Saturday, December 31, 2005

america's racist and power-hungry border guards

when returning from costa rica to the usa, i went through miami. i had forgotten a form that i should've been carrying with me, and so they sent me to the inner sanctum, where they would verify that i was who i said i was, and really had the required authorization to enter the united states.

no before detailing what i consider to be verbal abuse, i want to be up front: i should have had this form. coming in from canada, i would've probably been fine. coming from costa rica, it's another story. that been said, the us government issued this form to me -- they knew i had it.

i was taken to the office of a border guard who other border guards indicated was the one who handled the "tough cases." he proceeded to ask me a bunch of questions about my original entry from canada. after a number of questions it was clear to me that he felt that i hadn't paid for some required documentation, and he was going to ask me to pay anywhere from $65 to $200 to put everything on the up-and-up.

now i knew i had paid for these documents (well, to be more precise, google had paid for them when renewing my visa). as such, i asked him if i paid now could i somehow get some refund when i could prove later, after returning home, that i had the documents all along.

this was the wrong thing to say, it seems. i suppose i was, in my own small way, countering his authority. his response was, "that's not my problem. and you know what? i've sent lots of canadians back to costa rica. i can send you too. why don't you just pay the money now, and make everything easier?"

i agreed and he continued: "and suppose i send you to costa rica or canada. then to get back in you have to get lawyers involved. google lawyers. over the holidays. you think they'll do this for you? are you important at google? are you bill gates' son?"

me: "no, not that important."

him: "i didn't think so. so what don't you focus on getting back into the country in the easiest way possible."

i was pretty taken aback at this point. but then he added some icing. he got up to leave the room, but just before leaving he turns to me and asks: "so where are your ancestors from?"

i'm a bit shocked at this point. what does this have to do with anything? i respond: "my dad's from india, my mom's from canada."

him: "but where's your mom really from? like her parents?"

me: "they're british a few generations back, scottish, english, ultimately."

he said nothing at this point and just left. a few minutes later he and his boss come back into the office and say to me: "look, you had good grades at cornell, you seem like a smart guy who made a mistake, so we'll let you go, no charge." they laugh about this for a few minutes, how their grades weren't so great, and expect thanks from me. which i sickeningly give. my racist officer then tells me that he's putting a warning in the system about me -- best i don't forget that form anymore.

my feelings

this experience was my most humiliating and degrading at the border to date. in ithaca after 911 they called the ithaca police in to interview me, and that was pretty bad, but this was way above this. i couldn't say anything to this guy except "yes," "thank you" and other agreeing statements lest i wanted to be verbally abused and possibly tossed back to costa rica or canada.

i was screwed either way: if i capitulated, which is what i did, i lose my dignity. i really feel like i lost my dignity. they made me feel awful, worthless, and just lucky to even enter the united states.

if i stood up for myself, i could've easily been banned from the us, or been given an extremely difficult time when trying to enter ever again. it's awful.

the signs and writing on various papers at the border control office indicated that the officers are to treat people with dignity and respect. i got none of that. instead i was verbally abused, racially profiled, and stripped of my dignity.


N said...

This is awful! What a terrible experience.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that really sucks. That's completely unfair. And the US wonders why people grow to dislike them, when their public officials act so unprofessionally.

I have to say that I'm proud when entering Canada at Pearson, there is no separation between Canadian citizens/landed immigrants and the rest of the world. Equality starts at the border. Of course, it's not just the US that separates locals/foreigners: many other countries do as well.


twm said...

Hmm I have to disagree with Canada - I had a similar racist incident occur at the Canadian border, in which I had come in from Malaysia for the holidays. Basically I was asked some ridiculous questions, with the implication that perhaps I was smuggling parrots or tiger spleens in my bag. What really peeved me was that the people in line before me (caucasian I might add) had been given excellent treatment. And a "Merry Christmas!" to boot!! Who's to say that I am any less Canadian than they are? And who's to say that I can be treated in such a way? North America is just becoming more and more extreme as to what is considered normal and just and right. Canada included.