The following story is true, give or take an embellishment or two. It may read like satire, but it really happened. The names were not changed due to the belligerence of one Homeland Security Officer.
On Feb. 1, 2008, new border security rules went into effect. These new rules require a passport or some proof of American citizenship for anyone over the age of 19. A “trusted traveler” card will also suffice for those who cross the Canadian border frequently. Owners of ski lodges in Vermont and other states that border on Canada are miffed at the new border security measures, believing the new border security rules will hurt business.
It may seem that U.S. fears may be unfounded to some travellers. What are they afraid of, that Americans will take a liking to hockey, smuggle bootleg Celine Dion CDs in the country or start ending most sentences with “eh?”
I can see some new border security rules because terrorists could cross over into our country from Canada. However, when the Dept. of Homeland Security starts hassling American citizens who there is no reason to suspect of such crimes, well, I believe it was Ben Franklin who stated “when a country values security over liberty, it deserves neither”.
After visiting my wife’s sister in Ohio during March Madness last year, on a sunny Tuesday, Mar.20, the last day of winter, my then 10 year old adopted son and I decided to take a side trip to Detroit, MI. My wife would be visiting her sister at Lima Memorial Hospital all day and it was either that or hang around the motel all day. Michigan was one of the states I had never visited, there was no bad weather in the forecast, so road trip!
If you’ve ever tried to keep a hyperactive 10 year old entertained, you know what that can entail. It’s only 2-3 hours from Lima to Detroit, not a bad drive at all. we rolled into the suburbs of the Motor City around lunch time. Wyandotte, I believe it was. Looking for an eatery close to I-75, we drove a short distance and lo and behold! A Hooters restaurant loomed ahead. As tempted as I was, we passed on, found a McDonald’s and lunched.
It wasn’t long before we began seeing road signs pointing the way to Windsor, Ontario.”Why don’t we go there?” my son asked. “It’s in Canada” I replied. “Let’s go!” he retorted, excited at the prospect of visiting another country. “Well, I suppose we could, it’s not far, we have plenty of time and you don’t have to have a passport, just some proof of citizenship” I said, thinking my birth certificate and other papers were in the console. Of course, the papers turned out to be in my wife’s purse. In Lima, Ohio, USA.
We crossed over into Canada via the Ambassador Bridge after a brief chat with the young lady at the booth. A striking black haired beauty, who bore a strong resemblance to actress Sarah Silverman. She asked a couple of questions such as our purpose for entering Canada and how long we planned to stay. I answered, showed her my son’s ID from his school and we went on our way.
Entering Windsor, a town I was familiar with only because of the Ford 351 Windsor engine, it didn’t seem that different from an American city, Little Rock, AR maybe. The two cities are roughly the same size. The biggest change from home was the “ehs” punctuating many sentences. That and the cold temperatures. “Oot and “aboot” were other differences. Signs in both English and French. And, of course, the money. Canadian money is worth slightly less than ours. We looked around, visited a few touristy type places, bought a souvenirs, and checked out the lakefront in spite of the bitter cold.
After a couple or three hours, we were ready to make our way back to the good old U.S.A., this time taking the tunnel back to Detroit. There was a lot of traffic and at one point, the front of the car was in the U.S. with the back seat still in Canada.
We finally made our way up to the window and little did I suspect what was about to transpire. I passed the man, Officer Ballard his name tag read, my AR driver’s license and my son’s ID. Ballard, a squinty-eyed Wilford Brimley look-alike, asked if I had anything to declare. You know, Wilford Brimley, the character actor with a Walrus moustache who has appeared in so many films.
As much as I was tempted to make a smart remark, Ballard seemed like pretty much of a humorless sourpuss and I wanted to get back to the motel before dark and hit the hot tub. So I played it straight, said “no” and waited. Knowing that border security rules still weren’t that strict, supposedly, U.S. citizens could reeenter with a driver’s license and by verbally declaring themselves to be an American citizen, I didn’t expect to be detained for an hour or so.
“You know that this ‘don’t’ prove citizenship, dontcha?” Brimley, I mean Ballard, curtly stated, like the real Brimley lecturing Kramer on a Seinfeld episode in which “KMan” tried to permanently stop delivery of his mail. Brimley was portraying the Postmaster General on the show.
This Ballard guy was only slightly less sanctimonious. “What were ya’ doin’ up there, anyway?” More questions followed. This guy was trying to intimidate. I was starting to get agitated. I had declared my citizenship earlier. I had showed my son’s ID. I had passed an FBI background check just a few months before, required to adopt a DHS child in Arkansas and told the man so.
“Where’s the boy’s mother?” Ballard demanded. I told him the story, again. Ballard intoned into a walkie-talkie in his best Wilford Brimley monotone to someone: “he claims the mother is in Lima, Ohio”.
Shortly, the car was being flagged and I was told to pull forward and follow an officer, who was on foot. We were told to get out of the car, taken inside, including Roxy, our puppy who made the trip. We couldn’t very well leave her at the motel. My son and I were separated as the car was obviously being searched. I was beginning to get concerned, even though I had done nothing wrong and had nothing to hide.
Sitting alone across from the main desk, all sorts of thoughts came to mind. With blue eyes and bearing no resemblance to a Middle Easterner, after declaring citizenship, with two forms of valid ID, why was this happening to me I wondered. Would I be waterboarded? Would a Robert Stack-like FBI agent pop in with a nurse snapping on rubber gloves as in “Beavis and Butthead Do America”. I could hear it in my head: “Full cavity body search”, among the most dreaded words in the English language.
Finally, my son emerged from the interrogation room. We were finally free to go. “Damn”, Brimley, I mean Ballard, must have been muttering under his breath. Before leaving, the woman working the desk, who had been courteous the entire time, asked to get a closer look at Roxy, our dachund/ terrier mix puppy. Roxy promptly let the Dept. of Homeland Security know what she thought about their treatment of her daddy.
We offered to clean it up but were assured it was okay. We didn’t ask twice, making a hasty exit for downtown Detroit, nearly relieved enough to kiss the ground at the sight of American soil. Nearly, I said, this was Detroit, after all. We had made it back into our native U.S.A. with our dignity intact. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but with no dreaded full cavity body search, in any event.
We quickly put the over-officious, pompous Officer Ballard in the rearview mirror. Guess what you can do with your new border security rules, it was tempting to say. I know border security is necessary due to illegal immigration and mostly terrorism. I know new border security rules may have been needed. But the old border security rules were still in place at the time.
Selective enforcement of new border security rules before the new rules have been put into place? No fun if you’re the guinea pig.
Arrive derci Homeland Security. Sayonara Ballard. Have a nice day, and Officer Ballard, you can keep the stool sample.