Third-World Countries

Recently by Simon Black: Do You Know Someone Who Has BrokenFree?

There aren’t too many things in this world that I worry about – the way I have my life structured makes me feel confident and prepared to deal with whatever might come my way.

Of the few things on my list, however, traveling to the United States is near the top. If you’ve ever gone through US border control checkpoints, you know what I’m talking about.

The gauntlet consists of two phases – first standing in line to have your passport stamped, then clearing the customs agent after baggage claim. The experience is unpredictable, and that’s being generous.

On some occasions, it’s smooth sailing without so much as a casual glance from agents at either stage. Other times, it can entail a lengthy interrogation about the nature of your business, and even extremely personal questions like, “what is this medication for” and “tell me your computer password”.

They’ll frequently herd large groups of people into inspection queues where officers dump the contents of travelers’ suitcases inside out looking for something, anything they can generate revenue on. Too many cigarettes? Report to the cashiers’ window with your checkbook.

Their tactics are intentionally designed to intimidate. In Miami International (easily the worst airport in the developed world), I remember once seeing a squad of customs agents standing in a rather ceremonious, single rank formation.

The senior officer gave the order, and his subordinates fanned out from the formation with the precision of a champion synchronized swim team, heading straight towards the nearest traveler for a random inspection with that booming, authoritarian tone of voice they always adopt. It appears they’re incapable of holding a normal conversation.

My last several visits to the United States (as infrequent as they are) have been fairly painful… and I always expect the worst. Luckily, I had a good experience yesterday evening arriving to JFK – they seemed short staffed and were rushing everyone through border control as quickly as possible. The only oddity was that one of the customs agents was walking up and down the line giving travelers a sales pitch for why they should sign up for the US government’s “Global Entry” program, which offers the possibility for a speedy immigration experience.

It costs $100 as the officer told us over and over again… of course, no mention of the interview process or biometric data collected upon application. But I thought it was funny that the government was trying hard to pitch their product.

Once free of customs, the car service I use picked me up right on time, and within minutes we were headed for the Midtown Tunnel with the haunting sounds of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross playing in the background.

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