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Home » Archives » April 2009 » LETTERS ON CUSTOMS ACTION

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04/16/2009: "LETTERS ON CUSTOMS ACTION"


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Understands The Problem, But Still...
To the Editor:

I appreciate the Customs people need to do their job, but in reality the issue of protecting our marine borders is still wide open and unresolved. As a loyal and concerned American, I truly want a safe and protected border, and am willing to be subjected to a certain degree of hassle to achieve that end. This is true of most Americans and we demonstrate that every time we board a plane. Unfortunately the folks in our Friday Harbor Customs Office are not having any measurable effect on illegal border crossing activity at all, nor can they under our current system. Clearly if someone was involved in any criminal activity, they would never check in with Customs in the first place, either in person or on the phone. If they did decide to check in, they would have dropped off whatever they were bringing into the country at one of a thousand private docks, or drop it off at a cove or bay for later pick up, or transfer it to another boat or sea plane before checking in, etc. There is no close monitoring of boat traffic to and from Canada, and in reality the current system is an “honor system” where it is up to the person coming into the country by boat to take the self-initiative and let Customs know. Since the criminal element doesn’t operate on the “honor system”, they will never be caught by this ineffective method. There is no way for the Customs Office to have any idea if you sailed into Canadian waters and returned or not. There is no local Coast Guard monitoring of all boat traffic, there are no satellites or surveillance planes registering the signature of every passing boat, etc. When you drive into Canada on the roadway, you are funneled into a mandatory border crossing gate, where appropriate verification of your intent can be evaluated, and the border is enforced and manned 24x7. On the marine border, there are hundreds of miles of open crossing, and currently there is no effort made to “funnel” boats through a single gate or passage, and thus anyone who doesn’t want to be asked any questions when crossing into the USA can easily avoid doing so. It would be very easy to require ocean crossing at designated coordinates where Customs boats could monitor all incoming and outgoing boats, as well as using radar surveillance to identify any boats crossing at any unauthorized locations. Even further to the point, not only is the marine border open for hundreds of miles 24x7, but the Customs Office, charged with protecting our borders, is only open 8-5pm. If they really were concerned about protecting our borders, if they really intended to be a deterrent to criminal activity, shouldn’t they be open 24 hours a day? This being said, it makes one question the value of the current system and what could be done to improve national security by some method that really works, rather than continue to harass the few honest people who are trying to do the right thing by checking in and attempting to follow protocol.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this experience for me was the fact that I had done everything I knew how to be compliant in every way. I really got poor information from the Friday Harbor Customs Office in the first place when I called on the phone in advance of our trip. Clearly they need to get their story straight so the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Their protocols are not written on their web site, nor are they communicated when asked directly by phone. They are not posted in detail on their signs, kiosk or docks that I was exposed to. Their dockside kiosk is not well lit at night with clear signage telling the returning mariners what to do. I have no idea to this day how I was supposed to know the rules if they don’t bother to communicate them in any kind of effective manner. They obviously operate under the old adage, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

If they had really thought that I was indeed some kind of security risk, some kind of criminal, doing something illegal, or in any way up to no good, shouldn’t they have at least inspected my boat, or asked questions of the other passengers, or attempted to verify the information that I had given them? Their only concern was that I had not followed their protocol to the letter. Their entire line of questioning was only concerned with an anal approach to protocol, with no concern whatever for border security, illegal substances, criminal activity, etc. Their questioning skills were so poor, they would predictably get misinformation; like the results of a survey that is totally misleading because of the way the questions were asked or phrased. The Customs officers assume you are lying when in fact their questions are so poorly stated or phrased that they created the anomalies themselves. Then when they see some inconsistency, rather than clear it up by rephrasing the questions, they just assume you are lying and attempt to intimidate you further by directly accusing you of lying. This obviously puts you on the defensive, which further convinces them of your guilt. The more effective approach would be to ask enough questions, enough times, until you are confident you have received the story accurately, then take appropriate steps to verify if the story you now have is correct; i.e. interview others on the boat and see if their stories are identical, verify the easy stuff like purchases, places visited, etc. Like the obvious method of restating or mirroring back to the person what you think they said, then get them to confirm that is indeed what they meant to communicate, it is their final story, and they are sticking to it; then go check it out for validity.

When Officer Holmes came to my boat at 11pm at night, he never once identified himself, and never showed a badge or any other type of mandatory identification required by his own protocol. Somehow it was OK for him to breach their basic protocol, but he had no problem hanging me for not following his protocol; with the obvious difference that he knew better and I had no idea.

Sadly for Friday Harbor, everyone is a victim of this type of incompetence and harassment. I did not fill my boat up with gas before leaving Friday Harbor that day, neither did my friend, because of how poorly we had been treated. We did not go up and do any shopping, as we had planned, and we did not buy any more meals at the restaurants as we had anticipated. Rather we packed up and left, never to return anytime in the near future. This one single episode cost the businesses of Friday Harbor about a thousand dollars; imagine that multiplied by the many others who are mistreated and not planning a vacation to Friday Harbor. In this difficult economy, can Friday Harbor afford to offend and drive away their bread and butter tourists? What about all the Canadians that would consider sailing to Friday Harbor, but won’t because of the hassle factor? Friday Harbor is not the only game in the San Juan Islands and people will simply go elsewhere. I genuinely hope for the sake of all the businesses and families who rely on their incomes, that Friday Harbor Customs can take some lessons from the Canadians, who have learned how to treat people with respect, professional courtesy, and with good will and hospitality. I’m looking forward to visiting Canada again, but it will never be via Friday Harbor.

If my experience can help in any way to bring about reform or some type of changes to facilitate the much needed improvements, I am happy to assist.
Thank you again for your interest,
Terrence Clark, DMD


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Response To Story on Customs Action
To the Editor:

I am responding to a 4,543 word letter written by a dentist in West Linn, Oregon about his recent experience crossing the international border by small boat to Friday Harbor, WA. (original story) He sent the epistle to at least two of our local cyber news sites in which it was published. His letter in its entirety is copied below.
Normally I don’t demean myself by ad hominem references, but since Dr. Terrence Clark of your community stooped to such a level throughout his letter, I just can’t help myself.

He wrote that he googled “US Customs Friday Harbor, Washington” and ended up selecting an “nps” site. That was the second listing on Google and was listed as a National Park Service site while the first site on the listing was for the Customs Office. The third listing on the site was a detailed itemization of proper reporting procedures for arrivals by small boat from Canada into the lower Puget Sound. It contains such items as:
“…Statutory and Administrative Authorities:
19USC1433(a)(1)- Report of Arrival of Vessels
19CFR4.2 " Reports of Arrival of Vessels
8USC1225(a)(3)- Inspection by Immigration Officers
8CFR235.1- Inspection of Persons Applying for Admission
19CFR4.51 " Reporting Requirements for Persons Arriving by Vessel

Who Reports:
All U.S. Citizens and aliens seeking entry to the United States MUST REPORT their arrivals. Boaters participating in either the I-68 or NEXUS/SENTRI programs MUST REPORT but may do so by phone.
Masters - The master or person in charge of the boat must report their arrival to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. For the purpose of these instructions, the term "boat", means any vessel not engaged in trade or documented trade (not carrying merchandise or passengers for hire) such as pleasure boats and yachts, regardless of size. This requirement applies to all boats regardless of country of registration. Additionally, boats registered outside Canada or the U.S. must contact a local CBP office for a cruising license.

Aliens - All aliens (including alien crewmen) who are applicants for admission or otherwise seeking admission or readmission into the U.S. must report for inspection by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer.
U.S. Citizens - Persons claiming to be U.S. citizens must report to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer to establish that fact to the examining officer's satisfaction.
When Reporting Is Required:
Masters must report their arrival to U.S. Customs and Border Protection if having been engaged in any of the below activities:
• After having been at any foreign port or place;
• After having had contact with any hovering vessel;
• After having anchored or engaged in fishing;

Reporting Procedure:
The master or designee may go ashore only to report the arrival to U.S. Customs and Border Protection either in person or if participating in the I-68 or NEXUS/SENTRI programs, by phone. No other person may leave or board the boat and no baggage or merchandise may be removed or loaded until the report of arrival is made and release granted by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer. Each crewmember and passenger must also be in possession of an
I-68 or NEXUS or SENTRI card to qualify for phone-in reporting.

Where to Report
:
Masters, crew and passengers participating in the I-68 and/or NEXUS/SENTRI programs may utilize the following 1-800 number for phone-in arrivals:
1-800-562-5943

If arrival occurs after the normal business hours (generally 8AM - 8PM) of a port, boaters must utilize the 1-800 number to report their arrivals. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer will provide further instructions regarding reporting and entry processing.

Arrivals requiring an in-person report to a CBP Officer may be made at any of the following designated ports of entry. The boat must be made available for possible boarding at the time of report. …” and
“…Failure to Report

Failure to report can result in civil penalties as defined in Title 19, United States Code, Section 1436 to include a penalty of $5,000 for the first violation and $10,000 for each subsequent violation with the conveyance subject to seizure and forfeiture. In addition to being liable for a civil penalty, any master who intentionally commits a violation under subsection (a) of this section upon conviction, is liable for a fine of not more than $2,000 or imprisonment for 1 year or both.”

I keep trying to make the presumption that Dr. Clark, having completed dental school and surviving as a dentist must have a modicum of intelligence. However, to seek out information about customs from a national park service website after ignoring the surrounding definitive sites about customs challenges my presumption. It’s a small point, but up here we spell “border” b o r d e r. Dr. Clark seems to think b o a r d e r is a better spelling. He could be thinking of a surfer, somebody who works in a sawmill or the renter of a room with meals attached.

Then there’s the question of veracity and his repeated statements that he had done nothing wrong. (See the citations of law above.) He stated to all with whom he dealt by telephone that there were four persons on his boat when he arrived back in the United States. However, it turned out that there were eight persons. According to him, it was just a misunderstanding. Sounds like a lie to me unless he misunderstood the new math.

He stated that he arrived in Friday Harbor at “about 6:30” and the receipt at the Front Street Ale House was time stamped at 7:00. Is it logical to anybody out there that a group of eight people can arrive at Friday Harbor on a boat, tie up the boat, get their belongings off the boat, walk to a local restaurant, receive menus and water, decide upon what they want to eat, order their meals, receive and eat their meals and then have a receipt time stamped within ½ hour? With that time stamp as a definitive point, I think it’s fair to say that the good doctor and his party arrived significantly sooner than 6:30. Then, when asked by an officer how long it was from his arrival until he reported his arrival, he stated that it was “an hour or two” when it was at least 31/2 hours. Sounds like a lie to me unless his mom never told him about the big hand and the little hand.

As I understand it from his lengthy diatribe, there were at least five adults in the group that returned from Canada on the dentist’s boat. There were references about travel to Peru and to Israel. It appears that at least some of the party had some level of experience traveling internationally and also, from the good dentist’s letter that they were aware of 9-11 and the changes emanating there from. How is it possible that five (5) presumably intelligent, experienced people who were hopefully not drunk or on drugs could possible think that they could arrive from a boat, disembark and enter into the United States, or any other country, without satisfying customs and immigration requirements? When the President of the United States and his contingent go to/from foreign countries, they comply with those countries’ “protocols”. A diplomat accredited to our country is immune from search, but only after reporting to appropriate border authorities and establishing his identity and entitlement to such treatment. Why do these five people + kids from Oregon think they are so special that internationally accepted laws and protocols do not apply to them?

Dr. Clark stated that, “…So on, or about, March 20, 2009,” he contacted customs in Friday Harbor and talked (more than once) with a woman who answered the phone and who gave him advice about how to properly return to the United States from Canada. There is only one woman who works for customs in Friday Harbor and she works summers for half of the year. Her first day of work this year was on Sunday, March 29, 2009. It is simply not possible that Dr. Clark could have talked with a female officer on or about March 20, 2009 as he stated in his letter. So " is it a lie that he called or did he have an imaginary conversation with his favorite Martian?

Dr. Clark stated that he arrived in Friday Harbor during the afternoon of Monday, March 30th. Since he stated that he knew where the customs office was, why did he not go there to receive written information about how to return to the United States properly? The office is open until 5:00 pm which he alluded to in his letter.

It is unfortunate that this violator of various customs and immigration laws had to wait in the cold until all the facts were ascertained. Customs in Friday Harbor has been trying to acquire better facilities for at least 18 years and the Port of Friday Harbor won’t provide them.

It is unfortunate that this violator had to wait for an officer to arrive. Perhaps it was because the officer was at home and had to receive the information that there was a violator at the port, put on his uniform including name tag and badge, and travel from home to the port to address the situation created by the violator.

It is unfortunate that one person can consume so much effort and time of government personnel through his own ignorance, arrogance, stupidity or whatever caused him to behave in the manner he did. Thousands of boats and boaters go through this process every year with no problem. In most cases they are “cleared” for customs and immigration purposes in a few moments if they have their acts together. Dr. Clark wasted a lot of our tax dollars through his violation and subsequent blame shifting, story changing and name calling. Why is it that thousands “get it” and he doesn’t?
Oh " yes. Why didn’t the officers inspect his boat? Could it be that since he had allowed all of the persons who arrived from Canada to disembark without inspection and they had taken their effects with them including anything which might be illegal? Duh! Let’s waste some more time.

Below are the text of the story and the full text of Dr. Clark’s letter that was published in two of Friday Harbor’s news outlets. Since Dr. Clark chose to demean their intelligence, their devotion to duty and to prevaricate about them and their behavior and since those local outlets chose to publish the letter, I am asking that the similar outlets in West Linn, Oregon provide a similar courtesy.
Oh " Yes. Since Dr. Clark so adamantly questioned the professionalism and behavior of the officers involved in such a public manner, I am sending a copy of this submission to the Oregon Dental Association.

Dennis R. Hazelton
Resident " Friday Harbor, Washington

( Mr. Hazelton is the former Customs Officer in charge at Port of Friday Harbor)

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