Tuesday, September 09, 2008

NEXUS and The Watch List - Redux

I mentioned earlier that I had applied on-line for NEXUS cards for Sandy and I to facilitate our border crossings. I also mentioned how, the day after, I found out in a CNN article that James Robinson was on the US Terror Watch List.

I found out last Friday that our applications had been tentatively approved. Yesterday morning, I tried to book appointments at the Soo, Michigan, NEXUS Centre on-line, but the system was down. I phoned and got us appointments for today at 2:00 and 2:30.

We took the van and headed out early, just missing Rabbi's departure for Edmonton when we got to Mom's. There was ample visiting time and I set her up on Facebook before we had to leave for the border at 1:00 PM. I left early because, the last time, we were stuck on the bridge for 45 minutes. Today, no line. None. We pulled up and had a choice of three empty booths, so I took the middle one.

The Border Agent took our ID's and asked the purpose of our visit. I told him we were going into his office for NEXUS interviews and he told us we'd have to go through the toll booth and park around back. But we didn't because, just after he said that, some kind of warning tone started to go off in his booth and he said that someone with my name was wanted.

A second agent entered the booth, looked at the screen and commented that I wasn't black. I told them I had seen my name in conjunction with the Watch List on CNN and had an idea what was going on. The second agent, with a third one for backup, walked beside me to the impound area where he politely asked us to get out of the vehicle, leave the doors unlocked and go inside the building. He told me to take our NEXUS paperwork.

The folk inside were friendly. I told them we were there for the interview but that my name had come up on the list as well. One officer said that wasn't so good, but they were still very pleasant. After about ten minutes, one of the outside agents gave me the thumbs up and told me we were free to go. I asked if I could leave the van there and then head back afterward without paying the toll. He said he wouldn't have a problem.

There were two NEXUS windows. The first one was manned by a Canadian agent who checked our papers (passport, birth certificate, DL and a utility bill to prove residence), filled out some forms and took our pictures. She gave us all the rules for the Canuck side. The second window was manned by a US agent who gave us the US rules, scanned our index fingers and prepared our cards. The computers weren't being co-operative, but they got the job done and we thanked them profusely.

The cards will allow us to use dedicated NEXUS lanes when they are open, usually at rush hours, as long as we have nothing to declare. We hold the card up in front of a grey box as we approach the NEXUS booth and, by the time we get there, our photos and details are already on the screen. If we have declarations or the lanes are closed, we can still use the cards as ID at the regular booths, eliminating the need for birth certificates or passports. They are also good at airports (where equipped), although we need to stop by one of them to get our iris scans done. She was clear, though, that if we ever have our cards seized for breaking the rules, we would never get another one.

New cards in hand, we made a U-turn on the bridge plaza, short of the toll booths, and headed back to Canada. We couldn't use the NEXUS lane because our data wasn't uploaded yet and it wouldn't be open for another 15 minutes. The bored border agent was singularly unimpressed with our cards and sent us on through without even looking at them.

We drove straight back to Sudbury, arriving about 7:00 PM. We'll see on Thursday or Friday at Cornwall if the card will trump the watch listing, or if we will be invited to the impound area again for another search. The agents in the Soo weren't sure.

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