Flying from Canada to the US involves going through US customs and immigration on the Canadian side of the journey, not on landing in the US. Once through Canadian security, one is handed a customs form and required to fill it out before going through US immigration.
Unlike the system within the US, US citizens and noncitizens are not separated from one another. The staff treats all passengers as aliens, interviews them and clearly makes the assumption that everyone is suspicious. I was shocked that they thought a 70 plus year old professor who was US citizen and was returning from an international academic conference in Canada had not answered their questions adequately. Thus I was ushered into the secondary screening area and from there taken into the supervisor’s office where the same questions were asked and my passport was photocopied. When I asked the supervisor for his card, he said he did not have one but gave me a comment card form.
My transaction involved three people, all of whom were rude and clearly trained to be verbally abusive to passengers. The comment card noted that there are multiple reasons why a passenger can be chosen for a secondary inspection but evidently it is not considered to be appropriate to let that person know why that choice was made.
When I returned to Washington I continued to be puzzled by the reason why I was “selected” for this treatment. But I found that my experience was similar to that of two friends who had recently returned from Canada (one from Toronto and one from Niagara Falls). There is something clearly wrong about the process used by the staff of US Customs and Border Protection and the training they receive to prepare them for this job.
The problem that I experienced could be viewed as simply the behavior of “bad apples” in the agency. However, I believe that it represents abuse that goes beyond individual behavior and speaks to policy determinations by the organization and its investment in training and transparency.