[Update: An earlier version of this story blamed ICE, but since it happened at a border crossing, I assume it’s actually Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and I have revised the story accordingly. I regret the error, but they both suck.]
I have long maintained that the U.S. immigration authorities in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have some of the worst un-American tendencies of any identifiable group in the country. Whether they’re turning back friendly tourists, keeping out musical styles they don’t understand, jailing people for years and deporting them for crimes they were never convicted of, or letting cancer victims die in their custody, in a nation that prides itself on diversity, it would be hard to find a similar bunch of intolerant thugs that wasn’t on the SPLC’s list of hate groups.
First I was held by Vermont border guards for two hours in the middle of the night on my way to visit Nashville. They searched my bags at least five times. I could not help but notice how often my lingerie and “sexy underwear” were mentioned, how often the condoms they found were looked upon scathingly, and how most of the four male officers’ questions pertained to both. I was baffled as to why this was any of their business and unsure of what their objective was, other than fondling lady’s undergarments.
While I wouldn’t discount the pervert explanation — CBP is a sibling agency to the fondlers at the TSA — my assumption was that the CBP goons did the math something like this:
Lingerie + Condoms = Filthy, Filthy Whore!
The young lady’s next encounter confirms it:
The next time it happened was two weeks later in Montreal’s airport. After scanning my passport, without being asked a single question, I was immediately led to a back waiting room. When I was summoned into an office, the officer cut to the chase: “How much is he paying you to go on this trip?” He was referring to the man I was travelling with.
Confused, I just stared back at him for a few beats.
The next question was whether this man was married or not. The answer, unfortunately for me, was yes. He asked whether I was planning on sharing a hotel bed with this man. I’m not one to sugar coat things and decided that now would not be a particularly good time to be found lying. Again, I answered yes. Righteous, the officer demanded what exactly I was doing in a bed with a married man.
“That’s actually none of your business.”
I had kicked the hornet’s nest. Inflamed, he raised his voice at me that it was his business and that adultery was a crime in America — a crime that he could deny me entry for. He made me tell him my partner’s name and date of birth and threatened to detain him, too. I pointed out that we would be in Miami for a total of forty minutes to catch our next flight to Aruba; hardly enough time to run to our gate, let alone commit adultery. The next thing I knew he was searching my bags, pulling out condoms and waving them in my face.
“I could have you charged with being a working girl! The proof is right here!”
They eventually let her go, but on her third passage through U.S. territory, this happened:
This time I had left the condoms behind. But it was too late – there was a detailed profile of me, in which my nefarious condom-carrying behaviour was noted. Again, I was told to sit and wait for further questioning.
I watched as my entire flight’s passengers whizzed through customs in front of me. I was shaking. By the time someone got around to questioning me, I was told my flight was leaving.
I was detained, yelled at, patted down, fingerprinted, interrogated, searched, moved from room to room and person to person without food, water or being told what was going on for what seemed like forever. Just as I thought they were tiring of me and going to refuse me entry but at least let me back into Aruba, a ‘Bad Cop’ type took me to a distant, isolated office and yelled at me that I was full of shit. He had found information online that in the last couple of years I had been modelling and acting. This, he concluded, was special code for sex work, and I was never going to enter the U.S.A. ever again. I tried not to laugh and cry at the same time. I told him I’m currently writing a book on the sociology of sexual assault.
“Are you looking to be sexually assaulted?”
I blinked at him. I couldn’t breathe.
That line about sexual assault came from angry man who was holding a women alone in the room with him against her will. And it’s not like immigration agents haven’t raped women detainees before. The sad thing is that if she had freaked out and, say, gouged out one of his eyeballs with a pen so she could make her escape, some prosecutor would have tried to make it seem like she was the bad guy.
They eventually let her go, but not without further threats and orders not to re-enter the United States.
So, to summarize: CBP agents apparently think that women carrying condoms must be prostitutes. And they must be prostitutes who aren’t smart enough to just buy condoms after crossing the border. And if they’re traveling with a man, he must be either a client or a pimp. And they think stopping adultery is somehow part of their job description. And because of all this, they harassed and frightened this poor woman every time she crossed the border.
On the one hand, having seen how the assholes at CBP treat foreigners, I’m glad I’m a citizen. On the other hand, as a citizen, I’m pissed off that these customs goons are giving foreigners an impression of Americans that makes me look bad.
Finally, in addition to everything else that’s wrong with this series of incidents, think for a moment about what the CBP agents thought they were doing: They believed they had discovered that an attractive and sexually active young woman was coming here to have sex with members of the American male population. And they tried to stop her.
Talk about your un-American values.