Rude US Customs Officials: How Not To Welcome People To The United States

U.S. CustomsSome people should not be allowed to wear a uniform.

While flying from Spain to the U.S. to attend the Gadling annual team summit, I touched down first at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. I got into line at U.S. Customs to enter the country.

The line was in a huge room with a row of bulletproof glass booths manned by U.S. Customs & Border Protection officials checking passports and visas. These booths blocked entrance to the baggage claim area and, officially, the United States. The line for U.S. citizens and Green Card holders was long but moving steadily thanks to several booths being open and the generally efficient work of the U.S. Customs folks manning them.

The line for foreigners was a different story. Only one booth was open and the line was practically at a standstill. There was a bit of grumbling in various languages but no loud complaining. Everyone just stood there looking jetlagged while watching a big flat screen TV hanging over the booths.

It was playing a promotional video about all the things to see in the United States. Images of the Grand Canyon, Alamo, Yosemite and other great attractions flickered across the screen, interspersed with a diversity of smiling Americans saying, “Welcome.”

As I waited my turn, one woman in her early twenties who looked like she was from Southeast Asia walked up to the head of the foreigners’ line where an airport worker stood.

“Excuse me,” the Asian woman said with a heavy accent, holding out her ticket, “I will be late for flight.”

“There’s nothing I can do,” the worker said, waving her off. “Get back in line.”

“But the flight–“

“Wait in line!”

The Asian woman quickly retreated, looking at her watch.I was about to shrug this off as Case #4,589,513 of Airport Rudeness when the tale took a turn for the worse. After a couple of minutes, the airport worker called over a U.S. Customs officer. I hesitate to describe him because you might think I’m exaggerating, but believe me when I say he was short, with a big paunch and black, greased back hair. His face was also greasy and over a poorly trimmed mustache he had a big, pockmarked nose – a boozer’s nose, a Bukowski nose.

The airport official said something to him and pointed at the Asian woman. The passenger looked over hopefully. The officer summoned her by jutting his chin in her direction.

The woman approached with her ticket held out.

“Excuse me. I am late for flight. . .”

The officer gestured at the ticket.

“What’s this?”

“My flight. . .”

“So you’re late? Everybody’s late! Hey, is anyone else here late?”

“I am!” some British wanker chimed in.

“Go,” the Customs agent said, dismissing her with a wave of the hand.

She stood there a moment, looking confused.

“Get back in line!” he shouted.

I almost said something. I almost said, “I’m not late for my flight. I have a three-hour layover. She can go in front of me. And stop being so unprofessional.”

But I didn’t. Unlike last month’s run-in with a rude airport security official, I was trying to enter a country, not leave one, and speaking up against this lowlife wouldn’t help the Asian woman and would almost certainly get me in trouble. So I didn’t say anything. I still feel bad about it, but there really wasn’t anything I could do. The fact that he did this within full sight of several of his coworkers showed that his work environment didn’t discourage that sort of thing.

Another small man with a bit of power treating other people like dirt.

We kept waiting in line as a succession of TV Americans welcomed us with big smiles. After a while the Asian woman stopped looking at her watch. She’d missed her flight.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

The Titanic Chronicles: 100 Years Ago Today

TitanicThe story of RMS Titanic, immortalized by the 1997 James Cameron film of the same name, is a lasting one. Bringing the story to theaters in a blockbuster hit, enhanced and re-released this month, gave the story life long after so many had died at sea. Now, footage of recent maritime events, including the grounding of Costa Concordia and fires aboard other ships, brought home a realism no film could match. Still, the fate of Titanic still holds as the worst maritime disaster ever, one that occurred on this day, 100 years ago.

11:40 p.m. on April 15, 1912 was a Sunday and the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic was well underway. Earlier in the day, radio messages received warned of icebergs in the ship’s path but were ignored. That night, a lookout cried “Iceberg, right ahead!” but the ship could not avoid a collision. That iceberg ran down the right side of the ship causing fatal damage to what was believed to be an unsinkable vessel.

Just after Midnight, the ship’s captain ordered lifeboats into the water in what had to be his most difficult decision ever.

Still today, the Captain is referred to as the Master of the Vessel. Still today, he or she has a great many lives to be responsible for. In January, it was Captain Francisco Schettino who gave the abandon ship order for Costa Concordia.

In April of 1912, it was Captain Edward J. Smith as the master of Titanic who was fully aware of the iceberg warnings that had been received via radio days before the tragedy. To insure safety, even back then, Smith charted a new course, slightly south of the original plan, to avoid icebergs.But radio was a new thing then and the focus was on relaying messages sent to and from the ship by passengers or those on land. Earlier in the day of that fateful night in 1912 – 100 years ago today – Titanic had received a message from the steamer Amerika warning of icebergs directly in the path of the ship. Later, another message of iceberg danger was received too. Both went unheeded as radio operators worked to send and receive more important passenger messages.

Today’s cruise ship Captains regularly alter courses too, commonly in response to changing weather conditions. When a crime occurs involving passengers or the crew, the captain, as master of the vessel, is responsible for those people as well and works closely with the US Coast Guard, US Customs and Border Patrol and other agencies to insure a swift and just resolution.

Not long ago, evidence indicated that Captain Francisco Schettino altered the course of Costa Concordia, coming too close to shore and causing the tragedy that followed. The event caused cruise industry leaders to reaffirm their commitment to safety.

Officers and crew members from Royal Caribbean, along with sister-brands Celebrity and Azamara Cruises, now have the advantage of being a part of new simulator training center at Resolve Maritime Academy in Fort Lauderdale. Signaling a renewed focus on safety, staff of the $6.5 million facility cut the grand opening ribbon recently as part of an ongoing safety program but timing surely looked to address current concerns of the cruising public.

“This was not a knee-jerk reaction to recent events,” Captain William Wright, senior vice president of marine operations for Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises said of the two year process to get the facility to opening day.

Still, while simulations can take into account a variety of factors that can go wrong, staff members at the Resolve training facility quickly note that it is the human element that can often make the difference in avoiding disaster at sea.



Fiction: The Titanic being raised out of the Atlantic.

[Flickr photo by mecookie]

Canadian family arrested for making wrong turn at border crossing

After visiting church, the McDaniel family decided to take a drive to visit a new farm built up the road from their own new home in New Brunswick.

What happened next sounds like something out of an April fools joke – the family was forced to stop, removed from their vehicle and arrested. Their vehicle was seized and the parents and their two kids were transported to a border processing facility to be fingerprinted.

Their crime? They had foolishly crossed into the United States by mistake. Thanks to some unclear signage, the family assumed they were still in Canada – without knowing that they had actually illegally entered their neighboring country.

Common sense would usually mean a quick search of the vehicle, and sending them back to Canada, but common sense is something often lacking in homeland security. A border patrol officer had the following to say:

“[The border officers] determined that none of the subjects had permission to be or remain in the United States legally, and they had effected an illegal entry, at which time they were transported into the Fort Fairfield border patrol station, where they were processed and given a voluntary return into Canada,”

So there you have it – while our government is hard at work letting a known terrorist board a plane with explosives strapped to his genitals, they are also hard at work harassing a family who are guilty of nothing more than missing a sign.

Unmanned drone to finally crack down on wild US/Canada border

While much attention is paid to the border between the United States and Mexico, our neighbors to the north have yet to encounter the scrutiny that they deserve. No prison-like fences or vigilante minutemen have stood in the way of people sneaking back and forth between the United States and Canada. Well, the U.S. government has decided that these shenanigans have gone on for long enough. According to Wired and the New York Times, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency will use an unmanned drone aircraft to patrol a stretch of the border between the two North American allies.

The Predator B aircraft will operate out of Grand Forks (ND) Air Force Base and will be the first of its kind on the northern border. Three similar drones currently patrol the border with Mexico. Residents of North Dakota and “a slim part of Minnesota” can now sleep easy knowing that a remote-controlled airplane is buzzing overhead and keeping maple syrup, hockey and the word “eh” where they belong.

Surely a great deal of research went into the decision to have the $10 million unmanned aircraft patrol just a 300 mile stretch of the 5,525 mile long border with our ally, right? Well, John Stanton, executive director of the Customs and Border Protection service’s national air security operations was asked if he expected the drone to uncover a rash of drug smuggling, illegal immigration or terrorism. His response: “We hope to actually use this aircraft to measure that. You don’t know what you don’t know.” Neat!

But at least these drones are foolproof. Well, about that. The drone was supposed to arrive in North Dakota last Thursday. Because of maintenance issues, it arrived on Saturday. And a similar drone on the southern border crashed in 2006 outside of Nogales, Arizona. No one was killed, but it did narrowly miss hitting a house. The cause of the accident was found to be human error.

Well, it may sound like a boondoggle, but I am certainly relieved that someone will be keeping an eye on those hosers. We’re still recovering from the Celine Dion invasion of the 1990s. There’s just no telling what they could sneak in next. Pray that it isn’t curling.

Border patrol is Googling and Facebooking you

Here’s a good warning to those travelers who have a net presence in Facebook, blogs, other social networking sites, or anywhere on the web. Watch what you write; “They” are watching, and you can’t escape your past.

It turns out that Homeland Security is now googling (that’s a verb, now, right?) foreigners entering into the U.S., and using this information in order to bar entry.

Andrew Feldmar (pictured right), a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and now Vancouver psychotherapist, was detained four hours, fingerprinted, and barred entry after DHS noticed an article of his in a literary and scientific journal, talking about using LSD and other drugs in the 1960s…even though he has no criminal record and hasn’t used drugs since the 1970s. He was told he now needs formal permission from the U.S. consul to enter into the U.S.

It’s doubtful the border agent consulted lawyers to determine if a U.S. crime had been committed by Feldmar’s drug use, presumably in Canada, and over 30 years ago. What if his drug use was legal? If a person can imbibe, quit, and become President of the U.S., should others’ actions from thirty years ago come back to haunt them today? What about journalists that write less-than-flattering articles about the U.S.?