Yesterday I shared about my experience with Canadian border authorities while trying to enter Montreal. Sadly, my border travails were not over and I had more problems returning to the U.S. yesterday.
After clearing security at YUL, I found a massive line for immigration with only 20% of the stations open. I find it unacceptable to wait 30 minutes for a border agent and will assuredly purchase a NEXUS card for future trips.
I finally made it up to a border agent who took a look at my immigration form and started quizzing me on why I would only visit Montreal for one day. I explained to him that I travel based on where I can find good airfare and that I got a good deal on this trip, but he didn’t seem to buy my explanation.
He started leafing through my passport, which is filled with stamps and visas from my travels to over 40 countries since 2006, and said, "You’ve been to a lotta interesting places. What kinda work you do?" I told him I was a law student. He looked at me like I was pulling his leg.
Next he asked me, "Where do you get the money for these trips?" I told him that I worked in various capacities for six years before becoming a full-time law student last fall.
He kept glancing at my prominent Pakistan visa and we talked about that for a moment, with me calling the country (properly) "Phak-ee-stahn" not "Pack-i-stan." That must have set off some alarm bells, because his next question was, "Do you have a foreign accent?" I chuckled and told him no, but he asked to see my driver’s license. He was serious.
I whipped that out and he said, "It must be a Southern California accent." I nodded in approval. He still seemed unconvinced that I would take a one-day trip, but I handed him one of my UPGRD business cards and told him to check out my travel blog. That finally seemed to satisfy him, because he let me go without sending me to secondary screening.
The guy wasn’t nasty and probably was doing his job, as defined by DHS regulations, but I hate being questioned like that. I’ve taken overnight trips to South America, Central America, Europe, and Australia before and never faced the sort of scrutiny that I faced in Montreal.
I’m leaning toward just avoiding Dorval completely in the future. With trouble on both sides of immigration, I didn’t feel welcome.
As someone who travels multiple times every single week (and calls YUL home), I can fully appreciate the absolute frustration of the extra shake down whether it’s by customs or security. Not the best part of the day, and adds a bump in what otherwise would hopefully be a smooth process.
That said, while I may get frustrated, I am completely okay with it. Why? The agents are doing their job, and if the extra deep dive creates some false positives from time to time, that’s part of the bargain. In the end, we trust these guys to make astute decisions and “keep us safe” so as I said, I’m completely okay with it.
Reading your story (both of them), you have to appreciate the fact that you definitely raised multiple “red flags”. 1-day turnaround, Pakistan, so well traveled but a student.. the list goes on. Sure, you’re a stand up guy, but believe it or not, those flags are shared with some not so stand up guys. I for one am not surprised you got the extra grilling.
I once watched a guy in a cast with a broken arm get a strong secondary screening at security. He was off his rocker mad with the agents as if it was his fault he was injured and this was a great reason to be in his face and interrogative. Well you know what? Many drugs smugglers use casts and fake injuries to bring items across borders — its a flag agents look for, so it requires an extra questions or three.
Sadly enough, its the times we live in. But if it keeps the plane I’m flying on a bit safer, and the countries we live in more protected, smile and give the man the extra 5 minutes to make sure you’re on the right side.
PS: NEXUS is brilliant.
Your alarmist wording in the title “Interrogated by DHS in Montreal for sounding “foreign” is sad. You are only trying to get more readers by using words that evoke images of a Turkish prison basement and being tied to a chair. “Interrogated”?!, really Matt? You were interrogated? When did you become such a wimp. Someone brought your article to my attention so I read it based on their recommendation of the top ten complainer list. Lets go over all the little tantrums you had in the article. You find it unacceptable to wait 30 minutes blah blah blah. You have clearly never tried to enter the US from the Mexican border by car. They can have to wait hours every day and don’t complain. Are you drinking coffee as you read this? I thought so. You have such a tough life. So the officer didn’t seem to buy your explanations. Did he tell you that or are you telepathic? I didn’t know you can read minds. You are a superhero. Do you have a uniform for being the travel martyr of the world that can read minds? How is your coffee? So you are a student who has taken a lot of trips. It is so common to see college, pardon me, university students who can afford to take so many trips. So you pronounced a certain country a certain way. Congratulations. Do you do the same for Thailand, China, and Mongolia? How do you pronounce those countries? Or is showing the world how you pronounce one country supposed to be enough to show everyone how smart you are? Maybe it is just one of those words that makes you sound British so you stick with it. Your game at the bar must be amazing with the 18 year old girls. Are you recognizing the tone of this message? This is how you write Matt. This is how you express yourself Matt. Sad really. Nothing bad happened but you try to direct your writing to the weak minded and take the gamble that what you have to say will be taken for granted and not verified or checked or be seen for what it is, b.s. Okay, so back to your “article.” So you have never faced the scrutiny anywhere else but Montreal. Poor baby. You were asked questions?! No way. That shouldn’t happen. There must be something you can do. I know, go on this thing called the internet and write something for no reason that has a stupid name like cog, or bog, or log, or better yet….wait for it, blog. Please don’t threaten to avoid Dorval all together. Please come to Dorval. Please. Dorval needs you. I thought I saw a billboard with giant white words on a black background that said, “Sorry Matt, please come back. Stop behaving like a spoiled boy and be a man.
Matt, I’ll give you a heads up this weekend to see if it is a trend of border patrol agents being ruder, since I’m flying out of YYZ on Friday.
@Ted: I appreciate your comments. Thanks for taking the time to express them so clearly. I agree with much of your sentiment, but I take issue (and maybe I’m just dead wrong) with your last point, “Give the man the extra 5 minutes to make sure you’re on the right side.”
Maybe it’s just my naive idealism in the American experiment, but I think your last sentence (and especially the actions of the DHS agent) suggested that I was guilty until I proved my innocence. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? The ends don’t always justify the means and I am leery, just as I am with the TSA, of any government agent abusing their power then justifying it on the basis that I should have no reason to complain if I have nothing to hide.
@Benjamin Dover: Thanks for your comments. I am not going to deny that I deliberately word my blog posts in a way that will hopefully draw more readers, but are you familiar with the definition of interrogation? In its simplest form it means “a sentence of inquiry that asks for a reply.” That is exactly what happened to me.
As a Southern California native, indeed I have faced long waits at the Mexican-California border. I think those long waits are unacceptable too, but that’s quite a difference from YUL, where only ~20% of the stations were open. We shouldn’t be complacent with mediocrity anywhere.
As for the rest of your comments, I’ll just let my readers decide!
Thanks again–I look forward to future comments from you.
@mowogo: Thanks! How long is your trip?
Appreciate the reply, and in an effort to follow up to your comment, I wanted to agree to disagree.
Presumption of innocence is a legal instrument / luxury that is afforded to us as citizens of our countries in the eyes of the law with respect to criminal trials. That luxury does not (and in my opinion should not) carry over to border security, airplane security and the like. There are also rights and freedoms that you’re afforded as a citizen on a daily basis but do not carry over into every environment (private corporations, etc).
You weren’t being convicted, you were being scrutinized for safety. To be as thorough as possible, it’s (probably) best to work in the opposite direction and begin from “is this person suspicious or leading us to believe there may be a reason to be suspicious?”. No? Next. Yes? Dig deeper until you reach no.
In any case, YUL is one amazing city. Hope the airport experience (for you) didn’t ruin a great 24 hours in town.
This past trip was a 12 day trip (as most of my trips are, though this one coming up is only going to be a 5 day trip because of Canada Day), just cleared customs sitting in the AC lounge, and breezed through customs (And I don’t have Nexus). All that happened was I was asked to remove my passport from its case (which I use to shield from RFID, since carrying around a lead box is a little impractical) and if I had anything to declare. A complete polar opposite from my time a couple of weeks ago.
When did you visit Pakistan and which city? how was the experience???