May 25, 2003

Welcome to America. Did You...

Welcome to America. Did You Support Our War? Last night I met one of the top French journalists in town, who told me that the last two times he entered the country at LAX, last week and in February, he was asked by a border guard a question along these lines:

Ohhhhh, French journalist, eh? So what do you think about the war?
Remember that those guards, if they so choose, can make your life hell, or at least see to it that your 12-hour flight is topped off by a nerve-wracking two-hour detention and search ... and there's basically nothing you can do about it.

Posted by at May 25, 2003 11:45 AM
Comments

Yeah, it'd be really cruel to subject them to that. Because, you know, they don't HAVE arbitrary, vindictive bureaucracy in France.

Posted by: Mike G at May 25, 2003 11:51 AM

Have you ever traveled to France, Mike? Have you ever been asked such a question by any French border guard or immigration official, let alone one who could, if they so chose, put a "no-entry" stamp in your passport and send you back home, after being handcuffed, probed, and put into a detention center for the night? No, it's not "cruel" (a word I didn't use), but is it appropriate? Is it how you want your taxpayer dollars spent? Is it how you want to be treated when you travel abroad?

Posted by: Matt Welch at May 25, 2003 12:35 PM

Wish I could say that I'm shocked, but I can't. It's about the level of professionalism I've come to expect from most U.S. border guards.

As a Brit with a green card, I've dealt with everything from general rudeness up to an idiot at the Boston airport who ranted about the Irish problem before allowing me to enter.

Jackasses!

Posted by: Judith Bennett at May 25, 2003 01:24 PM

Well, you know Americans. Can't let nothing pass without letting everyone know our opinion on it.

I've always found that a stack of 20's were the best visas and entry permits I ever had. Of course, Americans are the hardest bastards to grease. Always wanting more, more, more. And if you insult them with a low offer, they become "professionals."

Posted by: Paul at May 25, 2003 02:30 PM

Paul -- Don't ever discount the Marlboro Reds.

Posted by: Matt Welch at May 25, 2003 02:33 PM

This is like Freedom Fries -- spiteful, stupid, and it gets us nowhere while at the same time it pisses a lot of people off...well, in this case, maybe it pisses a few Frenchmen off...but still...

Posted by: Nik at May 25, 2003 03:37 PM

And three Brits!

Posted by: Matt Welch at May 25, 2003 03:50 PM

R.I.P., Bill of Rights. The War on Drugs and the emergence of the Nanny State had already done much to weaken it, but 9/11 killed it off once and for all.

Posted by: Eric at May 25, 2003 05:06 PM

I thought you lived with the top French journalist in town!

Posted by: a. beam at May 25, 2003 05:33 PM

Shrug, sans fume.
C'est la vie.

Posted by: Hoodie Craw at May 25, 2003 06:21 PM

I've never -- not once -- had any problem getting into France -- not even with my dog -- and I've probably been to and from France 20 times. And the thing I heard over and over when I was there last, in late February -- "We are not anti-American -- we are just anti-Boooosh!" When you're getting on the plane from DeGaulle to the U.S., they do have people with actual brains questioning you -- except, I guess, for the guy who let Richard Reid on the plane. Contrast that with the customs people and metal detector Security Lumps working here. This week, I flew back from Phoenix to LA with my laptop computer - and the girl who checks computers for bomb particles acted like is was 1820, and she'd never seen such a thing before - and handled it accordingly...nearly erasing the day's work, thank you very much. I guess they only check for criminal records when hiring for the TSA, not the presence of an IQ higher than 50.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 25, 2003 06:26 PM

Matt, they can have my Marlboro's when they pull them from my warm, passed-out fingers. I did get a cool Russian sailor hat for a pack of Marlboro's back in the day, though.

The only place I ever had problems with customs that Jackson couldn't solve was in Thailand, of all places. I screwed-up and flashed them my burgundy military passport instead of my civilian one and they got all full of themselves for some reason. I got taken aside and held for awhile, then they came back and said I had to pay a 2 year old fine for some trouble I had got into back then. It took a couple of Benjamins to get me out of that one.

Other than that, I've never had any serious problems.

Posted by: Paul at May 25, 2003 07:10 PM

I've never had any difficulty getting in to France; but I've never had trouble getting in to America, either. That said, there was another guy in-line at LAX one time that huffed and puffed about the length of time we'd stood there. He was then delivered of a highly public "lecture" by a local official that began "Hey pal, this is the United States of America and you are not a citizen and you have no right that guarantees you entry..."
They did let him in, afterwards. Common-sense says you don't piss-off Immigration in any country that you visit. They all have unappealable powers to put you on the next plane back, or worse.

Posted by: Hoodie Craw at May 25, 2003 09:06 PM

a.beam -- I said *one* of the top French journalists, not Le Grand Fromage!

Paul -- Let's hear about that "some trouble I had got into back then."

Hoodie -- Common sense is a wonderful thing. A stupid regulation, suddenly enforced, is not.

Posted by: Matt Welch at May 25, 2003 10:42 PM

Sorry. Never met the point that I could keep to.
I happen to agree with yours: I guess I was trying to say that Immigration is permitted to be arbitrary - I could not argue were I put back on a plane - and that people in-country are probably happy about that and prepared to overlook the occasional over-indulgence in Authority, and that is a simple fact of immigrant life?

Posted by: Hoodie Craw at May 25, 2003 11:41 PM

Le grand fromage ?!
That's so, hum, cute... ;)

Posted by: philippe at May 26, 2003 01:28 AM

Matt: It was just a shakedown. It is Thailand, after all. Their record-keeping system probably consists of some guy writing shit down on post-it notes. If I do get into trouble somewhere, I pay them off on the spot. And I try to keep my troublemaking to the more uncivilized spots in the world where my dollar goes farther and where the officials are amenable to that sort of thing.

Posted by: Paul at May 26, 2003 01:52 AM

Matt asks first commentor: "Is that the way you want to be treated when you're abroad?" Yeah, right. The French. Now there's a country where an American gets treated right. Christ, is Welch PC or what? I live in France most of the year--for many more years than Welch has been out of high school--and I can guarantee you readers, since Welch is into the comparison thing, that more tax dollars are spent in France harassing Americans than vice versa.

Second point,..where's the logic? The guards asked a question. Welch blows it up into a two hour detention and then asks, idiotically, whether that's a good use of your taxpayer (typical lefty rhetoric) money? Where'd you pull out the straw man?

Posted by: Malkovich at May 26, 2003 03:13 AM

Wow, is that the real John Malkovich? The one who said that of all people he'd most like to shoot Robert Fisk and George Galloway? I'm impressed.

Posted by: kid charlemagne at May 26, 2003 04:05 AM

Matt,

3 years ago I was called in to the French Minister of the Interior (Internet Task Force - the detective who questioned me couldn't tell the difference between a web url and an e-mail address) in a case of mistaken identity. I was mixed up with an American living in Switzerland who had the same name as me, but who did not in any way fit my description. I was held for over 24 hours with no right to phone call, lawyer, etc. I was routinely threatened by the detectives who claimed that I had better cooperate or they would throw the book at me.

This depite the fact that I have a company to run and pay more taxes than any of the lazy bastards that populate this dumpster.

France has a dangerous Kafka-like bureaucracy that you can get sucked into if you look the wrong way at them.

A few of them getting hassled at US airports is small change compared to the crap they pull over here.

Posted by: Merde in France at May 26, 2003 10:44 AM

"And I try to keep my troublemaking to the more uncivilized spots in the world where my dollar goes farther and where the officials are amenable to that sort of thing."

Which begs the question: Are these places truly less civilized? On a political level, are places where some of the state's power over you can be held in check by the powers of your pocketbook truly more backwards than those where it can't?

If you're talking about being able to get away with truly serious crimes, then the answer's definitely yes. But if you're talking about being able to defend yourself against the stultifying petty tyranny that seems to engulf every part of the developed world these days, I don't think the answer's that straightforward.

Posted by: Eric at May 26, 2003 11:22 AM


Malkovich, you shouldn't have to support the war or the government to practice journalism in the U.S., regardless of whether you're an American or a Frenchman. And if the answer isn't going to have any impact on how a person's treated by security/customs, then the question shouldn't be asked by people in those positions. It's pretty simple. I don't really see the relevance of anything you posted.

Posted by: Pob at May 26, 2003 11:24 AM

Malkovich -- The "two hour detention" is what the French journalist in question received after one of the two incidents in question. Also, I'm sure my libertarian and Republican pals will be curious to discover that questioning government expenditure of tax money is "typical lefty rhetoric."

Merde -- I don't doubt for a second that France would win hands-down in a Bureaucracy Death Match. I just don't think that means we shouldn't bitch when a dumb U.S. regulation is newly enforced. Why give French border guards a new reason to hassle Americans?

Posted by: Matt Welch at May 26, 2003 12:00 PM

Matt,

I think that the security outlook in the US can explain quite a bit and given the context I wouldn't say that anything I read can be described as going overboard. French regulations are arbitrarily and heavy handedly enforced whether the security climate justifies it or not. The incident I described was 3 years ago, well before 9/11, the Iraq conflict, and any outright US/France friction.

In any case, point taken. Never let it be said that I gave France the benefit of the doubt. :)

Posted by: Merde in France at May 26, 2003 12:11 PM

By the way, this journalist is not even French and is a native English speaker, but he works for a French media outlet. But anyway, a Homeland security employee who has the power to bar you from the U.S. for 5 years no questions asked should not bring up a topic like this at this time!! This journalist friend told us: "Thoughts were racing through my mind: what was I supposed to say to avoid problems? Vive Bush!! Vive la guerre!?"

Re: the 6 French journalists and 3 British journalists sent back to Europe soon after their arrival at LAX, the The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has asked explanations to Colin Powell. They say that the United States being a member of OSCE, they shouldn't prevent journalists to do their work. So it seems that even OSCE is discovering that Euro journalists need a specific visa to do their job in the U.S. during a short stay.

Posted by: Emmanuelle at May 26, 2003 12:24 PM

Emmanuelle,

Why the pause? You are missed over here.

Posted by: Merde in France at May 26, 2003 01:21 PM

Merde -- One final point about the National Security angle (which, quite understandably, is the one that every DHS & State Dept. employee I talked to emphasized): Enforcing the journalist-visa requirement doesn't logically lead to enhanced security, except for the statistical enhanced security that probably comes from reducing the total number of visitors.

Why? Because journalists are *singled out* for needing special visas. If I was a French terrorist, and I wanted to come into the States hassle-free, the *last* thing I would claim to be is a journalist, because journalists belong to a category that can be expelled for not having the right paperwork, while normal frogs just here on "business or pleasure" are free to enter paper-free via the Visa Waiver Program.

Posted by: Matt Welch at May 26, 2003 01:39 PM

The power of the border guards is a little bit scary. Once, returning from a fishing trip from Canada, this official at a Minnesota airport (Dad's a pilot) starting all kinds of intrusive questions about my father's business, how much it was worth, etc. It was weird to watch my father squirm under the questions. The fact is though, you have to answer their questions and they can pretty much send you packing based upon their 'judgement.' This would be fine if they were truly professional, however, it is the fear of arbitrary decisions, especially under overt harrassment such as Matt describes that makes them so scary.
Maybe FR is no better, but I'll be damned if I want that beuracracy to be our standard. Yes, security is very important, but none of what has been suggested here sounds like security, just BS.

Posted by: Scott at May 26, 2003 01:50 PM

Matt,

We are talking about France here, a country that has been spewing forth, for years now, an unquantifiable amount of hatred towards the US through its 'press'. Given the context I fail to see the big deal. The journalists who were hassled, given the 'press' they represent, can put it down to self fulfulling prophecy. Given the attitudes of their 'press', I think that they got exactly what they were looking for.

Posted by: Merde in France at May 26, 2003 02:09 PM

Response, a good 30 posts later...

1) Yes, I've traveled to France many times. 2) Chill out, it was just a joke, I don't approve of such things but I still have a sense of humor about them. Have you ever tried to do ANYTHING involving a French official (as opposed to a French girlfriend)? (Or read any of those Year in Provence type books in which much of the humor, so-called, comes from dealing with such types?) It's enough to make Kafka glad he was Czech, and Dreyfus wish he had been.

Posted by: Mike G at May 26, 2003 02:26 PM

Mike G -- I'm chill. Just a little weary of the "yeah, but he hit me first" school of geopolitical japery.

Merde -- I don't think it's a big deal. I think the enforcement of the silly I-visa requirement is a minor deal, and the fucking-with-the-frog-journalists is maybe one-tenth of that importance, but they are certainly worth mentioning. Besides, if we can't complain about minor bureaucratic bullshit, then the terrorists have won....

Posted by: Matt Welch at May 26, 2003 04:19 PM

I know many French scientists who work in the U.S. (for the U.S. government or American Universities with H-1 or J-1 visas) anentry. I'm not sure what INS is up to during these screenings.

It should be said that French scientists have a relatively easier visa situation than many other countries. Lots of scientists haven't visited their home countries since 9/11 because of fear of not being able to get back. Even with valid work visas!

Posted by: Kevin at May 26, 2003 04:49 PM

I don't know if this is the human rights abuse you paint it as.

Think of it this way. For the past year this guy has listened to an endless stream of bile directed at his country from the other side of the Atlantic. So now this same $25k/yr border guard gets a chance to work out his frustration on a French journalist. He goes for it. No big deal.

Posted by: Michael at May 26, 2003 06:11 PM

Michael -- See my previous comment. I don't see this as a human rights abuse. I think that some actions that don't rise to the level of human rights abuse are still worth pointing out, and criticizing.

Posted by: Matt Welch at May 26, 2003 06:13 PM

Everyone keeps tapdancing around the central issue of this bizarre spectacle, so I'll come right out and say it:

So, what did the guy think of the war and did he have anything to declare that couldn't be fixed with a healthy shot of peniccillinninlilanin?

Of secondary importance is why did I drink the tequila? God, why the mexican devil water? El Diablo Agua mon frer! It's going to be a long night but the worm was worth it, i say. The spice must flow

Posted by: Paul at May 26, 2003 06:40 PM

Paul -- I don't know! I mean, I don't know why you would drink Tequila, when centuries' worth of evidence point to only one conclusion: pain! But man, that sounds just about perfect right now, so I think I'll stop piddling around here, and head over to the LA Examiner BBQ....

Posted by: Matt Welch at May 26, 2003 07:07 PM

Yes, there is endless bureaucracy in France, but it affects everyone -- French and tourists alike.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 26, 2003 09:46 PM

Stories like this make me real hesitant about visiting the US in its current climate.
After years in Poland where talking back to civil servants is the national sport (and a necessary survival skill) I can just imagine some of the things I might say were they to ask citizens:

"They don't pay you enough, so you're moonlighting as a poll taker?"

"And I thought the line was moving so slow because you were on a coffee break, it turns out you're taking a public opinion poll. How very industrious. I have no comment, thank you."

"Perhaps you would like to know my favorite color and three favorite songs as well?"

or to be slightly more diplomatic:

"Everybody has a right to their own opinion. Perhaps you'd like to share yours?"

"Ah, politicians, they're all bastards. We'll be lucky if they don't get us all killed."

Then I'd get to personally greet mr. body cavity probe.

Posted by: Michael Farris at May 26, 2003 11:05 PM

"Think of it this way. For the past year this guy has listened to an endless stream of bile directed at his country from the other side of the Atlantic."

I had no idea so many US border guards were so proficient in French.

I'll give you heavy odds that 99% of all Americans have never heard, seen, or read any French-source news, either in native French or translated into English. I'll give you good odds that most of the remaining 1% haven't come any further than the English edition of Le Monde Diplomatique.

This may be mutual, although I'd wager that more American media gets translated into French than the other way 'round. But the phrase "listening to an endless stream of bile" is absolute rubbish. The meme persists in both France and the US that the two cultures are at loggerheads, and every once in a while some French farmer harrasses the local MacDonalds, and every once in a while US politicians feel the need to rename fried potatoes, but the idea that US border guards must feel some kind of personal affront towards French people is completely ludicrous.

Posted by: InFilling at May 27, 2003 01:15 AM

The endless stream of bile has been going on for a good 10 years now and I'll continue to refer to French 'press' in quotation marks when the 'press' over here stops acting like the European branch of IndyMedia SF. Americans being wary of French journalists, gievn what they report over here, is completely justified.

Posted by: Merde in France at May 27, 2003 02:04 AM

Hey Merde, I doubt the French press is much worse than the German press. Check out any edition of the Spiegel, Stern, The Frankfurter Rundschau or the Suddeutsche Zeitung for confirmation of this. But for some reason Americans prefer frog-bashing to kraut-bashing.

Posted by: kid charlemagne at May 27, 2003 05:08 AM

Kid,

Perhaps, but I cannot report on that. I am not exposed to the German media, nor do I speak German.

I have seen some of the UK press (The Guardian and the Independant) but they do not approach what is going on in France. I might add that in France the 'press' is uniform in its anti-US hate speech. There is a party line that very few dare to contradict. We are, after all, in a country where the President is elected with 80+% of the vote, and where the loony left (Arlette Laguiller)
and the xenophobic extreme right (Le Pen) are in full agreement with his Majesty of the Chateau de Bity Jack Chiraq.

As to France bashing, the US never expected French support. The US simply expected French benefit-of-the-doubt and getting-out-of-the-way. Instead we had backstabbing Villepin and a 10 year old anti-US 'press' campaign gone into overdrive.

But I digress and will from no on limit my France bashing to my blog.

Matt, thanks for putting up with me, and Emmanuelle, welcome back. Native bloggers on this side of the Atlantic much appreciate to hear you stateside.

Posted by: Merde in France at May 27, 2003 05:52 AM

Screw the French. Yeah, it's people will feel the after-effects of their perfidious government. I don't much feel sorry for the French journalists.

None of my bile applies to the beautiful Emmanuelle.

Posted by: Luke Ford at May 27, 2003 08:03 AM

The reason we have so many morons in customs is that we have so much affirmative action and union power in the area. It's not a meritocracy.

I always find Australian customs so much more pleasant.

Let's be honest. We have morons in many government jobs and they are not usually folks with IQs over 130 (which is a polite way of saying a truth that may not be uttered today in the USA).

Posted by: Luke Ford at May 27, 2003 08:06 AM

I'll give you heavy odds that 99% of all Americans have never heard, seen, or read any French-source news, either in native French or translated into English.

I'll take that bet. Want to make it, oh, $500? Considering that one of the top sources for news -- especially world news -- on Yahoo!, which is probably the most-read news site in America, is Agence France-Presse, are you prepared to make that payout?

Posted by: Phil at May 27, 2003 12:16 PM

I haven't touched French wine in more than a year, and I'd like to kick de Villepin in the jimmy--but I have to say, in my (admittedly limited) experience, Matt has a point, at least as far as entry-point comparisons go.

The one time I flew out of DeGaulle Airport (roughly ten days after the end of the first Gulf War), I was very politely questioned by a French official whose English was better than most of my relatives'. He was a careful, complete pro, and I was frankly glad to know somebody that competent was working security at the time. Comparing that experience to my (much more common) contacts with American screeners (pre- and post-September '01), I can't think of a single security type on this side of the Atlantic who was one-tenth as professional.

My one really bad border experience in Europe was in the old Czechoslovakia, roughly a week before being in Paris. My railcar--full of American students--got the full "Stalin School of Public Service" treatment at 3AM--mostly to shake us down for a grand total of $4. We joked for the rest of the trip that news of the revolution hadn't reached the borders yet...

Posted by: Will Collier at May 27, 2003 01:02 PM

I cross the US border every day of the week. I enteract with the INS and/or Customs on every return. I try to answer every question with a single syllable such as:

Question by gunslinger: US citizen?

Answer by pissed off citizen while maintaining glaring eye contact: Yes

Q by G: What are you bringing back?

A by Pocwmgec: Nothing

Q by G: What was the purpose of your trip?

A by Pocwmgec: Work

Q by G: Where do you live?

A by Pocwmgec: Texas

Q by G: Where in Texas?

This can go on for several minutes. I even had one youngster with a gun on his hip comment on how I chewed gum.

Almost without exception these border guard people are an insufferable, pompus, officious lot who should, I think, be treated with rank circumspection by all citizens.

BTW, my Venezuelan wife of more than three years is still waiting for her "green card" after more than 20 months since application and confiscation of her Venezuelan passport. She's so afraid of the bastards that she will not allow me with her when she is forced to go, again and again, for pictures, fingerprints, interviews, show and tell of my personal IRS data, etc.

Posted by: Larry R. Duncan at May 27, 2003 01:22 PM

Matt,

I am with you - this sucks!

It has nothing to do with the French and everything to do with sadistic American officials. I travel internationally quite a bit and rarely encounter an equal to the rudeness of American immigration officials that I frequently see.

In Scotland, the official will politely inform you of his disbelief that you were born today and request to see your passport (as in you put today's date in the birthday slot in your jet-lagged hung-over stupor). In New Jersey, I saw a poor soul get called an idiot and sent to the back of a 45 minute long line after making a mistake on her form.

But the international comparisons don't really matter - I think the issue is whether we should tolerate such non-professional behaviour in our officials. Sadistic officials should be weeded out as a disgrace to the country. There is no excuse for non-professional behaviour.

I have been detained by American immigration along with my family (including infant son) while the officials needed to "check something". After about an hour and a half I was politely told that everything was OK and they were sorry for the delay. It didn't bother me nearly as much as seeing the officials yelling at some poor would be visitor...

Posted by: John Yundt-Pacheco at May 27, 2003 01:43 PM

Look, this happens all the time, in most countries. Try entering the UK if you are legitimate but unpopular in color or origin (I'm neither).

Immigration staff are poorly paid and relatively untrained bureaucrats (not e.g. trained and too often not kept even vaguely up to date on the law), hard to fire no matter how dreadful their performance, and the non-citizens in front of them don't have a vote!

This is all that is needed in any society to produce regular occurrences of petty corruption, mistreatment and even sadism.

Be thankful that you have citizenship in a working democracy, and take a moment to ponder the fate of those who don't.

For too many of them, in most countries around the world, this 'immigration official' level of mistreatment and worse is what they face daily from all of the many government officials around them.

Posted by: JK at May 27, 2003 03:11 PM

How cruel. They asked a simple question, they made small talk. C'mon folks, you are being paranoid. Give me an incident where these journalists were given a hard time for opposing, or supporting it, and then you would have something. But the worst you have is a bunch of wimpy journalists being wimps. There has recently grown a weird claim that my freedom of speech, in being patriotic, supporting the war, etc., should be suppressed, either by myself or by others, so that those who are unpatriotic, and/or oppose the war can feel COMFORTABLE expressing their views. And if anyone, anywhere, on the left of these feels uncomfortable expressing their views, well then we hear cries that freedom of speech is being suppressed! So the only way to make that work, is to suppress my freedom of speech. No dice.

And the people saying this are such hypocrites. No one ever takes it seriously when one of those Klan idiots feels uncomfortable being a racist, but if someone feels uncomfortable for being virulently anti-american, or just anti-war, we act like there is a difference. Hell, Matthew Hale can be refused a license to practice law (well-deserved) and no one on the left raises a peep. But if we boo a speaker at graduation for spewing hatred toward america, that is if we poor rabble express our opinions, trying to overcome the loudspeakers given to the single voice on the other side by the elites in power, suddenly everyone cries that freedom of speech is at an end. Its crap and you know it.

Freedom of Speech does not mean that there will be no consequences for speech. The consequences are only limited to more speech. As part of the bargain it requires a little courage of your convictions, and it requires the minority view to actually find a way to sell its views, instead of talking to itself (which happens way too often these days). The anti-war, and antipatriotic forces might want life to be a little easier for them than that, but the only solution would be to limit my freedom of speech. And that is simply unacceptable.

Aaron

Posted by: Aaron at May 27, 2003 03:18 PM

Aaron, I think there is a difference between political discourse that takes place between 2 arbitrary people and political discussions with a government official. Whether I am in Vidor, TX or Berkely, CA, I don't want a traffic cop to ask me my political views before deciding whether or not to issue me a ticket.
The problem is that immigration officials have an almost unlimited power to make your life miserable (even if you are a citizen). I don't think it is appropriate for immigration officials to get their jollies by harassing visitors for no good reason - and that was not just small talk, it was intimidation and should not be tolerated.
We need competent professionals as police and immigration officials who don't indulge their personal political prejudices while on the job. I don't think that most police officials do that (at least not blatently), and I wish the immigration officials were as professional.
I am more concerned about American behaviour then I am other countries because I am paying for the American immigration officials and I expect professionalism.

Posted by: John Yundt-Pacheco at May 27, 2003 04:02 PM

Minor nitpick: the official at LAX is an [b]immigration inspector[/b], not a [b]border guard[/b]. The two belong to two different agencies.

So what was the French journalist's response?

Posted by: Kevin P. at May 27, 2003 04:21 PM

Kevin P. - I can't tell the difference between what you call an immigration inspector and a border guard and I'm a citizen born. I have yet to meet anyone, let me repeat anyone, from a foreign country who doesn't think all those gun toting immigration inspecting paper pushers are anything other than border guards in their most terrifying "...and ve know vere you live" incarnation to boot.

Posted by: Larry R. Duncan at May 27, 2003 07:35 PM

I can't believe this. I've waded through more than 50 comments, ony to learn that Matt Welch is in high dudgeon because an immigration officer with a high-school education lacks the polish of a Georgetown grad with 5 years of experience in the Foreign Service. John Yundt-Pacheco sees intimidation in a kidding remark to some Frenchman. I ask you: what kind of man would permit himself to feel intimidated by something so trivial? As for Larry R. Duncan, he can't tell a border guard from an immigration officer, but he sure as hell knows one thing: he knows they are all a bunch of nazis. What country do you guys live in?

Posted by: John Van Laer at May 27, 2003 08:44 PM

John -- Which comment of mine sealed the "high dudgeon" deal for you? Was it the "I don't think it's a big deal," or the "I don't see this as a human rights abuse"? Good call, though, in pegging me as someone who looks down his nose at uneducated folk. If there's one thing I can't *stand*, it's the stench of the uncredentialed.

Posted by: Matt Welch at May 27, 2003 09:19 PM

John Van Laer - Come on down to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, spend a week with me going back and forth across the border. After that I wager your question will take on something of a different tone.

I met, in a social situation, the other day a manager (or whatever they call themselves) of the Border Patrol, his understanding of the definition of the word professionalism fairly well fit my understanding of the definition of the word Nazi. So I don't KNOW that they are all Nazis but the ones I have met seem to self-define themselves as such.

What's a poor boy to do?

Posted by: Larry R. Duncan at May 27, 2003 09:39 PM

No kidding. Matt used to shower praise upon me and was all nice until he found out that I just barely graduated high school and never even went to a Community College. After that, it was just unanswered emails and the cold shoulder. He said he'd email me, but he never did. I gave it the usual three days, but his name never appeared in my inbox. Although I did get a suspicious email from one "Matilda Vilch," imploring me to take a shower and buy some deodorant.

I really thought we had something going there, but I guess he only has eyes for the educated elite and the well-connected. Bastard.

Posted by: Paul at May 27, 2003 10:44 PM

I want to put my two cents in as a Mexican here. For starters, I have quite a few American friends and I despise PC in all of its guises, so you know where I stand. I've been across the border a few times, most of them without big hassle, but once (back in the 80's way before Homeland Sec etc.)we were entering the USA with my late wife, Mexican born, and her parents, German born with a loooong time of living in Mexico. They were an incredible nice couple, already in their seventies back then. The s.o.b. at the border took my father-in-law's German passport, looked at him and then shooted: ARE YOU A NAZI???? Gosh! I felt like choking the mutter fücker! (free German translation here)The old man was an angel! I had the best in-laws in the world and this moron was insulting him just because he was German!. We were all extremely annoyed, believe me. But my wife's dad just said "no" in a mild voice, we all shouted our mouths and avoided being prevented entrance in the USA. It's quite a humilliating experience. And, on the side, I've heard some terror stories by other people about this subject. What's wrong with those guys? Let me inform you all that if you are a Mexican national border guards in Mexico can not (repeat, can not) prevent you from entering your own country. You can call them the worst names in the dictionary, you can even get in some judicial trouble, but they don't have the authority to keep a Mexican off Mexico. Can border guards in USA prevent Americans from going in? I don't know about this. To finish, I don't drink tequila (el agua del diablo you call it? hahaha. Rum & coke is it for me. Greetings and best wishes to you all. :)

Posted by: Miguel at May 28, 2003 02:40 AM

Sorry, on the above posting I meant to say "we all shutted our mouths" Oops. Quite a difference.

Posted by: Miguel at May 28, 2003 02:43 AM

I used to cross the border from Windsor to Detroit on a daily basis (lived in Windsor, studied in Detroit). From time to time I would be asked to pull my car to the side and answer some questions (this would happen on both sides of the border). I recall a US Immigration Official lecturing me that there was no such thing as "dual citizenship". I politely informed her that many countries permitted dual citizenship, including Canada. She look up from her paperwork and told me: "Yeah, well your country lets in all kinds of garbage." I was unimpressed. Most US customs and immigration officials are professional and even polite and courteous. Some of them should be fired, with prejudice.

Posted by: Peter at May 28, 2003 05:31 AM

Personally, as someone who's come back to the US on land (from both top and bottom) and through airports on both coasts, you won't even get a second look in 90% of the time. I think we all get a bit skiddish handing over our passport and information even when we have nothing to hide...a bit of hypersensitivity that you wouldn't bother you in from a store clerk. The underpaid, undertrained, overworked person has the power to cause you immense hassles for no reason at all other than they can.

LAX immigration agents are notoriously cruel when they want to be (French, Canadian, US-born, doesn't make a difference). The biggest thing I've seen is that you need to follow all the rules. Stand on the line until the agent is open, have your passport open to the picture, have your paperwork filled out correctly, make eye contact, speak up (all the things your mom told you to do when talking to someone!) and only answer their questions, don't make chit chat.


Biggest thing of all: don't make jokes (esp about drugs or bombs, etc.). You *will* have a bad day after that.

It would be interesting to see a video of Frenchie's encounter with the agent and see how both sides really acted.

Anyway...when it comes to western nations, the biggest hassle you will ever run into is customs in Australia. God help you if you think you can sneak by an undeclared plant/animal good through their gauntlet of dogs and machines for sniffing your luggage on your way out of the airport!

Posted by: Doc at May 28, 2003 07:14 AM

If the poor journalist feels threatened, he can fly into Tijuana and walk into the US with the 100,000 Mexican Nationals who will enter the country illegally this year. Any attempt to claim there is any border security here is laughable. I'll also bet other than an unverified and unverifiable joking comment by a customs agent, nothing, absolutely nothing, was done to impede his entry at LAX. Sorry, this sad "I'm a victim" mentality is far more dangerous to our liberties than any of the ineffective minions of homeland security.

Posted by: Ken Hahn at May 28, 2003 08:51 PM
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n class="comments-post">Posted by: Peter at May 28, 2003 05:31 AM

Personally, as someone who's come back to the US on land (from both top and bottom) and through airports on both coasts, you won't even get a second look in 90% of the time. I think we all get a bit skiddish handing over our passport and information even when we have nothing to hide...a bit of hypersensitivity that you wouldn't bother you in from a store clerk. The underpaid, undertrained, overworked person has the power to cause you immense hassles for no reason at all other than they can.

LAX immigration agents are notoriously cruel when they want to be (French, Canadian, US-born, doesn't make a difference). The biggest thing I've seen is that you need to follow all the rules. Stand on the line until the agent is open, have your passport open to the picture, have your paperwork filled out correctly, make eye contact, speak up (all the things your mom told you to do when talking to someone!) and only answer their questions, don't make chit chat.


Biggest thing of all: don't make jokes (esp about drugs or bombs, etc.). You *will* have a bad day after that.

It would be interesting to see a video of Frenchie's encounter with the agent and see how both sides really acted.

Anyway...when it comes to western nations, the biggest hassle you will ever run into is customs in Australia. God help you if you think you can sneak by an undeclared plant/animal good through their gauntlet of dogs and machines for sniffing your luggage on your way out of the airport!

Posted by: Doc at May 28, 2003 07:14 AM

If the poor journalist feels threatened, he can fly into Tijuana and walk into the US with the 100,000 Mexican Nationals who will enter the country illegally this year. Any attempt to claim there is any border security here is laughable. I'll also bet other than an unverified and unverifiable joking comment by a customs agent, nothing, absolutely nothing, was done to impede his entry at LAX. Sorry, this sad "I'm a victim" mentality is far more dangerous to our liberties than any of the ineffective minions of homeland security.

Posted by: Ken Hahn at May 28, 2003 08:51 PM
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