Sunday, August 05, 2007

Fettered frontiers

Detail from a mural in the Buffalo, New York's City Hall depicting the U.S.-Canada border, circa. 1931.

In the age of the internet and global warming, national borders seem a little absurd -- until you or someone you know has trouble crossing one.

I've been collecting stories about our borders: here are a few.

The city has almost 10 million people, but no name.

Workers commute along its highways, while students shuttle to school. Companies buy and sell, patients get treatment and shoppers hop to their favorite spots -- doing their best to ignore the barrier that cleaves the city in two.

We know part of that "city" as Buffalo. The other part is Toronto and everything in between. ...

Just how much of the crossborder traffic represents local economic activity has always been difficult to gauge. ... [Thirty] percent of weekend receipts in the register at Peppermints, a male strip club in Niagara Falls, [Canada] are U.S. currency. ...

Local businesses have long clamored for easier border crossings and more coordination of infrastructure to spur economic growth. ... But Washington takes other factors into consideration when deciding how tight to make the border. A secure frontier is integral to sovereignty and plays well politically to voters in the interior of the nation.

Buffalo News,
June 24, 2007

Now the Feds plan to require passports for those intra-metropolis "border crossings." Niagara Falls's [Canada] day-tripper traffic was down 42 percent in June from 2005 numbers. Less than 25 percent of people in the U.S. even have passports, though applications have clogged the Federal bureaucracy this year. In the Buffalo area, border obstacles are creating a further economic drag on an already depressed economy.

DERBY LINE, Vt. -- Residents of this town and neighboring Stanstead, Quebec, are proud of the elegant granite hall that straddles the border between them. It is their rarest jewel: The Haskell Free Library and Opera House, built a century ago as a symbol of friendship between the United States and Canada and shared ever since by citizens of the two countries.

Canadians and Americans borrow books and watch plays side by side at the library, which was deliberately built half in one country and half in the other. No guards are stationed on the quiet, shady streets around the building, and Canadians who cross into Vermont to enter the library do not need to show their passports at a border station, as they do when crossing for any other purpose. Inside the library, where a strip of black tape on the floor marks the international boundary, patrons wander unchecked between the two countries on their way from the stacks to the birch-paneled reading room.

Boston Globe,
June 24, 2007

It will come as no surprise that the U.S. government wants to disturb this comfortable arrangement; a terrorist might try to pass as a book borrower?
Such comfortable co-existence is not limited to the northern border of the U.S.

[A residency checker for the San Luis, Arizona schools, explained:] "To people who live along the international border, it's similar to a county line," he said. "People don't think much about [crossing] it."

Certainly not Carla Molina, who walked her two children, 11 and 8, to school in San Luis, one recent morning.

"We're planning to move back here anyway," Molina said. She lived in San Luis years ago, and her children, born in Yuma, are U.S. citizens. She wants them to learn English. "It's important they learn it when they're young," Molina said.

LA Times,
June 25, 2007

Naturally our immigrant-averse xenophobes are mightily upset about this very human cross-traffic.
Then there are the repeated stories of border crossers who come from further away, from the "wrong" culture, or the "wrong" religion, or simply with the "wrong" last name.

Ever since Jimmy Carter was president, summer has meant one thing for Majed Shehadeh and his wife, Joanne Mulligan: time to pack. From their modest house in Bavaria, they migrate annually to their summer home in Massachusetts, where Ms. Mulligan was born and raised, with the accent to prove it....

A Syrian-born German citizen, [Shehadeh] was detained when he flew into Las Vegas in December to celebrate his daughter's passing of the California bar exam. ...

Shehadeh was taken to the North Las Vegas Detention Center, where he says he was stripped of his belongings, including $1,000 in cash, and his heart medication, which he wouldn't receive for another 36 hours. ...

Shehadeh then joined about 25 other people in a holding cell that had metal benches, concrete floors, a single toilet in public view, and no blankets or mattresses – a setup confirmed by Tim Bedwell, a spokesman for the facility.

Shehadeh was so loath to use the toilet that during his three-night detention he says he ate only a spoonful of mashed potatoes.

Sleeping also proved difficult. Court TV was blaring through the night, says Shehadeh. "You could hear the gavel pounding over and over. It was like a special kind of torture."

The next day, Shehadeh says, he was led into a room and told to strip naked. Then he was ordered to kneel down and cough while a guard inspected him from behind. ...

It wasn't until the afternoon of Dec. 31 that he was summoned for release. He quickly collected his belongings, except his $1,000 in cash. Instead, he was issued a check, which he showed the Monitor, stamped "City of North Las Vegas Inmate Deposit Account" in the upper-left corner. (Too humiliated to cash it, he keeps it on his desk.) Then he was delivered to the airport gate shackled and unshaven.

"The whole process is only humiliation over humiliation over humiliation," he says.

Christian Science Monitor,
July 11, 2007

Sounds like an ordinary U.S. jail to me -- but the Feds haven't even given a reason for this treatment of a Massachusetts home owner. He tried to cross a border.
Every once in a while, the boundary setters get their comeuppance. A Republican hack, one Dennis Schornack, was given a job in the Bush administration trying to map and fence the U.S.-Canada border. The Bushies didn't fund this effort of course; they just gave their guy the job and let the project fester.

Meanwhile, Shirley-Ann and Henry Leu retired to Blaine, WA aiming to raise Pomeranian dogs at their new home. Since they were located adjacent to the border with Canada, they built a $15,000 concrete wall to keep the dogs in. Trouble was, their wall encroached on the 10 foot "obstruction-free zone" that Schornack was tasked with creating. And when Schornack sued to get the fence moved, the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation stepped in to fight for the Leu's "property rights."

Mr. Schornack hired counsel and prepared a countersuit. He says he was then tackled by Justice Department lawyers, who urged him to settle the case. ...

According to Dennis Schornack, Mr. Reyes then issued an ultimatum: he had until 3 p.m. to back down. Mr. Schornack refused. The next day, he received his two-sentence fax [firing him] from the White House.

NY Times,
July 22, 2007

Schornack is now suing the President he served.
I can't help thinking we're overdoing this border stuff. I don't want to arbitrarily jail and humiliate people in the name of some phony "security." I don't want to live walled inside a fortress with a population of quaking cowards. But my rulers want me to live that way.


Kay Dennison said...

They're doing the same damn thing in Michigan -- passport required to cross the border! What a bunch of idiots!

Grandmère Mimi said...

I don't have all the answers to the immigration situation, but fear and paranoia will only lead to bad decision-making.

Some folks seem frightened of their own shadows, for crying out loud.

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