Saturday, October 16, 2010

US border nightmare

Photo courtesy of Walken Fence Co. This is not a photo of the place where we took the car for export. I did not take any photos there, nor did I intend to take any photos there.

This photo looks very similar to the entrance of the Homeland Facility facility we took our car to for export.

This is a long blog. To shorten it would not do the experience justice.

On the day we left the United States we followed directions to the Homeland Security facility to export our car. We pulled up at a place surrounded by high barbed wire fences. As we pulled up to the gate, it slid open. We drove inside, and gate slid shut behind us.

There were no directions where to go. We parked the truck and car in what we thought were parking spaces because they had faded paint markings for parking.

We told the children to remain in the car with the dog, and we would go inside and ask where we needed to go.

There were no signs on the buildings. We went to go inside, and a guard at a desk put his hand up and shouted “Halt, you cannot come in here”. We asked where we needed to go to have our car title stamped “export” and he pointed down the hallway. He told us we could not walk down the hallway to get there, but had to leave the building and enter through the next door.

We left the building and went back in at the next door. The place looked like a bank inside, except it had tall bullet proof glass to the ceiling.

We thought it wouldn’t take too long, so I went outside to call the kids to tell them to stay put in the car, we would be back in a couple of minutes. A guard followed me outside and said “no cell phone use here – hang up immediately”. I hung up on the kids. He demanded to know who I was talking to. I told him my children were in the car with the dog. He said “no one is permitted to remain in their vehicle, the children must be brought in”. I told him they were staying with the dog, because she was terrified of trucks. Could they wait outside the building with the dog? He said “bring the children in here immediately and the dog must remain in the car”.

I went back to the car, and went to put my cell phone in my pocket. I took my camera out of my pocket to put in the car (I had forgotten the camera was in my jacket pocket). Out of nowhere 2 Homeland Security guards wearing navy bullet proof vests and navy baseball style caps marked “Homeland Security” materialized demanded to know what I was taking pictures of. I said I was not taking any photos, I was putting my camera in the car and going to get my children from the car. I had to give them my camera, and they scrolled through it to make sure there were no photos of the facility, Homeland Security vehicles etc. They handed the camera back to me, satisfied that there were not any objectionable photos there.

While I was being detained by the 2 Homeland Security guards, I saw 3 Homeland Security guards wearing navy bullet proof vests and baseball style caps had surrounded my car, and were talking aggressively to the children. The side door of the car was open, and the children were being ordered to leave the car (dog to remain in car). The children looked very upset.

The 3 guards at the car said “Is this your car and truck”. I said “yes”, and they said “You must remove the car and truck immediately, this is not a parking lot”. The car had been parked there less than 5 minutes and these goons were freaking out saying we were a security threat. If there were signs telling us where to park, we would have parked in the proper place. To confuse matters where we had parked had markings like a parking lot.

I had 2 guards telling me to “remove the children” and get your husband to remove the truck, and 3 guards saying “don’t remove them until you move the car and truck”. I tried to tell them that I didn’t have keys to the truck, (and I’m not sure how I could have simultaneously moved 2 vehicles anyway). I said “what do you want me to do first, move the car, or move the children”. Both sets of guards were standing right next to each other and barking conflicting orders. I didn’t know what to do. The only point of agreement was that the dog must remain in the vehicle. Just at that moment Eric came out of the building (I assumed the car title had been stamped) and he said that they refused to stamp the car title, because the children were not present. They needed to see the children and check their passports before they could stamp the car title. The relevance of the children being physically present and checking their passports to stamping a car title is? Oh wait, forgot where I was for a moment. Makes perfect sense when you remember who you are dealing with.

We were instructed to park our car and rental truck with the large trucks, even though there was a parking lot with cars nearby. We were told we could not use the car park, although other people were allowed to use it. Our car was the only car there amongst large semi-trailers. The poor dog’s day gets even worse, because the truck engines are all idling and the noise is deafening. The only spots available are far far away from the building we need to go into. She is scared of the sound one neighborhood garbage truck makes. So many noisy trucks were really stressing her out.

We left the car, and truck, and the children and I take the dog (I don’t care, I’m not leaving my poor dog who is terrified of trucks alone in a car around 30 idling truck engines). There is nowhere for pedestrians to walk, so we are walking around moving trucks. I’m hoping we don’t get hit, as we are very low profile to these vehicles.

As we approached the building, the 1st guard came outside the building and told us to go back and return the dog to the car.

** These people are just mean. **

I've told them repeatedly that our dog is terrified of trucks. You could easily see that she was shaking and panting heavily and looked like she was about to throw up, but he was adamant that she be returned to an empty car parked in between 30 idling trucks. I pleaded with him, and asked if the kids could take turns with the dog while their brothers go inside and he said he would see what he could do, but he couldn’t promise me that 1 kid could take turns standing outside the building with the dog on the leash, since all kids had to be inside the building in order to export our car and the dog must remain in the vehicle.

The guard returned and told us that the kids could take turns standing outside with the dog, but had to come in when asked to present themselves to the officials. This guard then took all our passports away.

Next two Homeland Security guards went with Eric to the car. I thought they were going to verify the VIN number to the car title for export. Wrong, this had nothing to do with exporting the car.

The goons immediately opened up our moving truck, took my eldest son’s backpack and began rifling through it. The threw all of his things on the seat of the cab. They searched the entire cab of the truck but ignored the 24 feet of cargo stacked in the moving truck from floor to ceiling. Next they moved to the car and asked Eric to open all the doors and then move away from the vehicle. Eric saw the water bottles and asked if he could have a drink of water since he was thirsty, and they said no and he was to move away from the car. They ransacked the entire vehicle which had been neatly packed with fragile items.

One guard turned to Eric and demanded “where is it?" Eric said “where is what?” The 2nd guard said “he doesn’t know anything about it – it was his wife, she must have hidden it”. One of the goons said “we need your wife’s camera”. Eric has no idea what is going on.

Remember, I had never intended to take any photos in the first place. I merely took my camera out of my pocket to put in the car when the first set of guards questioned me, checked my camera, and were satisifed that I was not using it.

Sometime later Eric returned with the guards and we were told to go inside the building and get in line again. Eric told me that they didn’t even look at the VIN number, all they were interested in was my camera, and they searched everything inside the car, and went to the moving truck and searched through one of the kid’s backpacks to find the camera. I told Eric that someone had already looked at my camera and said he was satisfied that there were no photos on it of the facility. I was surprised the camera was still an issue. I was also very surprised that they didn’t find the camera, since it was in the front of the car in plain view. I hadn't hidden it at all. These goons aren't just mean, they're stupid as well. The previous guard who had already checked my camera said everything was ok regarding the camera, and I had no reason to hide the camera or even think it would continue to be an issue.

We were in line again, and 6 guards (yes, 6) walked in behind the counter and started talking to each other and looking at us.

We were taken from the back of the line to the front of the line (apologies to those in front of us). A Homeland Security guard asked Eric “Why are you leaving America”. Eric said he liked Canada. The guard asked again, “Why are you moving away from America? Don’t you know you can’t just move to Canada, you need to go through Canadian immigration”. Eric said he already had a visa. The guard demanded Eric’s passport so he could see the Canadian visa, and Eric told him that they already had all our passports. (I’m touched the US border guards are all concerned about Canadian immigration policies). He grilled Eric some more about his move to Canada, and I told him I was born and raised in Canada. This seemed to stop the questioning, and then told us to get back in line, since he was not authorized to stamp his car title, he just wanted to know why Eric was moving out of the US. He told us to go to the front of the line. We apologized to the people in front of us again.

Meanwhile, the 6 guards spoke to another guard behind the counter, and we were motioned over.

The guard asked me “Where is your camera?”. I said “in the car”. I was told to go to the car and bring the camera back to them. Eric was pulled out of line again. They didn’t have to search the car for the camera, no one had asked me for the camera. I wasn’t hiding anything. As I walked past all the trucks to go back to the car I was certain I was going to lose my camera to these goons together with all the photos of my family over the past few weeks.

I gave the Homeland Security official my camera, and he asked me when did I last take a photo and what did I take photos of. I said about a week ago, my niece’s birthday party. He then asked me how to scroll the photos, and looked at every photo on the camera. He commented that I was not a very good photographer (humour maybe? Hard to say, could have been sarcasm). I was told to go outside and send the children in while he continued to scroll through my photos.

The children were told their passports were not signed, and they were invalid, and they were lectured about it. They were told to sign their passports in cursive. My youngest child started to print his name, and the guard said aggressively “sign in cursive”. My children were not taught how to write cursive in the US schools, they were only taught to print (that's US education for you), so this was hard for him. He was shaking and so frightened that he forgot how to spell his name and spelled it wrong on his passport. The Homeland Security guard seized on this, and demanded the child state his brother’s names and ages. He was suspicious that this was not our child because he was so frightened. He asked the other children if this was their brother. Satisfied that he really was our son, and the passports were signed, he stamped the car title and told Eric he was free to go. The camera was returned to Eric.

Eric asked how to leave, and was told “go to the right”. Right of what????? We found a gate that looked like an exit, the sign said “To Canada”, but nothing else. All we saw were fences with barbed wire. We sat there a few minutes and nothing happened. Convinced we were at the wrong place, we drove away from there and tried to find the exit. A Homeland Security car sped towards us, with its siren on and lights flashing. The officer shouted on his megaphone “pull over”. We were only going 5 miles per hour. He stopped and asked the guard where to go. It was the same guard who had grilled him on why he was moving out of the US. The guard demanded to know why Eric was driving around the facility and didn’t believe we were unsure where the exit was and said “You have already been told where the exit is. Go over there and wait, and in about 15 or 20 minutes the fence will open and you can leave”. He was really really nasty. I was aghast and concerned we were all about to be arrested.

We drove back to the gate, and it immediately opened. So much for 20 minutes and we’ll open it when we feel like it.

It was now 1:00 and we had been there for 2 hours.

And this, folks, was our last experience as residents of the US of A. The image of the Homeland Security cop with sirens and flashing lights is burned into our memories. Also burned in my memory is our car with our children being surrounded by 3armed Homeland Security guards wearing bullet proof vests, threatening my children.

We met another couple who were also exporting a vehicle from the US to Canada. They had lived in Texas on a work visa for a couple of years. They were both Canadian. The Homeland Security guards stamped their car title and within a few minutes they were on their way.

We saw them again at the Canadian border while they were importing their vehicle into Canada, and they said they could not believe how badly the US people treated us, how they were shouting at our children, and they felt bad for us. I’m wondering if we were treated so badly because Eric is an American, the children are American born, and we were leaving the US?

I’ve never been so glad to see a Canadian flag as when we got to the other side of that bridge.

Oh, and my 3 sons have repeatedly said that, because of this experience, they don't ever want to live in the US, or have anything to do with that country ever again! Very sad.

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