This July, traveling by Greyhound, I arrived in Detroit from Windsor, Canada. A dog sniffed all passengers for drugs, and a border agent checked our bags. U.S. citizens produced IDs, while foreigners displayed visas and/or passports. Nothing was out of the ordinary except for this exchange I had with an officer:
"Why are you going to Detroit?"
"I've never been here. I just want to check it out."
"How long will you stay?"
"Just a couple of days."
"Where will you stay?"
"At a motel" on Jefferson Street, I think." Normally, I can't instantly recall the street of my hotel, or even its name.
"Where will you go after Detroit?"
"Home, to Philadelphia. I live in Philadelphia."
"Where did you buy this ticket?"
"It says Dallas on your ticket."
"Huh, I don't know, maybe that's the headquarters for Greyhound. I bought my ticket online."
Then he let me go. It was truly weird, that brief grilling, and totally unnecessary. An American returning home should not have to answer any of these questions. As long as I carried no contraband, it should not matter why I was going to Detroit, how long I would stay, or where I bought my ticket. The only two tasks of our border agents are 1) To stop anyone from entering this country illegally, and 2) To prevent people from bringing banned substances into the U.S. Maybe this officer simply assumed that there were no legitimate reasons for anyone to visit Detroit? But so what if I was irrational or insane? He still had to let me in. Maybe I had a dollar in my pocket and wanted to buy a spacious home, right outside downtown. Maybe I couldn't wait to have a Coney Island hot dog, then a raccoon quiche" Again, an American coming home should not have to explain himself, especially if he was arriving from Canada, and not an enemy country like North Korea. Maybe I had no place to stay in Detroit and was ready to join the thousands sleeping on its empty lots or inside its abandoned buildings. He still had to let me in. What would he do if I gave an unsatisfying answer? Kick me back to Canada?
It's only routine to ask foreign nationals for where they would stay while in the U.S. On October 28th, 2002, National Review examined the visa applications of 15 of the 9/11 alleged hijackers. (Four applications were not available.) Of these, only one listed an address. The rest scribbled nonsensical answers such as "Wasantwn," "Hotel D.C.," "Hotel" or "JKK Whyndham Hotel." One simply wrote "NO," as to where he would stay. There were additional problems with each of these applications, yet all the men were granted visas, absurdly enough. The attitude of these alleged hijackers was not just casual, it was flippant, as if they knew this annoying procedure was entirely unnecessary, a mere formality.
Similarly, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, could expect to fly from Amsterdam to Detroit without a passport. With the right string pulled, who needs a stupid document? Before boarding, Abdulmutallab was spotted by an American couple, lawyer Kurt Haskell and his wife, Lori. This shabbily dressed, 23-year-old Nigerian was accompanied by a suited, Indian-looking man around 50-years-old. The odd pair caught the Haskells' attention. Speaking in American accented English, the Indian-looking man intervened with the ticket agent to get Abdulmutallab onboard, "He is from Sudan, we do this all the time." Who are "we," Haskell would wonder later, if not the U.S. government?