Over the years Dave and I have crossed many international borders together. Most frequently and most obviously, the United States-Canada border. And when we head towards the glorious wheat-city of Brandon, Manitoba, we usually cross at the most geographically convenient spot also known as the International Peace Garden along the border of North Dakota. As Caitlin or Abby or Liz or Nell could tell you, sometimes getting past immigration officials, even when you are totally legit, is a bit tricky.
For the first couple years of our marriage, we weren’t full-time residents of either of our native countries. We weren’t full-time residents anywhere, so this made answering questions about our permanent residence a tad confusing. And when I say confusing, I mean terrifying. Various border agents at various times have made us very nearly shit ourselves with their thinly veiled threats. I fully realize they have a job to do, but I also have to believe that we are in no way the biggest immigration concern. Regardless, we made all kinds of effort to avoid these stressful encounters. We traveled separately, had friends drive Dave across the border, and pretended now to know each other in line at the airport. And crossing at the Peace Gardens involves the most elaborate of planning, since they seem to have too many staff and too few vehicles rolling through.
Thinking and planning these palm sweat soaked crossings was exhausting, but several months ago we filled out thousands of papers (not literally) and paid thousands of dollars (literally) to make this process so much easier.
Dave got his green card. Which isn’t green and is actually called his Permanent Resident Card. And no, this does not make him an American, but he is a Permanent Resident Alien. He has the right to work and reside here for the foreseeable future. In 2019 we will have to fill out more paper and pay more money to continue this hullabaloo, but I am banishing it from my mind until then. And so, as we returned from Canada to the United States this week all my fears were assuaged. I knew we would breeze through by simply flashing our passports, that magical card and my endearing smile. So you must imagine my surprise when, after nearly an hour inside the customs/immigration building while my car was emptied and searched and my dogs were tied to a post where I couldn’t even see them, I was still being asked questions like this:
Officer of Customs and Immigration Law: “Do you have any tobacco products?”
Lane and Dave: “No.”
Lane and Dave: “None.”
Officer: “You don’t smoke?”
Lane and Dave: “No.”
Officer: “Really? No pipes? No papers? Nothing at all? Nothing?”
Lane and Dave: “No?”
Officer: raises eyebrows skeptically
By the end of that line of questioning, I was actually confused. Do I smoke? Did I buy a carton of cigarettes on some kind of sleepwalking excursion? And the Tobacco Inquisition of 2009 is only one example of what that 90 minutes held for us.
Now of course I realize that these people have a job to do. I get that. But at the border crossing between Bossevian, MB and Dunseith, ND there isn’t a whole lot happening. It’s not like crossing at a major city or through an airport hub. Others who crossed (without inquiry or search, I might add) while we waited included elderly people in a Lincoln, families in campers and a semi-truck full of giant hogs. We didn’t carry any booze, our dogs have more papers than most humans to document vaccinations and I did not pack citrus fruit in my lunch. I’ve had one too many orange confiscated, I don’t play that game. And yet still, there we sat, under suspicion and adding moments to our 9 hour journey.
When we were finally allowed to return to our car, we found it in a state of disarray. I have inherited my packing sense from my father. Packing a trunk is like a game of Tetris, and these border guards clearly never owned a Game Boy. Everything they couldn’t fit sat on a very surgical looking stainless steel table and several guards wearing rubber gloves and wielding high powered flashlights watched with what I can only describe as bemusement as we repacked the car and reunited with the dogs.
We drove away, silent at first as we sulked about the time lost. Then laughing, more like nervous giggles, at the irony that our first search after getting the green card was the most aggressive yet. Then, not laughing anymore, we searched the atlas for an alternate point of crossing next year.