I got a call this morning from an irate but upstanding businessman(who wishes to remain anonymous) who'd "found me on the internet", he told me the following story, which I will relay as accurately as I can:
Everyone in this story are all middle-class 40-somethings. His wife is Australian, and her sister came to visit from Australia for three weeks on a tourist visa. Upon arriving to the U.S., her passport was stamped and she was photographed and fingerprinted as is the norm nowadays.
They went hiking up on the Olympic Peninsula about two weeks ago. The visiting Australian asked if she should bring her passport and my caller said it wasn't a good idea, as they were going to a reservation where you don't need it, and furthermore didn't want to risk losing it in the woods. Anyway, who'd have thought she'd get asked for her passport once she was inside the country?
For those of you who aren't aware: The checkpoint is on the middle of a highway roughly 20 miles form the nearest ferry or entry point into the US.
After the initial "where are you from" exchange, they asked them to pull off to the side, and things started to get ugly when the tourist said she didn't have her passport on her. The Border Patrol called immigration, who looked her up in the database and said they had no record of her leaving the country in 2004 -which she did, publicly, on a plane, like any Australian tourist would- or of her arrival two weeks prior (remember, she was photographed and fingerprinted).
During this time, the two Australians were jolly and cordial and...well, Australian, the situation was not escalated in any way by any of the family.
The Border Patrol insisted that they detain the Australian tourist in a Port Angeles cell while my caller drove to Puyallup, got the passport and came back (this would be a 6-hour drive for those of you not familiar).
Due to a showing of the boarding pass she happened to have from her flight into the US, as much proof as they could muster (an Australian magazine with that month's date on it), and his superior negotiating skills, they were allowed to go after 45 minutes. They were called liars by the Border Patrol -specifically a Mr. Cano, the Supervisor, and a Mr. Rainwater were especially belligerent and rude.
No thanks to the immigration database.
The real kicker: My caller was never in all that time asked for his ID.
After hearing him tell his story, I'm convinced that anyone with any less business experience and negotiating skills(myself, for instance) would not have fared as well.
What the HELL is going on that money is being spent on checkpoints when the damn immigration database they're supposedly using to bust people is neither updated nor reliable?
Is this how businesspeople and tourists visiting the United States are to be treated from now on? I don't want my foreign guests, family and clients suffering abuse at the hands of the government that takes 20% of my income for the privilege.