Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Back in the USSA

Being in a relationship with someone in a different country has its challenges, especially when that country is the USA. I can't legally live or work in the USA, and until she gets a work permit or a permanent resident card, Ciel can't live or work in Canada. That means lots of border crossings for both of us as we travel back and forth together (and sometimes separately). Sometimes it's easy, we just tell them where we're going, what we'll be doing, and when we'll return, but at other times (like most crossings recently), it's not so easy.

Yesterday, Ciel drove down from Salmon Arm to North Bend to visit with her mom before her mom goes away on another trip. I had a few more things to finish up before I left, so I drove down today. I packed the car with the usual stuff (bike, helmet, bike shoes, a couple of ground pads and sleeping bags, binoculars and telescope to view the annular eclipse), as well as a select kit of electronic components so I could build an amplifier for my amateur radios (techy geeks: class E/F HF PA). I got to the border booth and handed over my passport and answered the usual questions (destination, purpose of trip, return date), then waited as the guy looked through all the stuff in the back. He closed the hatchback and I thought I was almost done, but then he stuck a post-it note on the front of my car and directed me to the "secondary inspection" area.

This was the start of a very long and frustrating wait. At least I wasn't trying to board an airplane with extra batteries for a DVD player or a radio in an Altoids tin. The bin of electronic components did arouse much suspicion, though. I got out of the car and was directed into the office where I had to empty my pockets (wallet, cellphone, gas receipt, car keys, etc.) and fill out a long form detailing nearly my entire life history. The agent asked repeatedly what I was doing with all those parts, and I tried explaining what an RF amplifier is and how I simulate and prototype them with the components, but I kept getting interrupted by the question "so what do you do with them?" - which I found a bit exasperating. Then after a round of questioning, the agent would go into a back room and leave me waiting on the one uncomfortable chair with nothing to do or read (surely a tactic to unnerve me).

Eventually he came out and told me that he could not let me across the border with the parts and equipment I was carrying, and that I would have to return to Canada. He told me he thought I was going to work in the USA and asked "does that make sense to you?", and I replied "No, to be perfectly honest, it doesn't". SO... I had to talk to his supervisor, a very military-looking (and acting) man who asked me again what I do with all these parts, and accused me of lying and planning to sneak in for work...but eventually he agreed to let me in. But he made it clear that I was never again going to be allowed to enter the country if I had electronic parts, tools, or equipment in my possession.

I better not tell them that the only thing I really need to work as an electronics designer is my brain, or next time I won't be able to cross the border with it!


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