Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Final Nexus

I finally got home and got an appointment to be interviewed for the final stage in the Nexus Pass application. I went to the site listed on the website, only to find out that the website was wrong. They sent me to the correct site, and I arrived within seconds of the scheduled appointment time, where they looked for my name on a list, checked it off and sent me to sit and wait. The seats were the kind that bother my back, so I picked up a pamphlet, disobeyed instructions and stood around to wait.

It was kind of funny watching the guys in the office. American customs officers all carry guns, and it looks kind of silly when people are typing at computers, answering phones, rolling around on swivel hairs and reloading their staplers with Glocks strapped to their thighs.

I was called up to the desk after not too long, to be interviewed by a very young American customs officer. It was pretty informal. We didn't go into a separate room or anything, I just stood at the desk while he sat in a tall swivel chair on the other side. He had some very standard questions to ask, mostly the same questions that were on the online application and was genuinely interested in the answers. I ended up telling him how he might go about getting a pilot licence, but recommending against flying as a career. Customs officer doesn't look like a bad career. Maybe he was specially trained to be relaxed and natural so as to get truthful answers out of me, but I think he was simply enjoying talking to people as part of his job.

After a while another guy, with a Canadian uniform, came back from a break and sat next to my interviewer. "Oh hey," said my interviewer to him, "You can jump in and ask any questions you have any time." He then explained to me, "This is a joint interview. He's the Canadian." The Canadian told his colleague he trusted him and mostly just spectated amused.

One of the questions was "Have you ever been fingerprinted before?"

"No," I said. "Well, only at Disneyworld."


"Yeah, they scan your fingerprint on the way in and link a hash of the data to your pass, so you can't share it with anyone."

My interrogator was boggled. "Have you been to Disneyworld?" he asked the Canadian. He had. "Did you get fingerprinted?" He hadn't, but allowed that a lot might have changed there since 1983. "Heh," said my interviewer. "In 1983 I wasn't even born yet. My parents weren't even married, still working in the fields."

This must be the most human customs officer I've ever met. Did he miss the class on acting superior and aloof? The last name on his badge was Singh. Hundreds of East Indian immigrants come to the US and Canada to work as agricultural labourers. His parents were probably scrutinized and questioned by someone just like him, who might still work here. This kid was a genuine American immigrant success story. For over two hundred years people have been coming from everywhere in the world to the United States and becoming part of the nation. I think that's very cool. I wrote this before another dark-skinned immigrant's kid became the President-elect of the United States. Canada is like that, too, with our last two heads of state (Michaëlle Jean and Adrienne Clarkson) being non-white first generation immigrants. I think people should be evaluated on their own merit, not on where they come from.

On one basis or another, Officer Singh approved my application. He and the Canadian signed it, took my fingerprints electronically, took my picture and gave me lots of brochures to read about how not to screw up in the Nexus programme. I had to go to another office for the retina pictures, but they weren't scary at all, no different than having my picture taken normally.

Now I can zip back and forth across the border for work more easily.


Jim said...

Considering all the security controls in airports, I find it amazing that the customs officers feel compelled to wear guns.

There is a pretty good chance that the dude who just got off the airplane isn't packing iron. And if someone busts through customs to make a sprint for the door... it takes a good 5-10 minutes to run through an airport - they could just wave goodbye at him, get on the radio and 50 mounties will be waiting for him 5 minutes down the hallways.

When the Canadian customs officers wanted to carry sidearms at every entry point, the government negotiators pointed out it had nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with pay.... if you carry a sidearm you get paid more.

None of this applies to guys working by himself at some lonely country road out in the middle of nowhere... but in an airport?

silver horde said...

You have to be fingerprinted to volunteer as a Girl Scout Leader now.

Blake said...

On a similar note. Do you have to deal with the eAPIS stuff now? Or do your cross-border flights never have passengers?

Charles said...

No offense, but hasn't the Canadian head of state been Queen Elizabeth II since 1952?

Aviatrix said...

I was referring to her representative in Canada, the Governor-General. She is the one who makes decisions like what to do when the government can't pass a major bill. She doesn't actually ring up the Queen to ask.

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