I travel more than I’d like, so I just invested $80 and a couple of hours of my time in getting a Nexus card. Actually, it’s only maybe a quarter of the time that I roll up to either the US or Canadian immigration and face the dreaded long-lineup scenario; but those times are painful. [Update: Jeepers, it’s getting hot in the comments; check it out.]

I have to say that the process was painless, polite, and reasonably efficient. You talk to the Canadian side, they take pictures of your irises and give you a lecture on how it works, then you go the US side, they take pictures and fingerprints and give you a card.

Or it would have been efficient, except for the couple in front of me in line. It turned out she’d lived in the States and had a Green Card in the Seventies, and that set off all sorts of alarm bells, and they wouldn’t do anything for her till she brought the card in and formally renounced it. Then, it seemed that he had a (minor, low-grade) criminal record, which occasioned further lengthy dialogue and delays.

By the time I got to talk to the official, he was kind of frazzled I think, and never got around to asking whether I’d been arrested or turned away from the US or done anything else nefarious.

As I went through the latter stages I listened to the dialogue with the next couple, who were both realtors from the West Side of Vancouver; they needed the card because they’d just bought a bigger yacht and wanted to dock it down in Washington State somewhere. Maybe I’m in the wrong business.

Now that I have the card, I’m officially “low risk”. I better watch it in the dodgier parts of the world, or someone may knock me over and steal my eyeballs in a foul plot to wreak devastation on the West.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: John Hart (Jun 28 2007, at 14:36)

I, too, recently got a Nexus pass. I live in Seattle and head up to Vancouver or Whistler a couple times a year, so it seemed like a good idea. I'm glad I did it - I've already had the blissful experience of cruising past 100 or so cars queued up in the regular line.

The time from sending in the application to getting any sort of response was long - about 4 months - but the total time investment of filling out the application & then showing up to get the card was probably less than 2 hours. Definitely worth it.


From: Ben Donley (Jun 28 2007, at 17:30)

That or change your iris signature on the server so that you're arrested and sent to gitmo next time you try to use the card.


From: Marcus (Jun 28 2007, at 18:32)

Without being shrill, there's a pretty strong case for intellectuals to boycott slights on humanity such as the Nexus card. It's definitely a haves vs have-nots world that it represents, with problems on many planes.

The most obvious of course is the rampant "new racism" that it is a bit player in. I say "new" for two reasons: (1) because its newly acceptable for larges swaths of the population to openly exhibit truly racist tendencies in their fear-laden reaction to world events. Clearly you don't fall into that category.

And (2) because secondary effects of this fear bring acceptance of technology such as Nexus. For convenience and placebo benefits of a few, these tend to harm the equality that equality that freedom-loving people of the world desire for everyone, regardless of race or country of birth. Its number two that makes people such as yourself complicit in destructive forces for short-term convenience.

This is not a theoretical problem. Mexicans do not have a similarly convenient program for travel, for instance.

It's the small boycotts that count. Its those that determine who you are and what you stand for far more than over-hyped causes. I figure I may as well raise the issue for you to consider. I'm interested in your thoughts on these sort of things.

Little known fact along the same lines: Merchant marine officers easily enter U.S. ports of call when their ships dock. The crew of the same ships rarely have the same privileges, unlike when they visit most other countries under international agreements. This is due to the significant trouble they have securing the documents that the U.S. unreasonably requires, and it is a human rights issue that goes against international conventions.


From: John Cowan (Jun 28 2007, at 19:15)

The regular yammer: this is one of those comment boxes that's too wide on FF/Win32, perhaps elsewhere.

I don't blame you for wanting to avoid the hassle. I do blame the governments involved for setting up this asinine system, which is an invitation to corruption and forgery. After 9/11, there was a huge flap about searching pilots: if we can't trust them, who can we trust? But as Bruce Schneier pointed out, it's not about trusting pilots, it's about trusting people in pilot uniforms -- you don't want to go there.

Now back to the "Your name:" field to hit Enter. *sigh*


From: Alex Waterhouse-Hayward (Jun 28 2007, at 21:52)

My wife and I had the previous version of Nexus and one time, before Sept 11, we decided to go to Seattle. Rosemary did not remember that she had packed an orange in our lunch. For this we were told to leave our car and we were treated like criminals. We were brought in and fined $250. The officer demanded the keys to our car and said he could impound it. Then he told us to watch while he scraped off our sticker. He had a smile on his face. I was furious and my wife was in tears. A helpful officer took me to a corner and told me: "Entry into the US is up to the discretion of the individual immigration officer." He then suggested that my best course of action was to be quiet or the situation would escalate and we could have been barred from entry into the US for years. We have never forgotten this incident and our visits to the US happen only if we are forced to fly through on our way somewhere else. In spite of that Nexus I would beware.

I checked the documents that the US official gave us and I found incredible spelling errors. I realized that perhaps he had wanted to join the US Marines Corps but flunked the entry examinations.



From: anonymous (Jun 28 2007, at 23:00)

I don't trust the US government with my fingerprints. I've vowed to myself that if the US ever expand their visitor fingerprinting policy to Canadians I will stop crossing the border.

I realize this is a little arbitrary, considering the fact they get my passport info and picture now (and probably save the pic, or have other security photos). Fingerprints seems to me like a good place to draw the line at.


From: John Cowan (Jun 28 2007, at 23:25)

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward:

Be aware that when you fly through a U.S. airport you are legally entering the U.S., and you have no rights whatsoever -- legally you could be tossed into immigration internment at discretion. (U.S. citizens aren't any better off.)


From: Aitor (Jun 29 2007, at 02:15)


Sorry if this sounds naïve, but I'm not fully aware of the US immigration/customs regulations. What is wrong with bringing an orange into the US? Is the problem related to the Nexus card?


From: Dan Davies Brackett (Jun 29 2007, at 06:34)

The 'net abounds with stories of pettiness, insanely-interpreted regulations, and a total lack of common sense and courtesy from border officials.

It's almost a cliche to say it but *the 11/09/01 attacks WORKED* - hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent closing the barn door after the horse has escaped, a miasma of fear has descended on US foreign and border policy, and there is nothing we non-Americans can do about it.


From: Harald (Jun 29 2007, at 07:16)

John Cowan:

Most Canadians are familiar with the Maher Arar case...


From: Aristotle Pagaltzis (Jun 29 2007, at 08:12)

I have decided that I would not be travelling to the USA for any reason whatsoever until their acquisitiveness for personal data has been dialed back to an acceptable level, painful as that may be – and painful it is, since I have friends there that I hope to meet someday. I shall not be going there for business purposes either, and I really mean that – eg. I made a point to mention this issue to a Google recruiter who got in touch with me.

Of course, the EU administration is fast becoming as bad on this point as the USA junta, and turning into US collaborators to boot, which worries me terribly. Being forced to pack up and leave to escape unacceptable political circumstances has become a looming reality more rapidly than I have been prepared to deal with. (Read: it caught me pants-down in complacency.)

In any case, I’ll close with a quotation from Jamie Zawinski: “You have two choices: live under US domestic policy; or live under US foreign policy.” It’s funny for a moment, before you choke on your chuckle.


From: David Chase (Jun 29 2007, at 09:29)

There's multiple categories of things that you're not supposed to bring into the US, and among them (for economically sensible reasons) is possibly pest-laden agricultural products. Normal case for these things is that the offending item is dropped in the trash and the passenger proceeds, perhaps with a fine, but sometimes, you run into a jerk in a uniform. The ag products thing has been around for years, but it was recently rolled into the Homeland Security Bogosity, which manages to do a worse job of controlling the spread of pests (so I hear), but much less politely.

It's not just border control: here's a charming video that I just saw where the cops in Hot Springs, Arkansas, subdue some incredibly threatening skateboarders.


From: John Cowan (Jun 29 2007, at 09:32)

I mean no offense to Canadians. It's safer to presume that people are unaware of a pit digged for them than to let them fall into it. Also, this blog has non-American, non-Canadian readers.

Bringing in the orange amounted to the unauthorized import of vegetable matter, which is prohibited for fear of allowing dangerous contagions in. The U.S. has spent huge amounts of money eradicating Medflies (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceratitis_capitata for details) accidentally imported in fruit (as has New Zealand); it's a legitimate concern. Nevertheless, simple confiscation is a sufficient remedy without adding both insult and further injury.

(A similar thing happened to me when I tried to carry my lunch onto a Montreal-New York flight that provided none. It's almost impossible for me to talk about what my country has become without falling into anger and depression.)


From: Rob Koberg (Jun 29 2007, at 10:39)

You can't bring a Nevada fruit into California either. I think it has to do with not infecting the marijuana infrastructure


From: Ted Han (Jun 30 2007, at 06:11)

Most Canadians know who Maher Arar is, but i seriously doubt if most Americans know, so i think it is worth linking to a description of his plight.

Regarding US/Canadian border, i'm a US citizen, who is shortly to marry a Canadian (1.5 months! woo!). I had always sort of planned to move to Canada anyway (my fiancée still has two years of school left at this point). The embarrassing part for me, is that the component of the immigration process that worries me most is the component that requires me to interact with my own nation's law enforcement. As part of any immigration to Canada, you are required to submit police records of any place that you have lived, which incorporates getting finger printed. I have serious misgivings about providing finger prints to the US law enforcement services. To be a part of the system is to run the risk of being falsely accused, or otherwise mis-identified, because, frankly, the past 4 years of turmoil in the US has actually managed to <em>further</em> diminish my faith in the infailability of American law enforcement, especially in the recourse that the American legal system provides those who have been seriously and grievously harmed by the US government.

So good for your Nexus card. As for crossing the border, i have always found Canadian immigration officials polite (what? you're coming to her birthday, and you're not bringing in a gift?) and vastly more pleasant than their American counterparts. Also in all the times i've passed through Canada and returned to the US, i've -never- been searched by the Canadians, and i've been searched three times by the Americans. You can decide whether that's a good thing or not, i would submit that it's probably both the Americans' paranoia, and the Canadians' lack of concern that has resulted in my experience.


From: Austin Ziegler (Jul 04 2007, at 10:38)

What's insane about the ag restrictions is that most of Canada's fruit has been imported…from the U.S. Even as an American, I dread going to the U.S. from Canada because of the absolute nonsense that perpetuates the U.S. Security Theatre. I'm much happier when I can use my Canadian passport to return home. These days, I only use my U.S. passport for travelling to the U.S., and only then so that I don't run into some of the worst asinine behaviours exhibited by Homeland Security folks. I'm always on my best behaviour, though: my wife is not an American citizen like I am, and we don't want to risk an un-appealable ban from the U.S. for her.

The U.S. needs immigration reform, definitely: it needs better oversight of its customs agents who have far too much power already.


From: John Cowan (Jul 05 2007, at 21:55)

(Now the box is the right size. Go figure.)

The one inflexible rule for dual nationals is: when entering country X, always use your passport from X. (Assuming it is valid, you have lawfully acquired it, and all that.)


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