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  1. #1
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    US Customs/Immigration

    Okay, so I've been debating even posting about this for a while now, but I'm generally quite interested to hear if other people have similar experiences or can shed any light on how things operate.

    Recently (before the New Year) I went on a trip to New York, this was not my first visit to the states. I had previously been to Florida when I was much younger, and Maryland during my teenage years. I've never had any issues with customs anywhere in the world, and as a family we used to go on a fair few holidays. On this trip, however, I was completely singled out from the passengers of our entire flight (I know this due to being one of the first off the plane, and still being sat in the waiting area once everyone else had claimed their luggage and left) and flagged up on the system and requested to wait to speak to someone.

    Fair enough, I thought, maybe it's just some random check and I was the unlucky one. The problem started when my mother politely asked if there was a problem and if they could tell us what it was, to which she received an extremely shitty response and told not to interfere. I chimed in just to explain that it was my mother and there was no need to snap at her for asking the logical question, and if there was indeed something wrong I'd like to know what it was. Ignoring my question, all I got in return were a select few personal questions, then told to go and sit in a waiting area for someone to come and speak to me. To add to this, when my mother and her partner asked if they were permitted to come with me while waiting, instead of answering the question the officer just repeated their earlier comment to go and wait.

    Twenty to thirty minutes later, after the two people sitting behind a desk were done with their catch-up conversation, I was called over and asked the same questions and a few more invasive ones. Then after a few blips on their computer, they said I was free to carry on. When I then asked if they could let me know what it was that caused the issue, the guy behind the desk gave me a very shitty attitude, ignored the question completely, and told me I was free to carry on.

    So all in all, I guess what I'm asking comes to this; is this the common practice in the US nowadays? Do people have any rights when it comes to requesting information on why they were raised as a security risk or whatever by the system upon arrival? Are the staff always so ignorant when you're being as polite as can be and just asking a simple question?
    I'm bad, and that's good. I will never be good and that's not bad. There's no one I'd rather be, than me.

  2. #2
    Titan Reeve's Avatar
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    I've been selected for additional screening coming back into the US twice. I'm a tall caucasian American using an American passport. It happens. Usually if you smile and don't give the officers any bad attitude, they'll be quick and send you on your way. If you give them any attitude at all, though, they're likely to make your trip a lot less enjoyable. And yes, they absolutely have the power to do so.

    And yes, the US definitely has the most intensive immigration/customs service I've encountered in the 20 or so countries I've been to.
    Go and tell my baby sister
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  3. #3
    Yeah, none of this is unusual at all, even for American citizens. The thing I try to keep in my head is that the people with the TSA and/or Customs are basically authoritarian pricks that have discovered a profession where they can fuck with people, so of course that's what they do. As such, I don't take it personally.
    Quote Originally Posted by satimy View Post
    Well when you put it that way Obamacare is a lot like Iraq...

  4. #4
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    Thanks for the quick responses, I'm just overly curious because it's the very first time I've encountered such an issue, and I'm by no means a virgin-traveler. I'm also generally nothing but polite when it comes to authority because I know how they respond to negative attitudes, and really the only thing that they could have perceived as bad attitude was when I intervened to say there was no reason to snap at my mother for asking the question.

    I think it's a little wrong that people have no rights to ask why they were picked up on though, and if they weren't allowed to pass on the info, a much better response would be something along the lines of "I'm sorry, but we're not allowed to divulge that information", rather than just being snooty and completely disregarding the question asked of them. Bleh, oh well.
    I'm bad, and that's good. I will never be good and that's not bad. There's no one I'd rather be, than me.

  5. #5
    I travel to the U.S. often for work. Sometimes it is smooth sailing, and sometimes I get asked the most weird/ridiculous questions you could possibly imagine. I especially love their "theoretical questions". eg, "If you were to be offered a job on your trip, how would you react?" is a common one. I think they're trying to fish for red flags.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by FathomFear View Post
    I travel to the U.S. often for work. Sometimes it is smooth sailing, and sometimes I get asked the most weird/ridiculous questions you could possibly imagine. I especially love their "theoretical questions". eg, "If you were to be offered a job on your trip, how would you react?" is a common one. I think they're trying to fish for red flags.
    Yeah, the odd questions are to look for people that have something to hide. I don't have a problem with those at all, really.

    I always love the, "do you have any illegal drugs or weapons?". I've often wondered how many people say, "yes, wait NO!".
    Quote Originally Posted by satimy View Post
    Well when you put it that way Obamacare is a lot like Iraq...

  7. #7
    basically, the customs officers are in a bit of a bind. They have to screen so many people to seem effective, but if its completely random then it basically shows that they're retarded. So when people start asking questions like yours, they have to get defensive because there is not a good answer for them.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hiricine View Post
    basically, the customs officers are in a bit of a bind. They have to screen so many people to seem effective, but if its completely random then it basically shows that they're retarded. So when people start asking questions like yours, they have to get defensive because there is not a good answer for them.
    This sort of thing did cross my mind, and then I thought just how unlucky I was to be the single person on that flight to get singled out. C'est la vie!
    I'm bad, and that's good. I will never be good and that's not bad. There's no one I'd rather be, than me.

  9. #9
    Titan Reeve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kwaphy View Post
    This sort of thing did cross my mind, and then I thought just how unlucky I was to be the single person on that flight to get singled out. C'est la vie!
    Sometimes it's random, sometimes it's because you share a name with someone on the watch list, sometimes it's because you look shifty. It's just all part of the process here. I've never had an immigration/customs agent be rude with me in the US though. Maybe it's just different in Houston.
    Go and tell my baby sister
    Not to do what I have done
    Go and spurn that house down in New Orleans
    They call the Rising Sun

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Reeve View Post
    I've been selected for additional screening coming back into the US twice. I'm a tall caucasian American using an American passport. It happens. Usually if you smile and don't give the officers any bad attitude, they'll be quick and send you on your way. If you give them any attitude at all, though, they're likely to make your trip a lot less enjoyable. And yes, they absolutely have the power to do so.

    And yes, the US definitely has the most intensive immigration/customs service I've encountered in the 20 or so countries I've been to.

    Indeed, its mostly when you return again i got singled out sometimes but its quick and no hassle, they just ask you some questions, mainly monetary and reasons for visit.
    Also they single out people at random as well.
    And yes they are a pain in the ass, travel a lot and really, its over done...

    And there are a lot of inconsistencies as well, most of the rules are plain dumb.
    You cant take a nail clipper on board, but when they serve you food, many carriers give you metal knives and forks.

    What i loved the most was the questions to get my Visa.

    "are you a terrorist?"
    "are you a member of a terrorist supporting group?
    "do you have ill intentions towards the US or its citizens"
    "will you attempt an attack toward the US during your stay here"

    kmon, who the fuck will say yes to any of those?

    There are others that make more sense although can be a tad intrusive:

    "are you a member of a paramilitary group or have paramilitary training"
    "Can you make explosives" ( answered yes, quite sure they could background check me for chemistry so why lie)

    Its just a hassle ya have to go through, dont worry.
    I heard that a lot of US citizens actually get more flak than non nationals.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Spectral View Post
    Yeah, none of this is unusual at all, even for American citizens. The thing I try to keep in my head is that the people with the TSA and/or Customs are basically authoritarian pricks that have discovered a profession where they can fuck with people, so of course that's what they do. As such, I don't take it personally.
    This is pretty accurate tbh. During college I did an internship with TSA for about 2 months, and realized that many of the people are really just assholes who enjoy being an asshole to people. Same thing with correctional officers in jails/prisons, just a guy who wants to take his aggression out on someone else, and couldn't make it as a real cop.

  12. #12
    High Overlord
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    I've had a mixed bag of experiences too, but mostly I answer the questions they ask and I am off. They are curt at times, but never downright rude, at least in my experience. In a similar vein, I have found the Canadian customs people to be super nice (so far !!)
    Franky,I have found the Dutch and German customs people far more rude and intolerable, even slightly racist towards some people.

  13. #13
    We always have a good laugh after going through customs because each time through is so random and your never quite sure what to expect. I've never been singled out like the OP but the last 8 years I have been talking my nephew down to Florida who's parents are divorced. When I started he was 8 and we always worried that it would look like I'm kidnapping him. Yet I've gotten more questions about it from Canadian customs then the US customs. The only time was 3 years ago when my brother-in-law (my nephew's father-in-law) joined us. The look on the officer's face as we tried to explain the situation was priceless.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Skippy88 View Post
    We always have a good laugh after going through customs because each time through is so random and your never quite sure what to expect. I've never been singled out like the OP but the last 8 years I have been talking my nephew down to Florida who's parents are divorced. When I started he was 8 and we always worried that it would look like I'm kidnapping him. Yet I've gotten more questions about it from Canadian customs then the US customs. The only time was 3 years ago when my brother-in-law (my nephew's father-in-law) joined us. The look on the officer's face as we tried to explain the situation was priceless.
    Only questions I frequently get when traveling is after they look at my mothers passport, then at mine, and ask me if that's my sister. |: Then she gets an inflated ego for a while. But all other customs around the world that I've had to deal with have always been quite pleasant. Just crapped out on the luck department I guess.
    I'm bad, and that's good. I will never be good and that's not bad. There's no one I'd rather be, than me.

  15. #15
    What shocked me more was at JFK when I went (first time in the US) they basically grabbed everyone of ethnic origin - not exactly uncommon coming from the UK, from the flight & did the "extra" routine on them, seemed to me like a blatant case of prejudice & preselection to me, but personally despite brand new passport & all that sailed through within 30 seconds! Always best to be courteous, polite when dealing with US customs though, when they have the ability to give you a very bad day it's best to ensure you're not making matters worse!
    Koodledrum - Balnazzar EU - 85 Priest - Retired.

  16. #16
    Titan Reeve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by koodledrum View Post
    What shocked me more was at JFK when I went (first time in the US) they basically grabbed everyone of ethnic origin - not exactly uncommon coming from the UK, from the flight & did the "extra" routine on them, seemed to me like a blatant case of prejudice & preselection to me, but personally despite brand new passport & all that sailed through within 30 seconds! Always best to be courteous, polite when dealing with US customs though, when they have the ability to give you a very bad day it's best to ensure you're not making matters worse!
    Well I don't know JFK airport, but here in Houston, I don't think they extra-screen only on ethnic profiles, since I've been extra-screened twice as an American white guy.
    Go and tell my baby sister
    Not to do what I have done
    Go and spurn that house down in New Orleans
    They call the Rising Sun

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Reeve View Post
    Well I don't know JFK airport, but here in Houston, I don't think they extra-screen only on ethnic profiles, since I've been extra-screened twice as an American white guy.
    Thats because in order not to look racist/prejudice, they grab any random 'normal' white person so the statistics show they don't discriminate. You may think im cynical, but im fine with my analysis.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Reeve View Post
    Well I don't know JFK airport, but here in Houston, I don't think they extra-screen only on ethnic profiles, since I've been extra-screened twice as an American white guy.
    I would assume they screen people for prevention of smuggling/drug trafficking as much as they do for potential illegal aliens and terrorists. It is Customs... and Border Patrol and anyone can be a smuggler. Or even possibly not be the person you are supposed to be on your passport.

  19. #19
    The Lightbringer N-7's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kurioxan View Post
    "are you a terrorist?"
    "are you a member of a terrorist supporting group?
    "do you have ill intentions towards the US or its citizens"
    "will you attempt an attack toward the US during your stay here"
    I've been asked these questions in the past. I REALLY REALLY was tempted to say yes but then I though that it's not worth it and said "no." >.>

    The funny thing is that I was 13 years old. :P

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Reeve View Post
    Sometimes it's random, sometimes it's because you share a name with someone on the watch list, sometimes it's because you look shifty. It's just all part of the process here. I've never had an immigration/customs agent be rude with me in the US though. Maybe it's just different in Houston.
    This is pretty much what I was going to say.

    Additional attention was probably due to a similar name belonging to someone more nefarious than you. There might have also been a slight error in your declaration paperwork.

    As for being rude...well that's just the way a lot of civil servants are. Also Customs, TSA, Border Patrol are fairly no nonsense. They typically don't waste time on small talk or joking around because they just don't have the time or ability to do those things. To some that might be considered rude. It's nothing personal.

    On behalf of Americans everywhere...Sorry you had a bad experience getting into our country. Hope everything else was smooth going...

    ---------- Post added 2013-01-22 at 12:43 AM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by N-7 View Post
    I've been asked these questions in the past. I REALLY REALLY was tempted to say yes but then I though that it's not worth it and said "no." >.>

    The funny thing is that I was 13 years old. :P
    That would have been a very bad idea. VERY bad. As I said above they do not have a sense of humor, nor could they just assume you were joking.
    Get a grip man! It's CHEESE!

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