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[liberationtech] Open Letter To US Customs

Asa Rossoff asa at
Wed Sep 4 15:16:31 PDT 2013

>From Travis McCrea:
> This outlines my experience yesterday at the border.
> tl;dr - because I am the leader of a Canadian political party I might be a

Hi Travis,
Sorry to hear your repeated experiences.  Its good to find the humor in it.

I don't cross the border frequently, but was detained myself in 2001 (pre -
9/11) at the US/Canadian border... essentially for the length of my hair at
the time -- I assume.  This was by the Candian "welcoming party".  I was
held for 12 hours, strip-searched, and they tore my car down, doing quite a
bit of damage in the process.  They said I could call a Canadian attorney
for advice if I wished, and gave me a list of attornies who were registered
to answer questions from people like me.  I spoke to him, and he essentially
said "it's a border crossing, you have no rights," and told me what I might
expect them to do.  They said it was a routine random search.  When I asked
what charge I was being held under, they said "smuggling drugs"; when asked
what drugs, they said "cocaine".  They had found a prescription bottle
(correctly marked) with a very small amount of a non-narcotic medication in
it, prescribed to me, which they did some kind of on-site test of, that
apparently roused their suspicion.  They confiscated my car (because I
refused to pay a several hundred dollar fine for attempted smuggling) and
released me on foot in the desert, 20 miles from the nearest town, at
midnight, when the remote border cossing (and road) closed for the night, on

Anyway, I feel for you.  I could write a long blog post with funny pictures
too.  I didn't tape anyone, and later filed an appeal by mail which I won
and I suspect the team of 10-15 agents they had working me and my car for 12
hours got some heat over the incident.  I re-braved the border a week later
after consulting with lawyers, congress-persons office, and the department
of state (none of which were which much help).  I survived the desert, the
added expenses and delays, and finally paid the fine, filing and winning an
appeal by mail later, resulting in a check drawn on a Canadian bank in CAD
(at a loss to me) rebating the fine, with about a once-sentence letter
acknowledging I had won the appeal.  No acknowledgement of my only other
modest demand in my appeal -- essentially -- "take me out of your system".

A few weeks later, the US border agents at a nearby crossing arrested and
deported a Brit who had helped me out that first night -- he had been held
until closing at the border too on the same day that I was, by US agents,
and was the only vehicle that came down the road.  After he was deported,
his vehicle was still being held in the States, and I'm sure they didn't
expect to have to return it.  Surprise though, the nice fellow signed the
title over to me.  When I called the US agents and told them I was coming
for my newly acquired vehicle (an RV), they hedged and hedged, until finally
they referred me to the Sheriff who had taken custody of it in his impound
yard, and who eventually told me "you probably don't want it, someone has
stolen the transmission and other parts".  If so, I can guess who...  And in
any case, I can guess who was liable...  but I took his advice and didn't
pursue it.

TL;DR the border makes for good stories.

P.S. fab car.


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