Friday, April 15, 2005

Fun with INS

So today I came home. Nice to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Detroit and thence to Phoenix. Nothing all that remarkable about the itinerary and it would hardly merit a post except for what went wrong. All was fine until I reached Detroit. Oh sure, I had a moment in Amsterdam where I thought I would have problems getting past security; as you don't know, I have a slight tremor which caused the fine security people there to wonder if I was nervous and which led to a third degree prying into every aspect of my 11 days in Nice. I've learned to allow extra time for that. And, as I've posted in the past, I don't have a problem with the extra checks; the point of getting on a plane is to reach the destination in one piece; in an imperfect world one has to allow security some leeway in judging who's a risk and who isn't. Someone with a tremor that looks like nervousness surely fits the criteria for risk!

After that it was a short 8 hour flight to Detroit which is where the wheels fell off the wagon. As a greencard holder I'm allowed to use the US citizen lines at immigration; up I front with my Australian passport, my greencard and my customs declaration. Done it dozens of times before. This was the first time using my new greencard. She swiped the card, stared at me a moment and then, rather coldly I felt, said 'follow me'. So I followed her to the secondary inspection office. She deposits my passport etc in a pigeonhole and says 'sit over there and wait'. Over there are maybe 70 people patiently waiting. Not a word of explanation. Sigh... this is going to take more than the 2 hours between arrival and departure to Phoenix.

Now we come to an interesting catch-22 in the way immigration works. There are no public phones in the waiting area; nor are you permitted to use your mobile phone. Indeed more than once I saw an immigration officer order, in no uncertain terms, someone to turn theirs off. The immigration officers are armed - don't mess with them. They probably do their training with the LAPD. So, once you disappear into the bowels of secondary processing, you're totally cut off from the outside world. Fortunately it's a 4 hour flight from Detroit to Phoenix so provided it only took a reasonable amount of time I could ring my wife and tell her to hold off on coming to the airport to pick me up.

I saw one guy refused admission to the US and given the choice between paying for a return ticket there and then or being deported; the penalty for deportation is a lifetime record of having been deported (which makes subsequent returns that much more difficult) and a 5 year ban from the US. Oh, jail was also mentioned as his location while he waited for the deportation to take effect. If he can pay his own airfare they treat it as a 'withdrawal of application' and don't record anything. Poor bugger; as far as I could tell he hadn't the resources on him to pay for the ticket himself and, with the phone ban, no way to call friends or family to arrange it.

How about the poor bastard who'd lost his greencard. He was, as far as I could judge, a Filipino. The immigration officer obviously didn't believe he'd lost the greencard. 'Sure you didn't sell it to someone for a few pesos?'. I heard that line just after reading a list of pledges from CBP (Customs and Border Patrol - their new name which I'll use in future posts) which promises, among other things, that they will treat everyone with courtesy and respect. You're just reading the words; I heard the way it was spoken and I'm still indignant at it.

2 hours pass. A woman comes out and demands the flight number, count of checked luggage and name of every person there; every person except me for some reason. By the time I realised I'd been passed over she was gone. It seems they pull your baggage off the carousels and put it aside.

Half an hour more passes and I notice someone over at the counter processing a passport that might be mine. By dint of careful observation I'm about 90% sure it's mine; I caught a glimpse, upside down, of the photo. So it proved to be. He calls my name; over I trot! (Trot because if you don't answer instantly they drop your paperwork and turn to someone elses).

'G'day. What's the problem?' I ask. 'Just a routine secondary inspection!' he answers.

Words are almost inadequate to describe my feelings at THAT reply. I've missed my next flight; I'm incommunicado; I've already been travelling about 18 hours by this time; I badly need a shower and it's 'just a routine secondary inspection?'. Not a skerrick of that reaches the outside world. These people have the power to make your day go seriously bad!!!

Then he asks me what happened to my old greencard. 'Oh, I've got it here' I say and whip it out of my wallet. 'That's the problem' he says. 'Oh', said I, 'should I have destroyed it?'. Here he turns belligerent. 'That card is government property, you should have returned it'. My exterior is meekness personified. 'No one told me it had to be returned'.

So he took the old card and bade me sit down again.

Another half hour passes and I'm called up again. 'What's your fathers name?'. 'Full name?' I ask. He nods and I give it (all four of em). Likewise for my mothers name. Dismissed I go sit down again. More minutes pass and he calls me again; this time to stamp my passport through, hand me my new greencard but not my old and release me.

When I got home I went over all the paperwork I've received from CBP and nowhere, I repeat nowhere, does it say that I need to return my expired greencard. Thinking it through I can understand what happened; the old card, not having been returned and actively cancelled, is still active even if expired; so when I turn up with a new card having a different PID (for lack of a better term) but the same name and details that rings alarms.

So why couldn't the initial young lady (the one manning the US citizens line) have noticed that this is a brand new greencard and asked a simple question; what happened to my old one? Could have cleared it up in 2 minutes instead of 3 hours. Possibly she didn't have the authority; once a red flag was raised she probably lacked the discretion to do anything other than refer it to secondary inspection.

And why wasn't the old card surrendered? As I say, there's nothing whatsoever in the paperwork I've recieved from CBP to say I should have returned it and I thought of it as an expired card - I kept it as a souvenir. God knows what would have happened if I'd imagined it was like a credit card; something to cut into 71 pieces and discard once it was expired! And, had I not thought of it as a souvenir that's probably exactly what I'd have done with it. I'm inclined to believe it should have been taken from me back on March 4 when I did the processing for the replacement card and somehow it was missed.

Surely any reasonable person would think that a card with a clearly marked expiry date expires on that date? Yes, I've used the card to re-enter the US after that date but always with the supporting document from CBP that says my permission to live in the US has been extended. No one else would have an original of that document. So even if I sold my expired card to someone else they'd need that document? And if I sold that document also? In that case that someone else, if they looked like me could conceivably use it to enter the US illegally. But surely the issue of a replacement greencard should have automatically made the old one invalid? And once invalid (by the issuance of a new one) the supporting document would also become invalid (I mean when used as a pair).

Ah, it's the end of a long long day. I got home eventually.

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