A reader writes:
Your post was right on the money. I drive an 18-wheeler and haul cars in the US and Canada. When entering Canada, I’m treated with professionalism, asked specific questions, and granted access. But when I return from Canada, I am treated as if I’m, at minimum, smuggling something illegal and asked numerous questions, sometimes the same question more than once. I can only imagine the way foreign nationals are treated if I am treated this way as an American citizen. And I’m a white guy in my 60s who doesn’t fit any kind of a profile that would warrant this level of scrutiny.
Several other readers share their experiences:
Nice timing of your post, as I was just mailing my wife’s I-751 form to lift her conditional status on her green card. Being born here myself, I had no idea on how badly we treat people trying to immigrate here until I went through it with my wife.
She’s from Germany, and before we got married we had to worry each time she entered the country, even though we were following the rules and doing nothing wrong. She was grilled each time she entered and it was always the same; they presumed she was up to no good and she had to convince them otherwise. All it takes is for one immigration agent to have doubts and you can be sent back and ruin your chances to complete the immigration process. I, on the other hand, never had any problems going to Germany and was never treated there like she was treated here.
Then we had to go to the immigration agency to be interviewed to ensure our marriage was legitimate. I wasn’t worried, because from my perspective we had nothing to hide, but once the interview started it became apparent that the guy who was handling our case wasn’t simply interested in confirming that we were genuine about getting married. He proceeded to tell me that I was a bad father because I was getting remarried soon after getting divorced and at one point looked at me and said, “You know your kids will be messed up for life.” It was all I could do to not jump over the table and strangle the guy. My kids wellbeing have ZERO to do with the legitimacy of my marriage, but he wanted to get me mad, say something to give him a reason to deny her a green card.
I’m educated and have a good income, plus my wife’s from Germany, so I can only imagine we had it much easier than those without money coming from Third World countries.
This story is consistent with your post:
A virtuoso performer is devastated after he claims customs officials at John F. Kennedy International Airport destroyed 13 handmade flutes. Boujemaa Razgui says he was passing though the airport when he was questioned about the unique instruments the was carrying. He was then given a number call, only to discover that that his valuable nay and kawala flutes had already been deemed agricultural products and crushed. Razgui said: “They told me they were destroyed. Nobody talked to me. They said I have to write a letter to the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. This is horrible. I don’t know what to do.”
It’s also consistent with what I hear from travelers generally, even those who are US citizens but who also may be of a darker hue or whose name is something suggests an ethnicity other than white, non-Hispanic.
I’m a US citizen who has lived outside of the US since 1998. My least favourite country to travel to is the US. While I’m sure that my experience is not as brutal as yours or as others who apply for visas, it can also be brutal for US citizens going home.
A year ago at Christmas my family (my wife and daughter are also American) was traveling home to be with our extended family. The border agent – I think this was at LAX – after asking us many questions about where we worked and what we did then asked us why we were coming to America. I wanted to tell him to fuck off as it was none of his business why I wanted to come home to my own country. Of course all I could do was smile and answer or else suffer the pain of being pulled into an interrogation room for hours. Previously to this he’d subtly changed our answers and repeated the same question back to us to try and catch us out as he appeared to assume we were lying. Mind you, I probably shouldn’t have told him that my wife worked in UXO removal eliminating the ongoing legacy of secret US bombing in Laos.
I’ve been pulled aside, carefully searched, and had my checked bag marked with a big red “Security Risk – Load Last” tag in Heathrow (I was working in Afghanistan at the time) and thoroughly questioned at many other borders. But they are almost always polite and in the case of the Heathrow agents apologetic for my treatment. But US border agents are almost unfailingly rude and brusque even if you’re an American flying home.
Another US citizen:
On your tourism post, I’m not exactly a world traveler, but I’ve traveled to Europe a good bit. Last year my wife and I went to England and Turkey. We flew into Heathrow and it took us about 10 minutes to be on the way to the Heathrow Express. We filled out a little form and told a very nice man that the reason for our visit was pleasure and, after a stamp in my passport we were off. We flew from London into Attaturk Airport in Istanbul and the wait was a bit longer because we had to go through two lines (one for the visa and one for customs) but it might have taken 30 minutes total as the lines were long. Again, we filled out a little form and told the men at the two booths that we were in Turkey for pleasure, got stamps and we were off.
It was quick, easy as about as painless as checking out of the grocery store. Given that I’m an American, I had no idea getting into here was so hard, but I’m certainly not surprised.