I cross the U.S.-Canada border on I-5 or SR-543 in Blaine, WA at least once every two weeks. When I first started crossing in September, I was not used to the border guards’ interrogations and allowed them to intimidate me into nervous responses that led to two full searches going into Canada. But soon I figured out what they wanted to hear (yes/no answers, no headshakes, no mmmhmms, no long stories) and how they wanted me to act (calm as if I just downed a tranquilizer) and they stopped searching me. On the U.S. side, it was even less of an issue–they opened my trunk once or twice, but that was it.
Until this weekend.
Going to Canada was the same old thing. The border guard even recognized me and was friendly. But coming back to the U.S. just after midnight on Monday morning, the border crossing at I-5 Peace Arch was extremely dead. There was only one car in front of me. He got through quickly and I pulled up to the guard shack. The guard started into his usual questions, I started into my usual answers…and then he informed me that I’d been selected for a random screening. I stopped talking entirely and stared straight ahead. He gave me instructions for where to pull up and wait for a guard. Then he randomly said “You’re welcome,” either out of conditioning or because he wanted to piss on me a little bit more.
I pulled my car off to the left and parked. I waited. Five minutes passed. No guard emerged from the building. I looked around, wondering if maybe I was not in the right place. I turned the car on and began to inch it forward. Suddenly, two guards came out of the building and told me to stop and back up. They then instructed me to come inside.
The customs building is massive and sparkling. Ah, the wonderful things that 9/11 did for America’s police state bureaucrats! And on this night, it was also completely empty, save for three thugs at keyboards and one thug walking around behind them. I walked to the front of the “line” and then a surly red-haired thug who looked like he hadn’t seen a smile since the first Bush administration told me to come forward. Yes, told. He did not ask. I complied.
He started into the usual questions, too: “Why were you in Canada?” “How long were you there?” “Are you bringing anything back?” “What do you do for work?”
To this, I replied that I was a writer. He then followed up and said, “What kind of writing?” At last I had had enough. I said flatly, “I’m not going to answer that.”
“Why not,” he asked.
“It’s not relevant to my visit to Canada and I’m not going to answer it.”
“You are either going to answer it or you can go sit in the corner over there until you feel like answering it.”
I reemphasized that this question was not relevant and I would not answer it. Another guard yelled at me to go sit down. I continued to defend myself as a third guard then entered the fray. I asked him if he was familiar with “some guy v. Puerto Rico from the 1960s” (I could not remember the name of the decision, which is apparently U.S. v. Valentine), a ruling that stated that one of an American citizen’s rights is reentry into his own country. The guard said that he was aware of this right, but that I would need to answer some questions first.
With three of them telling me to sit down, I went and sat in “time out.” I haven’t felt more like a child since I was taking naps on towels and playing Transformers in kindergarten. I sat there and fumed, refusing to even look at them, planning what my next step would be, how long I would be willing to tolerate time out.
After five minutes, the red-haired thug told me to come back over. Again, told–he did not ask. So I complied.
“I need your keys so I can search your car.”
Now, first, let me point out that he did NOT re-ask me the same question about what kind of writing I do. That he did not re-ask this question necessarily proves my point that the question was irrelevant. Back to the dialogue.
“Ok, but I would like to be present for any search,” I said.
“That’s now allowed. Why do you care? Is there something I should know about?”
“No, I just want to see how my property is treated and would also like to make sure you do not plant anything.”
This suggestion made Mr. Thug angry, almost as if I had hurt him.
“Why would I plant something?”
“I have no reason to trust you,” I replied. Looking back on it, I should have said, “I am on this side of the desk and you are on that side. That’s reason enough.” But I was flustered.
So the dialogue continued. I offered to watch them search my car through a window, which, I pointed out, I have been allowed to do in Canada. No. I asked them if they had a warrant. Oh, ho-ho–the Supreme Court has ruled that the 4th Amendment does not apply at borders! So I continued to refuse the search and was ready to either ask for my passport back so I could just return to Canada (though I suspect this would not be allowed) or just go back to the corner.
Before I could act, the pacing thug walked over and asked what was going on. They explained the situation. He then looked at me and said, “Ok, so here is how this is going to work. You can either give them the keys and let them search your car, or I will put you in handcuffs, lock you in a cell, take your keys, and then search the car. Which one is it going to be?”
Knowing well the indefinite detention record of U.S. border guards, I decided the cell would not be in my best interest. Instead, I said, “I will give you the keys, but I want everyone’s name here so I can be sure to complain about you all.”
“Fine, I am the supervisor,” the pacing thug said.
So I gave them the keys. Two of them practically sprinted out of the building. They returned within a few minutes, much faster than the searches have taken in Canada. The reason, after all, is that they cared very little about searching my car but very much about making me kneel down and kiss Leviathan’s ring and acknowledge my own enslavement. They called me back over to the desk. The pacing thug returned and, wordlessly, wrote down his name (Rick Gattis, 360-332-5771) on a piece of paper and gave it to me.
The red-haired thug then started into some spiel about “thanking me for my cooperation.” I took the keys and didn’t even look at him, let alone respond. I couldn’t get away from those vile fascists fast enough.
Allow me to quickly say that it is incidents such at this one, an incident that proves that supposed Constitutionally-guaranteed “rights” we have are a sham, that make me look forward evermore to the day when I can walk into a U.S. embassy abroad and throw my passport in some shocked bureaucrat’s face. This country is a fraud. The only existential danger America faces is not some religious idiots hiding in a cave in Pakistan, but the ever-greater demands of empire. Terrorists cannot destroy this country. What can destroy it is the incredibly successful alliance of a credulous, stupid, and scared citizenry, ever happier to allow themselves to be enslaved by an army of bureaucrats, eager to get fat paychecks and pensions whilst searching the slaves and reading their emails.
And you know what? I look forward to the end of it all. Once America’s empire is gone (Ed. note: I am not advocating for America’s enemies, either, since they are mainly medieval religious fanatics), maybe it can be a decent country again or, better yet, many separate decent countries. I am not one to like the idea of a state at all, but several smaller, humbler Americas would be infinitely preferable to the present imperialistic behemoth that blows up Afghan weddings, holds people in cages indefinitely and without charge, and supports all manner of evil men, whether it be Somalis employing child soldiers or Netanyahu plowing under Palestinian homes, all in the name of freedom and democracy. Would that it could all be ended tomorrow. Would that the American people, no better or worse than any others, could be allowed to live peacefully and freely in small and humble communities, without the threat of coercion.
Whatever America’s future may be, I do not expect to be part of it. I would rather live in exile than continue to support this stupid empire any longer.