Wednesday, November 11, 2009
my border story continues
You can see the U.S. paper mill at International Falls in the background of this old gravestone in the Fort Frances cemetary. The U.S. Boise Cascade Mill is on the opposite shore of Rainy River, directly across from the cemetary. I didn't take any photos while I was in International Falls on Saturday evening, as I was too crabby after being questioned at the border and having my car searched by the US border guards! After that I didn't even want to go into their country, but it was too late then. They take a photo of you, however. When you drive up to the U.S. border you will have your photo taken by an automated machine; everyone does. As you drive up to the booth, the telltale flash of your photo being taken surprises you. It wasn't that long ago we didn't even need a driver's licence to cross! Just a question or two and you were waved through. Now, it's security on steroids.
It was my passport that seemed to interest the young man in the booth when I drove up to cross over the bridge. As soon as he put it into the passport scanning machine, he turned to the side, away from me and made a phone call. I had a sense then that I was not going to just get through easily as I had been told by folks in Fort Frances.
I guessed it was the two recent Lebanese stamps in my passport.
You have to come in for questioning, said the fresh-faced young man with an eager excited grin, as he came up to my car window.
Questioning, I asked?
Yes, he said. Park over there, and follow me inside. Where are you from? he asked me for the second time. What are you doing in Fort Frances, he asked me for the second time. Where are you staying? Why do you want to come to the U.S.? What work do you do in Thunder Bay? What do you teach? he asked as I followed him inside to the back counter.
Empty your pockets, he said, tapping the counter. The border office looked shiny and new. I put my car keys on the counter. No, I said empty your pockets, he said. That's it, I said.
I need your purse, he said, pointing at by yellow bag. I gave it to him and he went through each and every object I had inside. At this point I wasn't too crabby yet. I thought he was maybe new on the job and I was the excitement for Saturday late afternoon in small town America on the border. Or maybe I had the unfortunate luck of being a quota that had to be filled. As I hadn't crossed over into the U.S. before at the International Falls border, maybe this come-inside questioning is just protocal?
"U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws."
No, I think it was the Lebanese stamps in my passport. Maybe the U.S. border was put on high alert because of the killings at Fort Hood? Maybe the recent Lebanese stamps suggested drug smuggling? Certainly, my middle-aged whiteness did not signal any alarm bells.
As he went through my purse, another border guard came to stand beside him, on his right. He opened his jacket; a taser jutted out from his hip. He zipped his jacket up and walked away. I turned my head; another border guard carrying a billy stick came up on the left. He scooped my keys off the counter and asked, are these your car keys?
Yes, they are, I said.
He came back after a few minutes and asked loudly from by the door in a gruff voice, Do you have any weapons in your car? I looked at him, confused. Any guns? knives? ammunition?
Weapons? I asked. No, no weapons, I said.
He left out the glass doors and began searching my car.
I turned to the young fresh faced border guard and said, Unlike Americans, Canadians don't have the constitutional right to bear arms, and we don't carry weapons in our cars. It's not standard practice for Canadians.
The young fresh-faced fellow was still going through my purse, unzipping and poking about the errata that I carry around. I remember thinking, thank goodness I took out the organic tobacco I had bought in Lebanon. I had brought it with me to Fort Frances to give a bit to each student as a gift for offerings. And thank goodness I removed the bag full of bird feathers I had gleaned at the killing rock at Lake Windigoostigwan from the front seat before I left the B&B. I was going to drive off but then I thought, what if I get stopped? How will I explain this bag full of bird feathers? Some of them had a bit of blood still on them. Who knows, maybe someone would wonder what sort of voodoo I was up to. Better put it inside.
Next, I had to fill out a form that had a lot of checkmarks about whether I had had assaulted a US border guard, or been arrested in the US, or been in jail in the US, and other questions to do with criminal behaviour against policing and security. I checked NO in all boxes.
Then I was directed to sit. Young fresh face went outside to join watching-too-many-Hollywood-movies / spending-a lot-of-time-in-the-weightroom whose feet were sticking out of the driver's side. He was doing something lying on the front bench of my car.
Oh, brother, I thought as I sat and waited. I looked around and waited some more. I read the notices tacked on the wall about obstructing US border guards. About resisting the execution of US border guards' work. Eventually another border guard, this time female, came up to me and asked, Where are you from? Thunder Bay, I said. Why are you here? I'm teaching in Fort Frances. She nodded, then left and went back to her work. I was the only one; it wasn't busy.
I waited and looked at the clock.
I looked discretely over my shoulder to see what the 2 guys were doing out by my car. How long is this going to take! The big guy was still lying in the front seat! WTF. Seriously. Now I was getting mad. What the hell is so interesting in the dash of my car?
Oh, brother, I thought. I waited and looked at the clock some more.