Storiesfrom the border...

Published on Thu, Oct 4, 2007
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Stories from the border...

Publisher’s Note: Living, visiting and working as we do on the 49th Parallel, the border has an undeniable impact on our lives. Border policies and construction delays are just two of the issues that can have dramatic effect on our day to day activities. Readers of The Northern Light and All Point Bulletin in Point Roberts are encouraged to write of their experiences. Confidentiality is assured. Here are some of the accounts we have received to date. Please address your reports to

I had a pace lane sticker for eight years and a NEXUS card for five years. In those 13 years I crossed the border over 3000 times. I own and train horses at Fraserdowns in Cloverdale, B.C. and cross the border five to six times a week.

I do this to keep active.

On June 12, 2007 I went to renew my NEXUS card and in the process I was asked if I had ever been arrested. I said about 50 years ago I had been drinking and had an argument with my ex-wife and the cops were called.

The officer said zero tolerance, card denied. Then he continued to ask me if I was charged. At that point I was so shook up I don't remember what I told him. A week or two later I received a letter stating that I was denied for the following reason: Arrested State of Maine 1955 for battery, served 30 days in jail.

I immediately went over to the NEXUS office and signed in to talk to an officer. I proceeded to explain the reason for being rejected was incorrect. I said I have never been convicted of battery or ever served 30 days in jail in my life.

Furthermore, I was not a resident of the state of Maine in 1955 as I believe I was living in San Francisco at that time.

The officer answered you told us that all that matters.

I have reapplied and they have debited my credit but maybe I just wasted my money, I haven't yet received the paperwork.

I thought we lived in a democracy. I never knew that they had programs only for perfect people only. Zero tolerance should never exist in a democracy.

I am 81 years old and a World War II veteran. The thing that disturbs me very much is what people like myself and millions of World War II veterans fought so hard to keep off our shores is here - fascism.

Many thanks for inviting comments about Blaine border crossings. My wife and I greatly appreciate your coverage of the issue.

Quite honestly, we have not suffered a bad experience since obtaining our NEXUS cards. On the other hand, we have witnessed what we perceive to be an increasing trend toward random subjectivity that makes citizens dependent on the arbitrary temperament of agents rather than printed regulations.

Indeed, we have been waved through after declaring goods with comments like the supervisor is too lazy or occupied at that moment to care, but with the admonition that we could have been subject to far higher duty fees or duty on goods that does not correspond to information found on US government websites. In other words, we have been made to feel grateful that agents did not impose fees or restrictions even when we may not have been subject to them. This is a disturbing trend.

I lived several years in Latin America. It was the general practice in some countries not to publish what was allowable so border guards could make regulations seem extremely restrictive, then use their authority to relax restrictions in order to exact some arbitrary compensation from travelers who knew this was how the game was played. In short, the moment travelers are subject, not to official, detailed, printed and respected statements of law, but to the whims of agents, the situation is ripe for abuse. One cannot help but feel that American agents are moving from a rule of law to the rule of bureaucratic, and therefore arbitrary, authority, even if we have not yet been subjected to abuse.

Two things would be extremely useful to curb this perceived trend:
First, travelers should have convenient access to current official regulations. We have received widely varying, even conflicting, information about duties on Canadian wine and restrictions on grocery items. Border agents virtually never seem to agree with information on the State Department's website. Without access to detailed published regulations, one is very much at the mercy of an agent.

Second, there should be an appeals board. But the appeals board must work from the same set of published regulations that is made available to travelers. It does not help simply to add more subjectivity to a situation. One role of the appeal board should be to ensure that NEXUS card-holders, who have been cleared of violations, have “empty files” so they can not be picked out of a line or harassed subsequently.

It is frightening to contemplate that the U.S. may be moving away from the rule of law toward the rule of officials in any area of our public or private lives. Ensuring that regulations are published, disseminated and implemented in a manner that is overseen is the best way to limit individual whim and the abuses it spawns. The Northern Light does us all a tremendous service by keeping the public informed.

While I know it must be frustrating for visitors crossing the border, it can be equally frustrating for those of us just trying to get home from Bellingham or trying to get to the only grocery store in Blaine via I-5.

On several occasion, my husband and I have both had to drive on the shoulder (probably illegal - don't tell the police) of the freeway to get off at exit 276 (the exit closest to our home in Blaine) because of the border line-up.

On one occasion, I thought I was being smart by getting off at exit 275 to go to the grocery store on my way home from Bellingham. I will never do that again!!! I got stuck in border traffic; the reason I didn't turn around and go someplace else is because there is no place to turn around and nowhere else to go.

I hope that the people doing the construction will create permanent local access lanes so we “locals” don't have to wait in the border line-up just to go about our daily errands.

(More letters can be found at or at