By Mike Faricy
Saturday night Teresa and I got the last available room in Schroder, Minnesota, sixty miles south of the Canadian border up Hwy 61 on the North Shore. Visiting from Ireland, the wilds of northern Minnesota fascinate Teresa. I thought I heard opportunity knocking the following morning and we drove fifty-five minutes north so she could at least put a toe in Canada. We traveled forty feet past the US border station and had a nice couple from Missouri take our photo while we stood in front of the Welcome to Ontario sign. We got back in the car, drove another fifty feet to the Canadian border station, explaining the purpose of our visit accomplished, we took a photo. The Canadian agent politely instructed us to drive around the building and return to the United States. In all, I would guess Teresa’s ninety-foot trip into Canada took about six minutes, including four minutes the Missouri couple commented on her charming Irish accent. I could have thrown a baseball back into the US at anytime during our brief stay.
“U.S. citizens?” the border agent asked on the Minnesota side. I handed her my Minnesota Driver’s license. “And you, Ma’am?” she asked Teresa.
“Citizen of the EU, Republic of Ireland,” I answered, thinking I’d better start taking control here lest we end up talking charming accents all morning.
“Your passport, Ma’am.”
Teresa got this frightened look on her face as we both visualized her passport on the kitchen counter, six and half hours due south, in St. Paul. “I don’t have it with me,” she stammered. I sat there with a natural look of stupidity on my face, attempting to charm the border agent with my smile.
“Please pull around, step out of your vehicle, and come inside,” she instructed, not charmed in the least.
“Well,” I joked entering the office, “another adventure with you.” Now, I’m a lifelong St. Paul guy, so I figured, of the four officers in the office, I knew somebody’s brother, sister, parent, or cousin. A little hometown charm and we’d be on our way.
Things went from funny to very serious in about eight seconds, right after one of three officers waiting for us at the counter opened with “This might be a Canadian problem.” Translation: Teresa’s not reentering Minnesota.
“You are supposed to have your I-94 W visa waiver in your possession at all times while in the US. It says so, right on there,” the officer in charge stated. It does by the way, I checked later, it’s in five point type, at the bottom of the card.
They pulled up a computer record of ten different entries Teresa has made into the United States over the past four years. But, they did not have a record of her entering in Philadelphia five days earlier, we even had her ticket stubs from the US Air flight. Some computer snafu, but suddenly she’s without a passport and no sign of legal entry into the US. Some hard-core groveling got the officers to accept having her passport faxed to them as an alternative.
I should add there is no cell phone service in this area so I’m calling my 22 year old son in St. Paul, on a pay phone, which I’m leaping to the conclusion may be monitored. To impress on my 22 year old, the urgency of our situation, I told him we were arrested and detained, lest he throw in a game of Frisbee golf before getting around to faxing the passport. I failed to quite see the humor he apparently saw in the term ‘arrested and detained’. It became even less funny when Teresa signaled me that she travels on two passports. Apparently, the Republic transposed her name, issuing her first passport as Elizabeth Teresa, then, issued a second passport, listing her name correctly as Teresa Elizabeth, but never retrieving the first passport. She carries both, along with her birth certificate. So she’s traveling on two passports, with two names, and there’s no record in the data base of her entering the US. At this point, even I was becoming suspicious.
We returned, after that new bit of information, to wait in chairs arranged against a wall. About every eight minutes a carload came in to join us due to some mildly questionable circumstance, the difference being, they ultimately left, we just sat there.
A family of four entered, Minnesota-nice written all over them. The agent asked the father from over the counter, had he ever been arrested? Dad turns red, looks at his 17 and 15 year old daughters, sheepishly replying, “Yes, a DUI in 1982.”
“What, Dad, you?” the girls exclaimed.
At this point his wife rockets out of her chair, tears in her eyes and whispers something to the officer over the counter, “Yes,” she sobs, “but I was just 16 at the time.” She’s dressed like a Minnesota mom, crisp blouse, pressed shorts, nice hair with a mom purse that ties it all together, probably bakes bread from scratch between soccer games. Her daughters don’t say anything, but any parent could tell, as daughters, they’re stock piling this ammunition for later battles. Neither of us can bear to watch the tragedy of youthful indiscretions catching up to middle aged parents, Teresa’s eyes begin to tear up, again.
Next, an English fellow sits next to Teresa, “Why have they stopped you?” she asks him, her voice trembling and cracking, sitting white knuckled in her government issued metal chair.
“Bit of a Canadian citizenship card problem, they’ll sort it out shortly, I suspect. Where are you from?” he asks her in his clipped British Midlands accent.
“Ireland, I left my passport in St. Paul,” she replies, eyes downcast, guilty, guilty, guilty.
“Humph, funny, I’d have never placed your accent,” he replied. All three officers lean noticeably forward, reexamining the two of us a bit more closely.
“My God,” I said, turning to the young man seated next to me, he was returning from Thunder Bay following a weekend long bachelor party. “I can’t believe we’ve been arrested and detained here,” my weak attempt to inject humor between waiting for the fax, praying it’s the correct passport, and now the accent misidentification by the Brit.
“Oh, this isn’t detained,” party-boy informs me with a youthful voice of experience, “detained is when they handcuff you.”
“I don’t know him,” I tell the officers listening to us, moving my chair three feet away from party-boy.
“Do you know my cousin?” I ask an officer returning from a car search in the parking lot. “He’s in law enforcement, over in St. Louis County.” I’m back to square one, trying the family angle. “He wears gloves when he does car searches, doesn’t want to find a syringe with his fingertips he tells me.”
“That’s exactly right,” replies the officer in green rubber gloves.
I may have found a friend. At this point, the original officer enters with the faxed, and thank God, correct passport with stamped I-94W visa waiver, in hand. He informs us they’ve stretched the rules, but we’re free to go.
We “Yes, sir” everyone to death, shake hands all around, twice, thank them again for being vigilant and drive south, two miles per hour under the limit, Teresa’s sobbing and blowing her nose for over an hour until we reach Two Harbors.
After 9/11, it’s a different world than the one we all grew up in, even on the North Shore. Teresa’s crime was being stupid enough to listen to me, I told her to leave the passport home because we were just going to Duluth. Why risk losing it? She travels a lot; in 1998, she was in Pakistan on a humanitarian aid mission, in 1999 Turkey, Bahrain in 2002. All three stamps are in her passport. If the border police had seen those stamps, coupled with no entry record into the US, and she in the company of an idiot, they may have locked us both up, sorted it out at the end of the week, and rightfully so. It’s all humorous because we’re a month past the event and it ended after only two and a half hours, but there were a number of ways this could have gone badly. The border police are doing a very difficult job well, it’s complicated by dunces like me getting in their way.