374

The Day US Customs Found A Bullet In My Pocket

United States ImmigrationOn the flight from Delhi to Washington D.C., I spent a good two hours staring at the customs form that I was required to fill out. I had completed every section of the form, except for one. I just wasn’t quite sure if mentioning Pakistan and Afghanistan in the box that asked me to list the countries I had visited was such a good idea. As I wrote down the other countries I’d been to on this trip – Australia, Singapore, Thailand and India – I seriously wondered if I could get away with not listing the other two. (Of course, I wasn’t about to risk it and so I wrote them all down in the end.)

Several hours later, on the ground in Washington D.C., I approached the Immigration Counter and handed over my form. The Immigration Officer swiped my passport, glanced at his computer screen and almost immediately stamped me back into the country. But just before I started to walk away he asked, “So you went to Afghanistan and Pakistan. How was it?” The only reply that I could muster up was a quiet, “Very interesting.”

He then called the next person in line and I turned away, relieved beyond belief at how well that had gone. Of course, that relief lasted a mere six seconds, right until the moment when a Customs Officer approached and asked me to step over to one of the inspection tables.

The following hour and a half of my life is a period of time that I will never forget and truthfully, never really want to endure ever again.


MY FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH A ONE-SIDED MIRROR

Interrogation Room

After another quick swipe of my passport and after reading the words “Pakistan and Afghanistan” on my form, the young Customs Officer immediately ‘invited’ both myself and my trusty backpack into a small interrogation room for a chat.

Once inside the room, the Officer began to inspect the contents of my backpack. First, he opened the front pocket, and immediately became suspicious of a collection of books that I had purchased in a bookstore in Delhi. There were five books packaged together, each containing the sayings and lessons of a different spiritual figure who had influenced India, including Buddha, Vivekananda, Nanak Dev, Gandhi and yes, the Prophet Mohammed.

Of course, the Customs Officer ignored the other four books and while holding up the book of quotes from the Prophet, proceeded to repeatedly scream “Do you believe in the words of the Prophet Mohammed?” over and over again while standing one foot away from my face.

Every time I tried to mention the other books, and the one time I tried to ask why that question was even relevant, I was immediately cut off and told to be quiet. So in the end, the only reply I gave to his question was, “What?”


THE INSPECTION CONTINUES…

The next problem began when the Officer picked up one of my pairs of pants and a shiny, unused bullet fell out of the front pocket. And while I will admit that the appearance of a bullet is always somewhat suspicious, I honestly felt that the additional screaming that was thrown my way as a result of this discovery was more than uncalled for. Without asking any questions at all, the Officer simply acted as if he had found a piece of evidence that undeniably linked me to terrorism.

As a side note, the bullet was given to me as a gift by a child who had taken me on a tour of his neighborhood on the outskirts of Kabul. I had been walking around on my own when he suddenly came out of nowhere, grabbed my arm and stopped me from walking up a hill that turned out to be littered with land mines. This kid had practically no possessions to his name, yet he wanted to give me a gift for spending some time with him. And so he gave me a bullet that he had found and had always kept with him for good luck.

After the bullet, came the burqa. I had purchased a deep blue burqa one day in Kabul in order to show my friends and family the reality of what it’s like to wear one of these things. As the Customs Officer pulled it out of my backpack, he demanded an explanation and even suggested that I had used the burqa in order to move undetected throughout the tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. As his suspicion grew, so did my confusion at the manner in which this interrogation was taking place.


THE BOX OF CANDY

Osama Bin Laden Kulfa Balls

Up until this point, I had really hoped that the Officer would not look in the side pocket of my backpack. But when he began to unzip the zipper, I had no choice but to take a deep breath and prepare for his reaction.

In that pocket was a box of candy, although this was no ordinary box of M&Ms. It was a box of “Osama bin Laden Kulfa Balls” a popular hard candy that can be found throughout the tribal areas of Pakistan. And on the front of the box, one finds an image of Osama himself alongside a tank, missiles and fighter jets. Naturally, the Customs Officer wasn’t too thrilled with me having this item in my possession and he again made the grand assumption that this box of candy linked me to terrorism.

I could arrest you right now! Do you want me to arrest you?“, he started to shout repeatedly.

Eventually, I just gave up trying to offer my explanations and stopped answering his questions altogether.

In reality, I have no idea why I bought that box of candy, other than it grabbed my attention, I thought it was interesting and I wanted to take one home. It really was that simple.


A QUICK FLIP THROUGH MY JOURNAL

The next item to be closely inspected turned out to be my travel journal, the 300 pages of which were full of descriptions about the places and people I had met along the way. I wasn’t worried about him reading my journal at all as it certainly didn’t contain anything that this Officer could interpret as suspicious.

So I thought…

Here’s a tip. No matter what the reason, don’t ever write “You can get rid of your US citizenship by going to an Embassy and telling them that you don’t want to be a citizen any more” in your travel journal!

The Officer had opened my journal up to a completely random page and the line above is exactly what he found written. It was perhaps the only line in the entire book that could possibly have made my current situation any worse. Lucky me.

Before I continue, let me be clear. I was in no way at all implying that I was interested in getting rid of my US citizenship. Not even close! I had simply jotted down something I had read in an online article about the rules of citizenship in different countries. Unfortunately, I wrote down that one line and nothing else as I was in a rush that day and had to leave the internet cafe to catch a bus. I meant to go back and write more about the article I had read, but I never did.

And so there it was, alone on a random page of my journal, just begging the Customs Officer to get fired up once again. I certainly wasn’t surprised when he proceeded to read the line out loud a few times, get right in my face and scream, “Tell me now! Tell me you don’t want your US Citizenship and I’ll take it away from you. Right now!

After trying my hardest to convince him that I did not want to lose my citizenship, the Officer suddenly left the room, returning a few minutes later with his Supervisor. Then, both men spent the following hour asking me a barrage of rapid-fire questions that included, “What do your parents do for a living?”, “Is that your natural hair color?”, “How did you obtain your visas?” and “Were the people of Pakistan friendly?”


“WERE THE PEOPLE OF PAKISTAN FRIENDLY?”

Pakistani Man

Really?, I thought. You’re really asking me that question?

Well, I could have just said “No, they were all mean and nasty to me” but there was no way I was about to do that to the wonderful people I had met during my travels. The truth is, almost everyone I met showed nothing but remarkable hospitality, kindness and generosity at all times. Almost every day during my visit, dozens of Pakistanis would politely approach me, shake my hand and inform me that they are not terrorists and that they do not support Osama bin Laden. They would then ask me to please return to America and tell everyone I know that Pakistanis just want to live in peace like everyone else. When I tried to explain this to the Officers, they once again ignored me, refusing to believe that there could possibly be even one decent person in that region of the world.

At one point, frustrated by the lack of training/knowledge of the people put in charge of protecting the US borders, I literally pulled out my guidebook and gave them a lesson in geography and in a sense, in reality as well. I showed them excerpts of the guidebook that spoke of friendly locals, must-see highlights and a generally safe environment for travelers. I also attempted to explain that my goal in traveling to this region was to educate myself, not to try and gain admission into a terrorist training camp.

Eventually, in a calm voice, the supervisor asked me one last time whether or not I “believed in the words of the Prophet Mohammed.” (It was as if all Customs Officers had memorized that exact same line.) When I told him that I’m not a very religious person at all, he stood up and much to my surprise, informed me that I was now free to go.


THE AFTERMATH

Through a friend of the family who used to work for the FBI, I later learned that as soon as I had left the Customs interrogation room, the local FBI office in Savannah, Georgia (where I was headed to visit my mom) had been notified of my arrival. As a result, the FBI then tapped the home phone at my mom’s house.

Further, for two years, I was given a private pat down and screening every time I went through security at a US airport. And whenever I returned from overseas, I was forced to go through a 30-minute, overly thorough inspection that involved dozens of questions, a ‘test’ about my previous travels and even a complete inspection of all my computer files.

The good news is that one day, it all stopped. Just like that I had apparently been removed from the list as a potential threat and I’ve never been inspected since.

However, I now realize that I should be enjoying these hassle-free Immigration & Customs experiences while I can, because I have a feeling that after this upcoming trip to the Middle East, I’m going to find myself right back in that interrogation room.


Do you have any Customs or Immigration stories to share?

Photo credit: Pakistani man – babasteve
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374 Responses to The Day US Customs Found A Bullet In My Pocket

  1. Stacey says:

    That is insane!

    It’s hard, because when you write it down I can laugh, or roll my eyes at what those guys were sayign to you but when it’s actually happening to you you can’t laugh at them. They’re right in your face, screaming.

    I think you might be on some govornment lists after writing this on the internet, much less your travel plans!

    Crazy world we live in…

  2. Wes Groleau says:

    “Do you believe in the prophet Mohammed?”
    “Why do you call him a prophet?”

    “Were the people of Pakistan friendly?”
    “Friendlier than you guys.”

  3. Chase says:

    I had a similar experience. While I was in college I was fortunate enough to land a contract job installing water filters in hospitals around the world. Part of this job involved using my personal laptop to program the computer within the controls of the filter. One of these jobs required me to go to Kenya for the sole purpose of programming the filter. A team before me had done the actual install. This caused me to be on the ground in Kenya for less than 24 hours. At this point in time my mother was running a business where she would buy hand crafted jewelry from women in Africa, sell it in the states and then send all of the profits back to the women she had originally purchased the jewelry from. While I was there she asked me to pick up two suitcases full of beads and necklaces from one of the women she did business with. I received these suitcases with no issues. (Before leaving I went through the suitcases just to be sure there was no illicit material inside) I then boarded a plane back for California. On my trip home I discovered I had a 14 hour layover in Amsterdam. I decided taking the train in to town because that was way better than hanging out in the airport for 14 hours. As I was filling out the necessary entry papers to re-enter the the US of A I was honest on my paper work saying I had entered Kenya for less than 24 hours on business as well as Amsterdam for less than 12. As a college student I’m sure I was the textbook example of a drug mule. The customs agent was less than pleased with my paperwork. After once glance he called over another agent who immediately escorted me to a private room. I was then met by three other agents who proceeded to pull my luggage apart piece by piece. After questioning me about the large amount of “resallable goods” I was bringing into the country, they called in their supervisor. They proceeded to have a pow wow in the corner of the room. In the bits of whispered conversation I was able to pick up I heard one officer say “this is why we are paid the big bucks” and another say “it’s all quiet for months and then something like this happens”. After waiting for upwards of three hours they finally released me to catch my flight that had left hours ago, but not before confiscating my luggage telling me I could “retrieve it from customs after it had been cleared”. Needless to say for a few years after this incident I found myself the victim of many “random” inspections any time I tried to go through customs. At one point while checking in for a flight from Paris to LAX with a good friend of mine, the gate agent proceeded to put a green sticker on my friends passport and a red sticker on mine. I asked her why I got the red sticker. She looked around to see if anyone was listening. After determining we were relatively safe from eavesdroppers she whispered “it means you’re suspicious”. All this to say I found myself on some kind of watch list for many years any time I flew.

  4. An says:

    Hi Earl. I really like how you present this info as this is sensitive issue. Well done! Wish you have pleasant and easy journey always. Thanks.

  5. This is absolutely wild!
    Being a Canadian and crossing the border many times whilst growing up, later whilst going through adolescent rebellion and now as the remarkably *ahem* mature person I’ve become, I’ve had issues with having an alarm clock go off while trying to find my guitar in a restricted area that subsequently put people in ‘bomb scare’ mode, had a wallet found in the vehicle of an unknown person that turned out to be wanted for narcotics trafficking and been stopped for the typical, trying to smuggle (apparently) firewood across the border (been caught on that one multiple times unfortunately)…

    But having a bullet found is just incredible… don’t know if I ever can (or want to) compete with that…

    Although I do have this fun-loving uncle that got the entire border crossing shut down one time as he came up as being ‘radioactive’…

    Ahhh… the stories that those border guards must be able to tell.

  6. Daniel says:

    The sad part: I bet some will say that, in the name of our national security, this is all acceptable.

    Keep traveling, my friend!

  7. Kara says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article and laughed very hard.

    I was flagged/interrogated/searched by US customs too- for writing a magazine article entitled: “How to Smuggle Drugs Across the Border” which was clearly a satire. Ohhh that Osama bin Laden candy <3

  8. WOAH! That is insane! It’s such a shame though… the way all these laws and regulations work. I know bad things happen around the world all the time, but with things like this, it seems a bit’ extreme some times. I’d love to visit Middle-Eastern countries – as you know, they would be amazing. Yet the average person can never wrap their heads around why you would want to go there… let alone customs officers! I can only begin to imagine how frustrating this must have been for you!

  9. Chris In Cleveland says:

    Considering the recent flap over how we treated a diplomat (google “indian diplomat strip searched) can there be any doubt that not only is this story possible but PROBABLE. You could have blinked wrong and gotten a colonoscopy….(google woman billed for medical search). That other Chris must be ‘blessed’.

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  11. This is why people are leaving the United States. Who cares where you travel? I spent 10 days in Italy once and got screamed at in secondary inspection. “Who goes to Italy by themselves?!”, I was asked. Apparently not the former Wendy’s workers who would be in the bread line if it weren’t the government’s generosity.

    Sorry to hear about your experience. If you had been Norwegian, Liechtensteinian, etc., it wouldn’t be an issue.

  12. What a story! If that would ever happen to me, I would have to control myself really hard not to start freaking out.

  13. Great blog, and I had a similar experience in Israel with their border control. IM a UK passport holder, had german passport stamps in my passport (I collect stamps from everywhere I went), and got asked questions like ‘Have any of my family were involved in the Nazi German movement from 1939-1945′ and ‘Do you intend to go to Palestine’ (which I replied No, but I did anyway). 20 minutes later, I was through. Ugh!

    At least my experience going through Boston Logan (the only time I been to the USA so far), was much more pleasureable. :P

  14. Michael says:

    My poor Hindu friend, Srinivas, gets the ‘ROYAL AMERICAN CUSTOMS TREATMENT’ every single time he files to his native country, India, from the US. EVERY TIME.

    This ridiculous self-righteous bs happens EVERY SINGLE DAY.

    It’s become like junk mail to US Mail Carriers; job security.

  15. mike dawson says:

    Danielle,
    TSA agents are much like prison guards. Low wage low effort thinkers many of whom are there because they like to push people around to make up for their own insecurities. Same mentality you get from many cops.

  16. Rob Cook says:

    So did they give the bullet and the candy back?

  17. jamesk says:

    Hi Earl,

    Funny story, but also quite frustrating.
    The “power” these TSA folk assume is frightening. I’ve never had quite as nasty an experience as this one, but I’ve been to the US four times, and twice was on the receiving end of some random employee’s bad day.
    And, sadly, it’s actually turned me off ever returning. It got so frustrating that I decided “fine, if the US doesn’t want my Euros, I’ll spend them somewhere else.”

    Obviously, the US isn’t as highly reliant on tourist dollars as say, Ireland, but the airport is the first place of contact for many visitors, so a little more decorum could be used.

    “Do you believe in the words of the prophet mohammed?” That’s just absurd. Does saying “yes” confirm you’re a terrorist? These people need to, ironically, travel more of the world and get their heads outside their little US-centric bubble.

  18. agirlnamedwander says:

    Earl chooses to spend a lot of his time offering advice and experiences to help others. It’s disappointing that you have to be so critical Chris.

  19. WishfulWanderer says:

    I can’t believe Chris thought you made this up. I’m an American citizen, an unexceptional middle-aged woman. While I was going through security at a domestic airport (in the US but near that suspect Canadian border), a TSA agent who wasn’t paying attention to her surroundings walked backwards, tripped over me, and fell. She became enraged at me, had my bags searched, confiscated some legal items, and then put a tail on me for the rest of my time in the airport. I was then stopped and searched prior to every domestic flight I took for years after, until, like you, I was apparently dropped from the list. Agencies that have as many employees as TSA and Customs will always have some losers who abuse their authority.

  20. Petra says:

    I thought about going to the U.S. next year or so, but this story makes me doubt whether this is a good idea. Maybe not.

  21. It’s really sad that people, who guard your borders are quite frankly uneducated. I understand that you need to be extra careful these days, but a box of candies and a piece of burkha doesn’t make anyone a terrorist.
    It’s scary what kind of country the US is slowly becoming.

  22. Great Story!
    Save the candy – as far as I know you can’t buy them anymore.

  23. Shelley says:

    Scary and frustrating. My friend was stripped searched and questioned in a layover in LA on her way to Toronto, for over in hour after a work trip to Bangkok. The Officer just couldn’t understand why she had made such a short trip to Thailand (5 days for a work conference). She must be smuggling drugs. She also looks young too, even though she was in her late 20′s. She was humiliated and brought to tears.
    I was questioned rather suspiciously in Montreal once, because I had been to over 20 countries in a relatively short amount of time (3 years maybe). I was asked the name every single country in the order I traveled. Nothing as crazy as what Earl went through, but it leads me to believe every single word he said.
    I have another Indian friend who has longish hair and travels a lot, he is a Christian with a regular Christian (Timothy), but still is treated so badly while he travels. He refuses to even go to America anymore, and he is a popular Indian classical musician. Endless stories and I can go on and on…
    My husband is a Muslim from India, and I am worried about him traveling by himself. I told him to expect more scrutiny, and it makes me sad to have to say that to him. Though, like many others here, I refuse to travel through America anymore. The officers scare me, and I find the questioning unnerving. When my husband comes we’ll choose a flight that has him lay-over in Dubai and that goes straight to Toronto!

  24. Cody says:

    It’s a really great post. I can see this from both sides. Those officers are, as many officers, and police, and military are, trained to be paranoid and taught how to intimidate. Those are the tools they have to carry out their jobs. And they are, as they should be, more afraid to let someone go free who might be a danger to other people.. than they are worried about your individual civil rights, any kind of basic human respect, or even acting with common sense.

    You did not help the situation by not thinking about it first, and taking with you so many things to make, well, anybody, suspicious. Even I’m a little suspicious of you now, hehe.
    He is asking you if you believe in the words of the Prophet Mohammed because they were trying to figure you out. From the evidence they gathered, they could think that you are just thoughtless and a bit naive or you have extreme Islamic beliefs and have rejected the U.S. and possibly planning to do something bad. They don’t know you like you know yourself or like your friends and family know you, so they are very cautious. But I think you already understand that.

    Unfortunately propaganda and the media go a very long way in influencing people who don’t know any better. Some people also prefer to hate than to think.
    It’s true that the majority of the people in the world are not extremists or jihadists or dangerous. They are just normal, even humble, people trying to survive, make a living, and feed their families. The enemy is the “us versus them” mentality, and that mentality exists wherever you go. The good thing is that you can also find open-minded, friendly, good, and helpful people wherever you go as well. My favorite part of this post is how the little boy from Kabul had, well, saved your life, as you were about to wander up a hill that was littered with land mines. That’s not the kind of wandering I think you wanted to do there. Thanks for the post, Earl. Keep up the good work.
    Did the bin Laden candy taste good? Classic, man, really classic.

  25. John Sheehan says:

    This is absolutely one of the funniest travel stories that I have ever seen or heard. I would have told him to “F” himself, but I’m older (65, a veteran and a retired government employee).

    For the record, having had many “adventures”, I believe every single word of your story.

    I know people who work for the now named Homeland Security. A number of the people working at the lower pay grades are not that smart or worldly. If you file a complaint, it will go in their record. Also, suppose that you were a Muslim, you could have filed a complaint under Title VI for religious discrimination.

    Ps. I have a few good stories myself. I’m currently in the Philippines.

  26. Gemma says:

    Wowee, I was literally holding my breath in parts of this story! Scary!
    Great that it all worked out fine for you – and I guess it makes a good story now!
    G.

  27. Hissy says:

    I’m a Canadian citizen and recently flew with my common-law partner from Canada to Cancun via Houston. At Houston Int’l, we walked up toether to the Customs Agent with our passports and form, only to be yelled at that unless we had been legally married “IN A CHURCH,” we should NEVER try to enter the US as a family unit. We had to re-do our papers and go up separately.

    I’m female, my partner’s male. Sure, I understand that different countries have different rules, but surely the guard could have been more tactful. As it was, it was was both humiliating and insulting. I can’t even imagine how the guard would have treated us if we had been a same-sex couple. And this leads me to another question: how do legally married same-sex couples enter the US? Do they have to go up separately?

  28. Gina says:

    I loved reading this story! But I am sorry you have such a horrible experience. The worst time I’ve had when coming back into the US, is fighting with custom agents about the amount of money I own. I lived in Japan for 9 years and therefor they said I was considered a non-resident and they wanted to tax everything I was bringing into the US. I asked for supervisor and politely pointed out that citizenship trumps residence. He agreed and sent me on my way

  29. Nim says:

    A really big star from India was subjected to such torture because his name had a ‘Khan’ in it. And believe me this guy is bigger than Tom Cruise! I’m trying to understand what you must have gone through it. Cheers that’s in the past now!

  30. Kat says:

    Hey did you get your bullet back? After reading the entire thing which I found to be hilarious and just incredible that you were put through that, the bullet was still in the back of my mind. It would’ve meant a lot to me thats why I ask!

  31. Izy Berry says:

    You’re story is a bit scary, luckily haven’t experienced that and I never want to experience that! I am glad that everything stopped and all went back to normal.

  32. This is such a great story. Funny, but sad at the same time. I personally think you are crazy for travelling through an international airport with a bullet in your pocket haha. Those customs officers get up on their high horse over the tiniest little things sometimes. It doesn’t even need to be a bullet, or Osama candy.

  33. Tanya says:

    Hello,

    I’m actually not surprised AT ALL by this.

    First I’d like to mention that I’m a Canadian citizen that’s traveled to the US on my own more than a few times either by myself, with friends, or with school. I was 21 at the time this happened.

    As a student, I decided in 2012 that a cheaper way to travel might do my wallet some good considering I was attending a private college. As such, I decided to to the US by bus and than return by plane. I bought my plane ticket with air miles points so it was even cheaper.

    I get to the boarder in the bus,get in line whatever and then get to the counter. The guy hassled me for about 10 mins at the counter as to why I was going by bus and then return via plane… he didn’t understand the concept of CHEAPER TRAVELING. And this is after the fact I told him I worked as a public security officer for two cities back home.

    Anyways, 15 mins later Im back on the bus. I don’t know what he put in my file, because next thing you know when I’m returning back to Canada they searched my backpack after it had just gone through the xray scanner. There was only my laptop and a book inside but still. This wasn’t the first time I was bringing my laptop along, but it was the first time they searched me =/

  34. LeslieRI says:

    So is this a USA thing? And is it searching with attitude or just the attitude that is so awful? I’ve had some training in dealing with angry people and I would think the TSA would too. And one thing you wouldn’t want to do to an unstable person like a terrorist is escalate the situation. Intimidation and fear are bully techniques, a sure sign of insecurity, no pun intended.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Leslie – I had no problem with them searching my stuff and asking questions. I would do the same if I was in their shoes and I came across myself. But that attitude and clear lack of cultural awareness is the part that was so unfortunate and it made me think that there is very little training taking place for these customs agents. Surely their techniques are not the best way to deal with potential threats.

  35. Danielle says:

    Earl-
    I’ve lived in the middle east my whole life but my whole family is American including myself. Even though I travel twice a year from where I live now in Louisiana to the UAE to visit my parents, I got stopped coming back to New Orleans this Jan at JFK and was interrogated for half an hour. I am a 21 year old college student so I was pretty shocked. I have an American passport. One TSA agent actually asked me ‘where I got it’. After we all figured out that I had no evil plans the same man told me it was dangerous for me to travel to the middle east by myself ‘where the arab men could take advantage of me’. Nothing like a little misogyny mixed in with your daily dose of blatant racism. At the risk of being ‘invited’ back to the little room I told him that I have experienced more unwanted advances in the US than ever have in the UAE. He replied with ‘watch it, nobody likes a girl with a smart mouth’…seriously!?!? The thing is I have had some perfectly wonderful experiences with TSA agents who helped me retrieve a stolen camera (yes, someone stole my camera FROM SECURITY) so just like in every other job of power there is going to be some sad sack who talks before thinking.
    Anyway, Great post!

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  37. Simon says:

    That really riled Chris up ey? I got my bags turned upside down and emptied in LA because I had a layover before Canada. I’d come from Fiji… Questioned for about 30 mins and then allowed to pick up all my stuff and repack it all… while they said hurry up. They couldn’t understand why I had come via L.A. I told them I couldn’t explain why British Airways fly like this either.

    Still there are some masssssive tools that work in airports all over the world

  38. Melody says:

    oh, I know exactly how you feel. I spent some time in Middle East for a business trip a few years ago. I have very very dark brown hair, and had a pretty dark tan when I got done with my trip, seeing as I had spent about 2 months there. I was in a damn interrogation office for 3 hours. It was the first time I had ever been out of the country in my life, and I was obviously on a business trip *sigh*. Very VERY frustrating.

  39. Luke says:

    You probably know this by now, but only a federal judge can revoke you citizenship. Further it is illegal to be stateless. From talking with my lawyer friends who have knowledge of immigration cases I’m not surprised by the story. But if they are suspicious they will keep you while they run your name against a bunch of databases. If you are an american citizen, probably would the best thing would be to ask questions, and then ask if you are free to go or if you are being detained. If they are not detaining you, then they have to let you go. And, obviously in the future it would be a better idea to not carry bullets in airports.

  40. jonny says:

    I certainly haven’t had any experiences as shocking as this one (good read, by the way), although I have heard countless tales of passing through American Immigration being a nightmare. Even when I was in transit in Houston airport on my Mexico City-London flight, the guy at the desk hounded me for filling in the wrong form as a British citizen, and how I could be committing a felony etc., and I wasn’t even trying to get into the damn country! It smacked of unnecessary abuse of power. I dread to think how your experience would have been, Earl, had you been travelling on a non-American passport!! By the way, I just discovered your website last night and am already hooked on your stories. Nice work, buddy.

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  43. That’s a crazy story Earl and I don’t doubt a word you said. Years ago a bunch of friends and I decided to cross into the States for a getaway weekend. We were all 18 however drinking in the US was 21 so we weren’t expecting to be able to hit the bars or anything. As we drove across the border I guess our ages were suspicious so they pulled us over. They went through our car with a fine tooth comb including using mirrors to check underneath and dogs to sniff around.

    They then proceeded to look through every article of clothing and all our bags. One of the “nice” men found an expired copy of my older brothers drivers license in my wallet. How it got there, “cough cough”, I don’t know but the border guard wasn’t very happy with me. After 15 minutes of yelling and lecturing I was let go to join the rest of our group and kept going. We were an inch away from being refused entry into the States and the only thing they found on any of us was that piece of ID that was not only expired and had no picture on it, but my brother wasn’t even 21 yet so it was pretty much useless regardless.

    This was a decade before 9/11 and I’m a guy who lived 45 minutes from the US border his whole life. Glad you made it through safely and I don’t wish what you went through on anyone that doesn’t deserve it. To this day I still get nervous whenever I fly into the US or have to go through American customs. I can cross over into a country where every one and their dog are holding Uzi’s and sawed off shotguns and I won’t even break a sweat. Maybe that was their whole point. Good post.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Charles – I tend to agree with that last line you wrote and sadly, I hear such stories as yours all the time. Many of my Canadian friends are always nervous about crossing into the US (even though they have nothing to hide) and many will pay more for airfare just to avoid having to change planes in the US.

      • Patricia says:

        When I was married years ago to an American citizen, while I am a Canadian citizen, my husband asked for information from the US Govt. We were being married in Canada and the US Govt told him he could bring me over no problem and he could take care of the paperwork once we came to Chicago. At the border after our marriage, they denied me entry and walked me back to the Canadian border at gunpoint. I was obviously upset, we had our marriage certificate, a car full of wedding presents and they were worried about me, a Canadian, like I was a threat. They told us we were certainly given some bad information about entry and that they couldn’t do anything about it, all the while treating me like I was some kind of criminal. We hit the US Embassy in Toronto to see what we could do and someone was kind enough to tell us where we could see an immigration judge but asked that we not tell anyone where we got the information. We hauled ass down to Detroit and met with this man who took pity on us and gave me a humanitarian visa to enter the US so that we could then file paperwork for a green card, which we did immediately. I cross the border all the time to see my family and have been asked numerous times why I haven’t taken out US citizenship. Like that is any of their business, I have a green card, I don’t wish to take out US citizenship and shouldn’t be harassed because of my choices. I don’t get the attitude of some border patrol because I am a Canadian. Most of the time it is fine but there is one or two… When were denied entry all those years ago and had to cross back into Canada, the border patrol attitude of those people was welcome sir, come live here. We are not as heartless. Go figure. I am leaving in a couple of weeks for a week in Scotland and I travel on a British passport as I was born there, I cannot wait to come back to see what happens. Kinda scares me. Travelling should not make you afraid of returning home.

  44. Rahul says:

    I believe such experience is possible , have read some other similar stories also…

    Liked what I read …U had an awesome :)

  45. Mandy says:

    Ha! True or not, makes for a great story and fun read ;) Thanks for sharing!!

  46. Bradord Rogers says:

    I was going through UK customs when the officer asked me how I finance my travels. I said from my IRA. This, understandably raised his eyebrows. I hadn’t been aware until then that the acronyms for individual retirement account and Irish Republic Army were the same. A quick clarification and I was on my way.

  47. Ro says:

    I am a US greencard holder from the philippines. I get asked almost everytime I come back from my international travels. No idea why but i thought maybe bec customs wonder who is funding me travels? Bec Americans are so narrow minded about travlling the world, they assume u have to have tons of money to do so while in fact you dont. I used to think that bec im a non US citizen that this could be the reason but after reading this, I guess it doesn’t matter. Im in canada now and canadian customs also detained my why im travelling here for 30 days… My work is online so I can do it anywhere in the world and i have airline benefits. I know customs are just doing their job but until now, I have no clue why they keep detaining me everytime. Weird but true… While your story is much colorful, I knw this detaining shit is true. If you have a very strong accent they treat you badly. I have a US accent but I have seen customs treat non english speaking people badly. This is bad! If only I can record it for you all to see but I cant so its my word against theirs.

  48. Johnathin says:

    Just so you know, this kind of thing does happen. For instance, in Vancouver they killed a guy because he was holding a stapler and couldn’t speak English. And we’re talking the US here. (No bias, cough cough).

  49. Iain M. says:

    Wow Chris! Neat that you had a decent experience at airport security! But here’s a shocker: Every single customs agent/ security personnel at every single airport is not going to behave identically. Your assumption that this story is fabricated based upon one trivial experience that you personally had is totally asinine. I am not from the US but I have certainly experienced some customs agents who very intentionally attempted to intimidate, posture, and belittle me – until the point that they were satisfied that there was absolutely no justification in continuing their behavior and begrudgingly allowed me to pass. Frankly, the customs officials in question could have simply seen this as an opportunity to practice in case of the real thing. Who knows? I know a few people who have wound up on lists for little to no reason and it has resulted in significant disruption to their travel schedules.

  50. Chris says:

    I dont believe half of this. I have been around the world and have always written where i have been on my paperwork, and never had a problem, really, he got a foot away from your face and screamed “Do you believe in the words of the Prophet Mohammed?” you should be ecstatic, since you could sue for millions. But since its a fake story, probably wont go so well for you…. and they freaked out about the candy? Really? Doubt it. I once accidentally forgot a set of ornamental knives in my carry on. They pulled them out of my bag and then asked me a few questions, i explained and she said she could either throw them away, or I could go back out and mail them to myself, and then re enter security. Point being, please dont make up stories about our airports being this giant horror show. They arent pleasant experiences for the most part, but just stop and think for one second about how privileged you are to be able to just jump on a plane and go wherever you please.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Chris – Doesn’t matter to me if you don’t believe it. It’s what happened.

    • Joe says:

      I’m with Chris. My critical thinking alarms are going off all over the place on this story. I’m calling BS.

      • meelash says:

        Come out of your bubble. Every time I come back from Pakistan, my luggage gets searched in customs multiple times. Maybe, you’re confusing domestic security with international.

        Nothing about this story is unbelievable to anyone that flies from the middle east or the indian subcontinent with any regularity.

    • Dalia says:

      Going to have to Iain on this one, Chris. Not everyone is as decent as we’d like them to be, and no two people are the same for sure.

      Try coming home after a 17 hour series of flights and being held in Customs for 8 hours because you looked “suspicious” or a member of your family seemed “dangerous”.

      Some things seriously aren’t fair to all of us, I suppose. And that, I speak from experience. Not only in the U.S., but even in other countries, such as Egypt (which is a whole other story on its own).

    • Lauren says:

      Chris, interrogations are constantly going on like this. They take you to a private room. You just apparently got lucky! Besides, why would Earl lie about this? Go find someone else to bother! Thank you Earl for allowing us to ‘travel’ through your experiences. God bless!

    • Ella says:

      I don’t want to take any sides, but Chris, any argument that relies on the TSA being reasonable people is doomed to failure. I once spent 45 minutes at a TSA checkpoint, on a domestic flight, while my eleven year old sister (petit, blond, traveling with her whole family, ELEVEN) had her cast for her broken arm tested for bomb residue. When my mother touched her hair to comfort her, she got pulled aside as well.
      The hostility was simply incredible. And nearly everyone who has traveled has these stories. This story, while out of line, doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility.

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