The Story of a Border Crossing
There’s a lot of news coming out of the US lately, much of it relating to the country’s borders and who is apparently wanted in the country or not. Lately this news has been popping up in Canada as well, with Canadians being turned away from the US border for no apparent reason and general concern about not being admitted to the US where there was no concern before.
We traveled to the US in January, after the election but before the inauguration. In some ways our experience was reflective of these new trends at the border, and in other ways… not so much.
It was a 22-hour drive from where we were in Canada to go visit Lisa’s family in the US. After leaving early in the morning in a dicey blizzard, we reached the border in the first leg of our trip only a few hours later.
That’s when things got dicier.
We pulled up our car and tried to evoke a smile from the grumpy US border guard. He wasn’t having it. He told us to pull around the building and come inside. Sure, no problem.
We were then questioned by some agents at a desk, much like at an airport border control. We answered their questions willingly. So far so good.
We were asked to take a seat, and a few minutes later Lisa was called back into a private room for questioning. Where do you live, what are you doing in the States, what do your parents do, why should I let you into the States, etc. It seems that he forgot at times that Lisa is an American citizen and was traveling into the US with her American passport, so denying her entry wasn’t really an option.
Denying entry to Elliott was an option, however, and he was subjected to the same line of questioning after also being called into a back room for interrogation. You can’t help but wonder whether his ethnic ambiguity had anything to do with it. He was asked to empty his pockets, with one agent going through his cell phone and wallet while the other pursued a similar line of questioning.
Eventually we were let into a room together, and several minutes later they led us to a garage where, magically, our little car had appeared! It seems as though they took the keys when Elliott emptied his pocket, drove the car into the garage, and searched it without ever letting us know at all. Interesting.
Luckily the agent then told us he was kind enough to let Elliott into the US that day, but in the future it would be helpful to bring along documentation of assets in Canada to prove that Elliott would eventually be leaving again. Fair enough.
We got into our car, gave our paper release slip to a guard in a little exit booth, and headed on our merry way, when about ten minutes later Elliott realized that after he had emptied his pockets they took his pocket knife for “testing” and never ended up giving it back. Not cool!
So we turned around, headed back to the border crossing, and parked just outside. Huddled against the -35° C temperatures, Elliott shuffled over to the exit booth, knocked on the window, and explained the situation to the guard there. The guard tried to call to the main building, but there was no answer. “Just head over to that door there, go inside, and tell them the situation.” Sure! So Elliott ran over to the door, except… where was the door? With his hands in his pockets and trying to shove his face as deep into his jacket as he could to protect from the freezing wind, he found himself circling the building but seeing nothing but exit doors and no way in.
Suddenly there was somebody yelling. He looked up. There was a border guard, hand on her gun, yelling at him to get his hands out of his pockets. Great.
He put his hands in the air, made his way over to the guard, and luckily it was the very guard who had taken his little pocket knife in the first place! The guard recognized Elliott, the issue of the missing pocket knife was explained, and Elliott was escorted back into the building where he was finally given his prized pocket knife (seriously, it’s an important little pocket knife). All was again right in the world!
He was free to make his way back to the little exit booth by foot, but on his way there the guard he initially talked to was on his way back to the main building. Realizing this, the guard told Elliott to “tell the new guy in the booth that I said you’re good to go.” Really, that’s it? Well, OK!
Elliott proceeded to the booth and knocked on the window. The guard inside looked down on him skeptically. Fully realizing how ludicrous it was, Elliott proclaimed “Uh, that guy over there (who was now out of sight) said I’m good to go…”
“You’re good to go? Really?”
“Uh, yeah, pretty legit, right? But that’s what he told me to tell you…”
“I’m supposed to let you in because you tell me you’re ‘good to go?'”
“I guess so. Actually though, I’m good to go.”
“Alright. Welcome to the United States.”
And that, my friends, is how you get into the United States. Even after all of that questioning, searching, suspicion, posturing, and unintended seizing of property, all it took to get into the US along the world’s longest undefended border was a confident “I’m good to go” and a knowing nod.
If it’s really that easy, no wonder why some people down there feel like they need a wall.