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Shaking the Bush Out of America

As a child, we vacationed regularly in Maine. As a young adult, I went on many cross border shopping expeditions. We live less than an hour from the border to the United States and it is natural that we would want to spend time there. In the pre-Bush days, officials at the border would take on a friendly and polite tone when asking where you were from, where you were going and what the purpose of your stay was. They'd close with "Enjoy your vacation ma'am. Hope to see you again soon." And then came George W. Bush and 9/11 and all of the overreaction and panic. Yes, it was a devastating event. Yes, it showed that the United States should perhaps beef up security. But it also meant that the friendly tone of those border guards turned to one of suspicion and police officers who would have at one time handed a vacationing Canadian a speeding ticket with a friendly reminder to slow down a bit, were now leveraging immigration legislation to throw people into jail over minor traffic violations.

In 2007, I read the story of Cheryl Kuehn, a 23 year old Canadian university student who was on her way to Florida with family members:
A 23-year-old Carleton University master's student is outraged and demanding an apology from Georgia officials after spending more than 11 uncomfortable hours in a detention centre for running a stop sign and speeding.
Cheryl Kuehn said Monday she was fingerprinted and had her mugshot taken before being forced to strip naked and shower, don a navy blue jail outfit and sleep in a cell with two other women while other inmates jeered and leered at her from adjoining cells.

"I was terrified," said Mrs. Kuehn, who spent Saturday night at the detention centre in southern Georgia after she was taken into custody following the traffic stop outside a restaurant along the I-95 near Brunswick, Georgia. "I don't think it's a very humane way to treat someone who had not committed a crime, or even been accused of committing a crime," said Mrs. Kuehn, adding the "unjust" treatment she received in the Georgia jail was completely uncalled for.

But officials with the Georgia state police and Glynn County Detention Center, where Mrs. Kuehn was being held, said they were just following procedure when someone from another country is stopped for speeding or other traffic violations - no matter how minor they might seem. That procedure, they said, includes holding Canadians, including those carrying a valid passport like Mrs. Kuehn, or other "foreign nationals," in custody until the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency confirms they are legally allowed to be in the country.

There are many more details in the article, but essentially it appears that the State of Georgia thinks it is appropriate to take someone and throw them into jail over the fact that they might try to avoid paying their speeding ticket. It has nothing to do with the intent of the law, which is about confirming someone's right to be in the country. Instead, it uses a law designed for that intent to make someone post bond to ensure they don't skip out on a speeding ticket. The ridiculousness of it and my outrage over the situation was enough for me to say that I would not be traveling to the United States if I could avoid it for the remainder of Bush's term.

And then came Obama. One of my blogger friends, Amy @ Crunchy Domestic Goddess was putting together a post for her blog on foreigners reactions to Obama's victory. I sent her my thoughts via e-mail and she included them in her post called The World chimes in about Barack Obama. I commented on a number of issues, but one of them was this:
I also wonder what Obama will keep and what he’ll get rid of with regards to greater restrictions that have been placed on foreigners. I used to travel to the US frequently for business, for family vacations, and for day shopping trips. Now I don’t anymore. I’m scared and I’m annoyed. I used to get a smile and a few friendly questions at the border (where are you from, where are you going, how long are you staying, have a great trip!). Now I get grilled to the nth degree by a scowling border guard that seems to assume that each person trying to cross the border wants to do some sort of harm to the United States (no, really, I just want to shop and vacation….don’t you want my dollars…guess not). Also, there is a law/policy brought in under Bush that indicates that foreigners that are pulled over by the police for any reason can get thrown into jail immediately. A Canadian woman that turned right somewhere where it wasn’t allowed ended up spending the night in jail. Even the possibility of that happening, especially as a mom that often travels with my small children and that does not want to be seperated from them under any circumstance, makes me scared enough to not go to the United States. What happens if I miss a sign and make an illegal turn by mistake?

All that said, I’m very excited for Americans. But I’m anxiously and apprehensively waiting to see how Obama’s attitude and policies towards foreigners (especially close allies) will be different than his predecessor. Until then, I’ll be vacationing in Cuba and shopping in Canada.

Time has passed. Obama has been in office for a while. I was slowly starting to consider maybe making a trip to the United States with my family and hoping to attend BlogHer in Chicago in July. So you can imagine my outrage and anger when I got my e-mail newsletter from MomsRising with the subject line "I wanted to go with my Mommy". I clenched my fists. I was shaking. This was it, my worst fears, it was happening and it was happening in post-Bush America. According to the e-mail:
At MomsRising we're always looking out to make sure that mothers and families are treated fairly in our nation. The other day I saw a video that shocked me: Two young children crying, alone in a car, reaching out for their mother who'd been taken away by deputies wearing ski masks after being stopped for a minor traffic violation.[1] The images haven't left me.  A nightmare, right? Never in America? Wrong.

A local NBC news report described the incident through the eyes of a witness, "…the deputies were wearing ski masks and detained the children's mother for about an hour while her children watched, crying."[2]

Who's in charge of these deputies!?

It turns out that the person in charge knew exactly what was going on.  Sheriff Arpaio has been cited repeatedly for gross civil rights violations and racial profiling of both citizens and non-citizens in the name of immigration enforcement, and when questioned about his tactics, he said that under his jurisdiction, "it was not unusual for law enforcement officers to wear ski masks while on duty."[2,3]

In the video the young girl is asked, "What did the sheriff tell you?" The little girl said, "To be quiet, but I couldn't 'cause I wanted to go with my mommy." [2] And here's what Mary, a MomsRising team member said after seeing the video, "We may not all be on the same page about immigration policy, but we do all agree that children and mothers shouldn't be treated this way."

Regardless of where immigration policy stands, no one should be treated that way. We've all got to stand up against this inhumane treatment of families. This type of treatment of women and families simply isn't acceptable.

You can read more about this incident and access the video at this 12 News report Mother arrested in front of children. MomsRising and a number of other organizations are campaigning to have this Sheriff investigated and punished for his actions. It appears in this case it is an issue of a sheriff repeatedly using racial profiling and justifying his actions via Immigration law. Please visit MomsRising's campaign to demand an investigation of Sheriff Arpaio from the Department of Justice or go to America's Voice to sign their petition to demand justice in this case. It is absolutely ridiculous that officers such as these are using Immigration Law to justify violating the rights of women and children.

Don't count on cashing in my tourist dollars anytime soon America.
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Reader Comments (16)

Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be a national level thing, but a local power trip thing. Some local official (in this case the Sheriff) gets his jollies from increasing the power he wields. The Sheriff (and any other local official abusing his power like this) should be removed from their position of power and prosecuted to the fill extent of the law.

March 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTechyDad

One of the things I tend to forget - very often - is that a world screwed up for eight years is not going to change overnight. Cleaning up the system at this level is going to take a great deal of time, given the number of incredibly enormous problems that have to be addressed first.

That being said, why on earth doesn't somebody sue over this idiot?

March 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLiberalSpirit

Sometimes, it's harder to compose a comment than an entire essay. I feel so many conflicting things about this whole article, but for me it boils down to this: it seems the United States citizens were all too willing to trade freedom for safety. To trade the preciousness of individual rights for the tyranny of big brotherly protection.
How many mothers and children are too many for this to happen to?
I don't know if we can undo the damage that 9/11 did to us that exacerbated the mindset of the government as nanny. I do know this stance of mine is not necessarily popular among blogger mommies.
However, this is one common ground one which everyone should be able to meet.

March 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

This stuff is crazy, but Obama has NOT been in office for "for a while." As of today, it's only been 6 weeks. He hasn't even finished filling out his cabinet. Bush was in office screwing up the country for 8 years! Give Obama's Administration a break.

March 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh

@TechyDad I agree, but the problem is that national legislation is being leveraged to empower these idiots. Unfortunately, it isn't isolated in just one town or one state. The two stories in my post show that it is happening at least in Georgia and Arizona with no apologies or recognition of wrongdoing in either instance. These officials not only insist that they did nothing wrong, but also insist that they will continue to act this way in the future because it is what the law requires of them.

@LiberalSpirit I agree that it will take a while and I think it is unfortunate that it ever happened in the first place.

@Jennifer If you have more to say on the topic, go for it! Maybe write a post and link back here when you do. I'd love to jump into a more detailed conversation on your blog too.

@Leigh Fair enough and my post wasn't intended as a criticism of Obama. It was intended to demonstrate the extreme damage done by the attitude that prevailed during the Bush era and the fact that it isn't easily undone. But I wonder, how will I know when it is okay to risk venturing into the United States again? How will I know when the Bush has been shaken out of everyone? How will I know when it has been made clear through the courts and culture change that this type of behaviour is not acceptable?

March 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I dont know when, or if ever things will be back to normal again, or what normal might be anymore. People are crazy, and some of the crazy hysterics I have seen since Obama has been in office are disturbing. I suppose these people have always been around, they seem to be getting desperate now they are realizing this is real. Obama's real, he really won, and he's doing the things he said he would do.
I signed the petition when I got my Mom's Rising email yesterday. I got a return email back from the DOJ. I gotta admit, that gave me a pause. Am I on a list now? Or is that the old days?

March 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnnette

It's so difficult for me to gather my thoughts on this post because on one hand I love my country dearly and feel like I should defend her, but on the other hand I am so extremely embarrassed by the actions of the people who represent me as a citizen and are placed in positions to keep people safe.

It's such a sad feeling to live in a country that I love and watch things crumble right before my eyes. It worries me for my own safety, my children's safety and the safety of others.

While I don't agree with the way that a lot of things are handled and think that the Bush administration royally fouled things up, I think people are still afraid in some sense because as a previous poster mentioned, it's going to take a long time to undo the damage that 9/11 did. Even though it happened almost 8 years ago it's still very close to home for me, and I'm sure many others.

With all that said, as a US citizen I am truly sorry for anyone who has experienced any kind of maltreatment at the hands of our officials, whether they are a citizen or a visitor from another country it is simply not acceptable.

You raised a very interesting point in saying that "we obviously don't want your money." I have to wonder if anyone has thought about the impact that these strong arm actions have on our economy, as I'm sure you're not the only one that feels this way.

With your permission, I would like to post this article on the Obama website to give him and his administration some insight into how other countries are reacting to the way things are being handled.

March 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRhyah

@Rhyah - Please feel free to post the article on the Obama website, but provide a link back here when you do so.

@ Annette - That often worries me as well when I sign my name to things, but someone needs to speak up.

March 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

As someone who has studied immigration law and policy, it's going to be a real problem the next four years. The main problems are that reform is needed in a major way, and that local law enforcement officials are going outside the scope of their duties to enforce immigration policy, which is federal. There is actually a sheriff who is rounding up anyone who looks Hispanic and holding them in tents in the desert in AZ, with no hearing or rights. These rogue locals need to be reigned in, and I am honestly not sure how Obama is going to do it. Unfortunately I think immigration issues are being pushed to the backburner because everything else is so screwy, which is unfortunate because immigrants deserve rights but they also are a part of the economy (tourism, work, etc).

I sincerely hopes this changes during his term, but I can't blame anyone for not coming here until major reform happens.

Lucie, it's the same sheriff. Joe Arpaio is a total cowboy and does a lot of pretty insane stuff. You can read more about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Arpaio

As for us, we are Canadians and we have noticed the lengthening border line-ups and increased security. It's really unfortunate, I think, that we feel less welcome in the US. Our family still visits, and we actually signed up for the Nexus program because otherwise crossing the border with 2 small children is just not workable.

I hope that under Obama's regime things will change.

March 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Amber, I thought that sounded like the same guy! I can't believe no one has stopped him yet.

Honestly, this is just sad when our neighbors can't come visit.

Those 2 stories you recounted were without a doubt awful and terrible injustices, and while I absolutely respect anyone's decision to not visit the USA (or any other country) on moral grounds, I feel that refraining from visiting the USA out of fear that you would have something like what happened in those stories happen to you is not unlike saying you won't go swimming in the ocean because you might get attacked by sharks - in other words, extremely unlikely.

I've crossed the border dozens and dozens of times since 1996, and while the border crossing were not pleasant in late 2001, the surliness of the border guards has been pretty consistent (in my experience) regardless of whether we dealing with US or Canadian customs. Perhaps it depends on the crossing? Or it's just the luck of the draw.

Awful injustices and xenophobia happen in plenty of countries. I recently travelled through the Vancouver airport where a Polish immigrant was tasered and killed. A Moroccan immigrant was killed this winter in Montreal by a snowplow and her family has received nothing from the city except a bill for 13$ for a copy of the police report.

March 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjane

@ Jane : I agree that there are injustices everywhere. My hope is that they usually get dealt with by the law. The news coverage I've heard of the Vancouver taser incident over the past few days has featured RCMP officers being grilled on the stand and put to the task for the stupid mistakes they made that night. The RCMP has recognized that its guidelines around when and how to use tasers are inappropriate and has made changes.

However, in the case of the Sheriff in Arizona and the State of Georgia, they insist that these "routine" procedures are appropriate and expected of them. Once I have some sense that this is being changed or addressed, perhaps I'll change my mind.

March 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] It is official. I’m going to BlogHer ‘09. I heard today tickets were about to sell out, so I bought mine. Can’t wait! For the record, I expect to fly there and take a cab to the hotel and conference to avoid any overzealous arrests for traffic violations. [...]

[...] judgment as they carry out their duties. I wrote about another example previously in my post called Shaking the Bush out of America, but apparently this goes far beyond Bush’s stupid [...]

Long time reader and first time commentor!

I live in the uk but my parents live in the USA and I travel at least once a year but usually twice to see them - and have been for the past ten years.

I have to say that I am really glad to see this article and others being written, not a single trip goes by where I do not fear the customs officers. The first time I travelled accross the border after my parents moved, my passport still contained a green visa form that the airlines had not removed from my last trip. I had no idea what the form meant and was taken into an interrogation room and interrogated for an hour.

My last few trips have been surprisingly pleasant and even a little weird with one customs official, who is from the same town as I was visiting, taking ten minutes to rant about a girl who cheated on him!

Oh and as a side note I once flew from Amsterdam to Washington and was given one heck of a grilling on my way out. When I asked why it was so intense, the Dutch official replied "we are preparing you for the Americans, one mistake and they will interrogate you."

That another country uses it's resources to protect it's people from a supposed ally in this way is ridiculous!

Thank you for the great post!

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMykel

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