Professionalism & US Border Security
This really, really, pains me to admit.
As a Canadian who's lived in the Canada, the US, and Mexico over the years, I've dealt with the proto-simian US border guards and immigration officials a lot. I have have plenty of horror stories I could share, although I won't, just now. It's been consistently just an awful experience.
But I've been noticing something in the past couple of years: they're clearly improving. They look sharper, are more personable and much less rude, and are even asking intelligent questions in a smart way.
They're still some way from approaching excellent, but the improvement is dramatic.
Has anyone else noticed this, or am I just becoming so jaded in my dotage that I can't tell any more?
August 10th, 2005
I've never crossed the Canadian-U.S. border, but it's been my experience that the INS has gotten worse. One guy in particular almost seemed ready to deport me then and there when I let on that I was visiting my girlfriend.
INS inspectors are, in my experience (having entered the US about three times a year for six or so years, normally via Miami, but also through JFK and Dulles), cretins who would deport everyone just on principle. They treat you with contempt and suspicion, and as they're generally the first American you speak to when entering the country they hardly instil any sense of "welcome to America" in the weary traveller.
Mat, that's even more weird. I've come into the US through Miami three or four times this year, and I was actually thinking of my Miami experiences as being better than most.
Of course, I'm not saying they're good, just not as bad. Damn, looks like it's jaded dotage, after all.
August 10th, 2005
Many years ago when I was in grad school I had a friend from India who had just completed his PhD. He was offered an outstanding post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Texas and of course accepted forthwith.
He then scurried off to the American consulate in Toronto with his papers in order to get the appropriate visa. After returning for three interviews and presenting something in the vicinity of one hundred pieces of documentation he left with his shiny new visa authorizing him to live and work (with restrictions) in the US of A for two years.
With the new school year rapidly approaching my friend packed up, sold everything that could not be moved and headed down to Detroit to visit a friend and catch a cheap flight to Texas.
Crossing the Ambassador Bridge he is pulled aside at customs for an immigration check. Fair enough he is a foreigner moving into this country, so he shows them his visa and explains where he's going, what a post-doctoral fellowship is and what he'll be doing there. Four hours later after what can only be considered an intense interrogation here he is returning to Canada with his visa cancelled after the INS officer has decided he doesn't believe him and that the whole PhD/PostDoc thing is all just a ruse for him to illegally stay in America.
Returning to Toronto he immediately went back to the consulate where he was told that there is nothing they can do about it. The officers at the border can deny entrance for any reason (or no reason at all) and there is no appeal. All he could do was re-apply for a new visa which may or may not have been issued since he now had a black mark on his immigration record.
Fortunately, the University of Texas has some pretty first class connections. Apparently, the president of the university called one of the Senators for Texas and a new visa was issued within a couple of weeks. My friend left for Texas via the Toronto Airport where he was greeted very professionally, even amicably by the INS people and was passed through in less than three minutes.
In the more than twenty years since this occurrence my experience and that of my friends pretty much reflects this episode in terms of idiocy and professionalism.
To terminate a long and apparently pointless story, I'd have to say that a healthy minority of INS officers are true simians for whom cretin would be a compliment, most of the rest are just bored bureaucrats with a strange belief that everyone in the entire world is trying to move to America and the last smallish minority are true professionals that it is a pleasure to deal with even when they are grilling you about your intentions.
So it’s probably just a combination of good luck lately in hitting the professionals combined with becoming jaded so that the semi-competent are starting to look good.
August 10th, 2005