Friday, February 01, 2008

Crossing the Border Gets a Little Tougher.

One of the more bothersome developments (among many) in the wake of 9-11 is going into full effect today. Today is the date for the full institution of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). This means that when crossing a border into Canada or Mexico from the United States, or vice versa, you will be required to show proper identification to guards. You must either present a valid passport, or a driver's license and birth certificate. In the case of those under 18 years of age, the latter is sufficient. It used to be the case that you could simply verbally verify your citizenship when making a crossing. It was up to border security whether or not to investigate your claims. Not anymore.

Obviously these new requirements are meant to protect us from the insidious forces of Islamic terrorism. I can understand the concerns that made our legislators propose this new law. It wouldn't do to just allow anyone into our country, given that so many across the globe now despise the United States. As you are no doubt aware, the continental borders are extensive and difficult to patrol. Why make it easy for evil-doers to bluff their way past the demarcation lines from the convenience and comfort of their own vehicle? Surely this new cautious approach will thwart these shady characters from toting a dirty bomb into the "land of freedom". After all, they aren't very knowledgeable about the local geography and terrain. And they know very little about slipping through the night into our midst. We should also be well aware that it is almost impossible to forge a driver's license and/or birth certificate. Just ask the many American college students who are patiently awaiting their own fake documents from that friend-of-a-friend with the laminating machine.

The funniest reports from the field have been coming from travelers who find the new restrictions onerous. Frequent border-crossers will need to add a few crucial minutes to their regular commutes. Is it really fair to burden them with this extra harassment when all they want to do is get some affordable pharmaceuticals from the land of subsidized health care? At the other extreme, there are a bunch of weekend warriors who just want a few sips of authentic tequila and some Mexican pussy. Shouldn't their needs be considered as well? What about the business travelers who need to make their semi-annual check-ups on their legions of Mexican sweat shop laborers? Isn't it bad enough that they have to drink bottled water and put paper down on every toilet seat before they relieve themselves? Apparently not. The new regulations are simply not business-friendly.

Seriously though... although these new rules are only meant to ensure our safety, it has some (I think) unintended effects. All over the world we are told of the successes of modern corporate globalism. We are informed that the lines between nations are disappearing. We are all becoming one gigantic, happily-sated, consumer community. No matter where we go, we are never far from a Coca-Cola, a McDonalds, or a Walmart. The trappings of our contemporary material existence are ubiquitous and embracing. The goods we buy are transported from thousands of miles away. But ironically- they cross the borders freely. Meanwhile our movements are limited. Just like in our nation's prisons, we can get whatever frivolous satisfactions we desire (if we can afford them). But we can't move freely into restricted areas without the proper identification.

For hundreds of years, discontented citizens could always look to the North or South, and comfort themselves with the idea that a handy escape route was available as a last resort. Going back to the time of slavery, Americans always had the option to flee, and many helped themselves to this opportunity. In fact the Tories (those loyal to the crown) migrated to Canada en masse when the American revolution got underway. The Underground Railroad terminated for a healthy number of passengers in the Great White North. Similarly, refugees from the draft always considered it attractive as well. Mexico attracted rebels, outlaws and artists throughout our history. Would On the Road have ever been written had Neal and Jack had to stop to get a passport from the designated authorities? It's true that by sealing off our borders we are insulating ourselves just a bit from forces that would like to do us harm. But the benefit is minimal, and no one seems to be considering what we are given up in the process.

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