Feds are tired of making you wait in security line

The government doesn’t want to make you miserable! Seriously. The Department of Homeland Security wants faster airport screening just as much as you do. That’s why it supports a program for screening approved, low-risk travelers coming to the United States to most international airports. The new approach has been tested for more than a year at seven airports, and screening time dropped from 10 minutes to only three.

To participate in this program, you need to be either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident — and more than 14 years old. There’s a $100 fee (which is probably worth it), and you have to submit to a background check. If you’re accepted, the customs process when you get back to the United States won’t be so bad. If all goes well, the program will eventually be open to foreigners who come from countries that have a sufficiently solid screening process.

Now, DHS, is there anything you can do to speed up all those logjams at domestic security checkpoints!

Europeans complain about U.S. travel fees

Extra fees charged by airlines, the “new normal,” are so popular that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has gotten into the game. And, bitching about these fees is equally popular, prompting the European Parliament to sound off like its members are Ryanair passengers with full bladders and no coin for the slot.

At issue is a planned $10 charge for Europeans coming to the United States. The European Parliament calls the charge unfair, saying it amounts to a new visa restriction. Enrst Strasser, a lawmaker from Austria, says that the requirements for entry under the Obama administration are even harder than they were under the previous (U.S.) government and that for us is a contradiction that we in the European Parliament cannot accept,” Austrian lawmaker Ernst Strasser told Napolitano during a special hearing with her. “We really have to insist on our European values, that European data protection laws and European civil liberties also have to be taken account of.”

Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary, calls the fee reasonable, since the United States doesn’t have an agency for travel and tourism, “unlike many of your countries,” she said of the European states. The $10 fee would be used to “fund and help tourists and travelers who wish to come to the United States.” Since budgets are constrained at both federal and local levels, Napolitano feels this is a reasonable move.

The money has to come from somewhere, and if Washington has to choose between taxing Americans and taxing everyone else, who do you think wins? Napolitano may not be an elected official, but her boss sure is. There’s a pretty clear need for travel-related revenue in D.C., and the government needs to invest in promoting visits from overseas. When people cross a border to come here, that’s a net inflow of money into the United States.

Despite European objections, the numbers suggest that this isn’t a bad idea. Foreign spending in the United States has fallen for the past year, with drops becoming particularly severe last spring and continuing without reprieve. From August 2008 to August 2009, spending by visitors from other countries fell 21 percent, marking the fourth consecutive month of declines worse than 20 percent.

When it’s time to pass the hat, nobody wants to reach into his pocket.

A week at the Dulles customs area – cocaine, porn and $35,000

Traveling often sucks – but a sure way to make the end of your trip even worse, is to get one of those cryptic red messages scribbled all over your customs form when you pass through the immigration line.

I’ve been selected for a closer look at my belongings about 20 times, and it can be a massive pain in the backside.

Customs officials usually go through every single item in my bags, going so far as to turn on my laptop and take it to a small room where I’m guessing a forensics specialist is looking for dirty photos.

Still, I’ve never had anything to hide, so other than a major inconvenience, it isn’t really the end of the world.

That said – after reading a Customs and Border Protection press release about “a week in the life of Dulles Airport”, I’ve got a lot more understanding and respect for what the CBP does.
Here are some of the highlights of just one week:

  • Dagoberto Giraldo Perez was arrested on an outstanding DEA warrant for importing 11 pounds (or more) of cocaine into the US.
  • A Japanese traveler tried to enter the US with child porn DVDs, and another passenger arriving from Peru was carrying an insane 66 bestiality DVDs
  • A lady arriving on a flight from London landed at Dulles with $35,000 in US currency, but refused to declare it, despite repeated requests. She left the airport with $300 and will have to plead her case in a petition to claim the rest of it. There is nothing inherently wrong with carrying that much cash, but you do need to declare anything over $10,000.
  • 8 passengers were turned over to the local police on outstanding arrest warrants, mainly involving charges of theft, fraud and insufficient funds.
  • The “dumbest passenger of the week” at the customs desk was a passenger from Vietnam who failed to declare 6 pork sausages. The CBP agriculture specialists gave the man numerous opportunities to amend his customs declaration form, but he decided it would be more fun to just keep lying. He was fined $175.

Then of course, there are the usual passengers who lied on their customs forms and tried to hide items like sausages, Absinthe and Cuban cigars in their luggage. Customs agents even seized 2 bottles of vodka from a minor arriving from Germany

So there you have it – the results from just one airport, during one week.

What surprised me most, was how many passengers simply fail to understand what they are up against. It takes a very special kind of stupid to prefer lying about the items right in front of you and and being fined, than simply amending your declaration.

The US Customs and Border Protection agency has a site dedicated to educating you about the various rules and regulations regarding items you can (and can not) bring back to the country. Many of those rules are pretty straightforward, but the most important thing to remember is to not be an ass at the customs desk and to remember that lying to the agent is probably not in your best interests.

Check out these other stories from the airport checkpoint!

Foreigners To Give 10 Fingers to US Customs

Travel to the US will, once again, get a little bit more annoying for foreigners. Since 2004, the Homeland Security Department has been collecting their index-finger prints, gathering a whopping 90 million sets of prints. Is this ultra-private information safe with the US government? Who knows.

That was apparently only the beginning. The new security program, called US-VISIT, will require foreigners to get all 10 fingerprints scanned. Homeland security spokesman Russ Knocke said to USA Today that biometrics can be a game-changer: “They represent what terrorists fear most – an increased likelihood of getting caught.”

That’s very interesting, Russ. I thought the entire problem with the war of terror is that we have no idea what terrorists want. Clearly, we now do. They are petrified of getting caught. OK then.

By March, foreigners arriving at the following airports will have to provide 10 fingerprints:

• Washington, D.C. area (Dulles)

• Boston

• Chicago (O’Hare)

• Detroit

• Atlanta

• Houston (Intercontinental)

• Miami

• New York (Kennedy)

• Orlando

• San Francisco

Source: Homeland Security Department