hydrangea blossoming

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Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Friday, October 21, 2016

Thinking about the Border

Last week, a friend of mine had a very unpleasant experience at the U.S. border coming into Point Roberts.  This is his story: He lives here, he has Nexus "trusted traveler program," as it's called.  He crosses the border frequently, as do most of us who live here; he knows the rules; he was bringing nothing in with him from a half-day trip up to meet a friend in Vancouver.  But the border guard (temporarily) took his Nexus card from him, sent him inside for inspection; and, when he asked, would give him no reason for this action.  It was not a random secondary inspection, which can happen to anyone anytime because they didn't give him a slip.  Inside, he was asked many questions about his residence here.  When he inquired politely about why he was being asked all these questions, he was again refused any explanation.  He then asked to speak to a supervisor and was told that he might not get his Nexus card back.  He insisted upon speaking with the supervisor who came out from his office after a bit of a wait.  When he asked whether he could speak to the supervisor privately (the most recent CBP guy he had talked with was standing next to them), the supervisor informed him that it was not possible.  And so, after a few moments of unsatisfactory conversation with the supervisor, they returned his Nexus card, and told him to go on through the border and home.

Who knows what was going on at the border that day, but my friend is a guy with a very even temperament and he was very unnerved by this experience, its threatening tone, its basic incivility.  After all, we with Nexus cards are "Trusted".  So you'd think if there was something that required some deeper questioning than we usually get, that questioning would be conducted civilly and with respect.

A few days later, I was at a meeting of a local group of people and in the slack moments that 8 or so people were sitting about, I told them this story and asked whether they'd recently had any trouble at the border.  Nobody reported any problems that week, but then, in turn, each related an awful border experience that they had had, some as long as 15 years ago.  The detail of each story was extensive; clearly the experience was seared into their brains.

And that's what it's like to live in an exclave like Point Roberts.  Everyone here is intensely aware of what it's like at least occasionally to be confronted by these (mostly) guys with guns, whether they're just in a bad mood or have some private knowledge that requires a higher degree of concern.  I wish that they, the CBP (custom and border protection), had some grasp of what it feels like to be on the other side of their anxieties.  They create bad memories that people just don't forget.  It's rarely necessary for them to act this way (nobody is waving guns or knives in their faces); but apparently they don't grasp what it does to travellers or what it does to our views of them and their agency.

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