On the Crossing of Borders
In this year of 2016, when we are all worried about climate change and the excessive emission of greenhouse gases, when we are mostly trying to minimise our carbon footprints it seems reasonable to expect that those in charge of travelling should work with us, just a little. Especially those who let us in and out of the countries that we visit – the world’s Border Patrols or whatever they call them where you come from.
We have recently had an old friend from the US visit us as a break from an extended business trip to the top right-hand corner of the continent. As his visit came to an end we had arranged to drive him down to a border crossing where he planned to walk across and be picked up on the other side by his next hosts. That should be a simple thing to do, but it turned out that he might be the first ever person to even consider not crossing the border in the moderen way with four wheels and an internal combustion engine powering him. That’s simply the American (and Canadian) way to do these things and anything else is deeply suspicious and possible even a threat to world security. So we drove him to within a couple of hundred metres of the border, said our farewells and away he trudged … I’ll let him relate what happened in his own words:
“ … crossing the border was a bit intimidating. Two agents (armed, no doubt) came at me simultaneously from 45 deg. angles to R and L. They seemed incredulous of my story but eventually accepted it. Cautiously, with verbal accompaniment, I gave them my US passport (I have my passport here in my pocket. Do you want to see it? No sudden motions) and that seemed to smooth things out a bit but they kept up the interrogation for a while. Why are you going to Highgate? Who do you know there? I gave the name but the guy didn’t know her so that was a minor problem (I assume he lives in Highgate along with all 43 other people) until I remembered that although the school is in Highgate, she actually lives in Chittenden — down by Burlington. Big city, so he wouldn’t be expected to know her… Then they just treated me like a car. Closed the lane and processed me as if I were a car standing there, then handed back my passport and raised the gate for me! I sat under a tree by the parking lot, wondering where I would be waiting if it had been raining.”
He went on to say “I did everything a person in a car would have done, sans car. I even walked straight up the car lane because there were no other options. And they went crazy! It makes no sense that the lack of a car should set off such alarm bells. It should be the other way around!”
And THAT friendly “welcome home” greeting was to a fully paid up, clean record, white Caucasian male citizen of the US carrying his passport. WHAT would they do to a solo traveller from another land, a hiker for example?
Not that this is just a US thing – flying into Iceland last summer we were almost strip searched along with everyone else on the plane as we had come from a “unsafe country” (Canada). Going through the airport boder point at London’s Heathrow airport I always get a suspicious look and a semi-third degree interview despite the fact that while I travel on a Canadian passport I am also a UK citizen – as their computers screen informs them.
Welcome traveller indeed. You have to be a special sort of Neanderthal to work for immigration anywhere on the planet.
What happened to the old supposition that strangers met along the road are benign and friendly unless proven otherwise and to be met with a smile and a welcoming gesture? What, come to that, happened to the idea that people sometimes go walking and that the use of a car is not obligatory. Why should the fact that you arrive on your own feet be an automatic reason for deep suspicion?