You might remember me linking to a story by Paul Karl Lukacs about how he refused to answer questions from U.S. customs on a recent trip home. Given my recent difficulties with U.S. and Canadian customs, I found Lukacs’s strategy of non-cooperation fascinating. It’s not going to come much in handy going to Canada since, as they have reminded me before, going to Canada is a “privilege, not a right.” But with U.S. customs…well, eventually they have to let citizens back in the country. What’s the alternative? Deport us? If you know how hard it is to emigrate to another country with even the best of intentions, you’ll understand how laughable that suggestion is.
Lukacs just followed up with a more comprehensive, ten-point guide to customs strategy (H/T: Lew Rockwell.com). Read it, learn it, memorize it. I don’t necessarily recommend deploying these strategies since it will cost you time, maybe even to the point of ending up in detention, and maybe get you put on a watchlist or the dreaded no-fly list, but at least know what is in your arsenal as a citizen.
One of the money quotes:
That being said – and this is a point several commenters made – entering the U.S. is a cruder experience than entering most other countries. Although I enter China multiple times a year, I have never been asked a question by an immigration or customs officer. When I have entered Thailand without a visa, the officer’s questions have been limited to the duration of my visit (to make sure I am within the Kingdom’s visa waiver rules). Once, a German immigration officer wanted to know my plans, and that interview was polite and three questions long. And, in my reading of travel blogs, the U.S., Canada and Great Britain are the three countries consistently mentioned for their overreaching border officers. (emphasis mine, M.)
Having entered all three of these countries, I couldn’t agree more. Certainly there are outliers. Going into Ukraine, our train was searched by dogs. Entering Russia requires a visa. But even in those countries, my actual interactions with the border patrol were shorter, less intrusive and politer than what I’ve encountered in the U.S., the UK and Canada. Canada especially–I’ve been asked about my employment history, asked for contact information for the person I was visiting so they could call her and even had my hard drive searched for “obscene material.” It’s a veritable smorgasbord of dehumanization and shaming. The irony in the Anglophone countries that taught the world so much about civil liberties now working so hard to undermine them is deep and painful.
For U.S. citizens, I think the most important quote was this one:
A federal judge in Puerto Rico – a territory sensitive to the rights and privileges of its residents’ U.S. citizenship — said it best: “The only absolute and unqualified right of citizenship is to residence within the territorial boundaries of the United States; a citizen cannot be either deported or denied reentry.” U.S. v. Valentine, 288 F. Supp. 957, 980 (D.P.R. 1968).
Put that in your pocket. Remind the friendly customs people. See how they try to dodge that one.
Coming in a very close second:
3. Any Misstatement To A Federal Officer Can Result In Your Arrest.
If a federal officer claims you lied to him, you can be arrested and charged with the crime of making false statements. You do not have to make the statements under oath (which would be the different charge of perjury).
The only way to immunize yourself against a false statements charge is to refuse to speak to federal officers.
This is such a big one. Don’t give them the rope to hang you. They interrogate thousands of people each day, hundreds of days a year. They are used to these interactions. They are pros. They have the power. We are amateurs. We get nervous and don’t know what to say. This leads to us saying dumb and/or inconsistent things. You might think you are above this reality, but you’re probably wrong. So play it close to the vest as much as possible.
Last one I want to highlight:
5. Politeness Would Make No Difference.
Many of the commenters took issue with my rude tone toward the CBP officers. This criticism is profoundly misguided.
To the authoritarian mind, there are only two responses to a demand: submission or defiance, and anything less than total submission is defiance. A Lutheran grandmother from Savannah with manners from an antebellum finishing school would be hassled if she refused to answer CBP’s questions.
Answering with a tart “None of your business” underscores that I will not be pushed around and – potentially important from a criminal procedure perspective – is an unambiguous statement that I am not waiving any rights. It is a line in the linoleum.
Definitely my experience so far. I’ve tried to be polite, especially with U.S. Customs. It’s been received positively once. Every other time, it’s been met with curtness and the same BS everybody else encounters. They’ve got an image to protect. Welcoming you back to the country with a slap on the back and a big smile isn’t part of it.