Border Crossings

I just returned from a wonderful vacation with my family.  We went to the seaside in New England and had a great time soaking up the sun and splashing in the waves.  As an immigration lawyer it is always interesting for me to cross the border.  I sometimes feel that I know more than is good for me and this was one of those times.

Although I think that as the immigration lawyer I should be the one speaking with the officers when we cross the border, it always seems to be my husband who has this honor as he generally takes the first driving shift.  This time we drive up to the booth and the officer asks the usual questions: Where are your from, where are you going, do you have fruits and vegetables with you….Why, yes we do.  We always pack car snacks and a picnic lunch for the long trip.

What do you have?

Peppers.

No, you can’t have those.  (shuffle, shuffle, mumble), you’ll need to go in that line…

They keep our passports and tell us to park over there, leave everything in the car, and wait in the office despite the fact that we’re only carrying about a third of a pepper which was sliced for our lunch.  When we’ve had this issue before, we have just handed the offending vegetation over and have been on our way, or once they even let us through with a small amount as we promised to eat it before reaching our destination.  My spidey senses start tingling and I think something is not right here.  Let’s see, we’re both urban professionals from Toronto.  Given recent changes to Canadian legislation I wonder what they are really looking for?

We get out of the car and enter the office.  There is a sign that essentially says sit down, stay there and be quiet.  As I have three children under the age of nine, I think “okay this isn’t possible.”  As my toddler is climbing over the chairs, making friends with other detainees, and then running around the chairs in circles and my other two are a little nervous and don’t know the meaning of quiet on a good day, I’m a little stressed that we’re not following the rules.  Given the recent news regarding US Immigration’s policy of separating children from their parents I start irrationally thinking “are they going to take my children away.”  It wasn’t a lingering thought but it did cross my mind.

After 20 minutes of my mind running rampant, we are called up and given our passports back and told we can get back in our car and carry on our way.  My husband and I both drove away feeling disturbed by the experience.

Interestingly enough they left the peppers in the car.

The reality is I have no idea what was going on within the immigration office while we were there.  Where they really taking a loose opportunity to conduct a search or was it my over informed imagination?  I did however become aware how much recent events and media coverage have really influenced my thinking and my reactions around the experience of crossing the border.  I always tell my clients to present themselves at the border with relaxed confidence.  I did not follow my own advice that day, but realized that in today’s world where sensitivities are heightened on immigration and racial issues, this is becoming increasingly difficult to do.

– Sarah Adler, Immigration Lawyer

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