let me through airports and international bridge crossings with flashing just a Crappy Tire credit card or even driver's licence, never mind a birth certificate or passport and TN visa etc now. And we have to have our "papers in order" before crossing, or else the border KGB will tell you to go home. I think it might have been easier crossing east-west cold war era Europe than this rigormarole.

[ 01 September 2008: Message edited by: Fidel ]


Fidel, I have to say I've never tried to travel either direction on a credit card or driver's license - always used my birth certificate or passport depending on where I was ultimately headed.

The only difference is now I use my passport. I've never had any issues with US Immigration - the odd question about who I'm meeting with but that's about it. Canadian Immigration has generally been much worse, to the point that one of my NY units refused to have meetings in Toronto - they actually fly to Bermuda instead - less grief for them all round.


That's what I mean, Canada's energy and raw materials [i]don't need[/i] passports. And we don't inconvenience American corporations and billionaires when they want to scoop up significant pieces of Canada. It's all about the Americanos' security and prosperity not yours. You will pay more on your home heating bills and at the pump in the near future in order that much can have even more. And yes, you and yours won't be sliding over the border near as easily as Canada's precious fossil juices and raw materials. Remember, as far as the political right is concerned the enemy is people and free movement of labour in general. Otherwise, what's our's is theirs' and never vice versa. Rich and powerful Americanos dictate the rules to Canadians while our pliant yes-men in Ottawa stand idly by nodding up and down in rapid agreement to it all.

[ 01 September 2008: Message edited by: Fidel ]


Fidel, I don't understand the relevance of your point. I said that Canadian Immigration officials were much worse than American. [b]Much worse.[/b]

You somehow turned that into a commentary about raw materials entering the US easier than me???


I agree, our stoogeocrats and border bobbies in Canada are [b]much[/b] worse. Happy now?


Fidel, what are you talking about? Or at least what do you think you're talking about?


I'm sorry, those remarks were neither dignifying nor very complimentary of our fearless leaders. They should be regarded more highly, just not by me.



I think it might have been easier crossing east-west cold war era Europe than this rigormarole

Having done that many times, I can tell you, no; crossing back and forth across the US canada border is much much easier


So what's with the barbed wire fences and walling off of America from its trading freely partner countries?