The Point of No Return   Leave a comment


Monday morning, April 11, 2011.  Our time was now.

Paul and I were a bundle of nerves.  Neither of us enjoys dealing with often snarky immigration and customs personnel.  Today promised a double dose that filled me with dread.

It’s not a state secret:  immigration and customs officers are not known for displays of good humor or friendliness on the job.  Some take this aspect of the position downright seriously, almost as a badge of honor.  Dealing with U.S. Customs at airports was unpleasant enough before the 9-11 attacks.  It’s nearly unbearably unpleasant since for U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike, whether in airports, ship docks or land crossings.

Canadians will tell you dealing with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is no easier.  Until this trip, I was dubious about that.  Dealings with their officers were unusually pleasant…but we were vacationers then.

Crossing the U.S./Canada border at the Peace Arch crossing between Blaine, WA and White Rock, BC is a stressful experience.  Lines are usually long, sometimes very long.  Because we were pulling a trailer and exporting a vehicle from the U.S., crossing at Peace Arch – where we knew what to expect – was forbidden.  We had to cross from Blaine into Surrey at the unfamiliar Pacific Highway truck crossing a few miles away.

Anticipating long line-ups, Paul wanted to get to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices early to attend to three distinctly different tasks:  file the vehicle exportation paperwork, show a Certificate of Clear Sail from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and turn in his I-94 (the paper visa issued to every non-resident legal immigrant during their stay in the U.S.; INS rules require non-resident immigrants to surrender their I-94 card before permanently leaving the U.S.).  All this surely required standing in three different lines that morning.

Paul attended to checking out of the motel while I waited in Donovan with Destiny and Carter.  As the time to leave drew closer, I felt as if about to throw up.  Being picky about the condition and smell of car interiors, I walked outside and tried to toss my cookies in a far corner of the parking lot.  No cookies existed to toss, but my nerves didn’t care.  That breath of fresh air did wonders.

From our motel, the drive to Blaine’s Pacific Highway crossing takes 10 minutes.  Finding the way to the customs and immigration office wasn’t easy (most traffic isn’t required to stop in).  Finding a place to park while attending to business was a whole lot harder.  We ended up exactly where we weren’t supposed to be – in the employee parking lot, where we couldn’t find a way out without backing up.  Eventually, an ICE employee walking through the lot gave us advice on how to exit that sticky situation and where to park.

We arrived at 10:05 sharp.  As if by stroke of luck, no one stood in the vehicle exportation line in front of us.

Before exporting a car from the States, its owners must show their copy of the vehicle’s bill of sale and the original title issued for that vehicle by their state of residence.  Along with the necessary documents, we presented our passports and drivers’ licenses.  Everything was in order.  We were good to go into the next line.

We couldn’t find a line to stand in to submit the Certificate of Clear Sail nor the I-94.  Paul and I cased all the public areas of the office.  None was found.

Back to the vehicle exportation line for an answer.

The officer who took our vehicle paperwork was perplexed.  He had no idea where Paul’s other papers were to be turned in.  In fact, nobody at Pacific Highway crossing had a clue.

“So…what do we do?” I asked.

“Just go,” came the answer.

Leaving the office, I thought it highly irregular that Paul’s I-94 went uncollected.  The form is just a card printed on paper stock and easily forged.

Still shrugging, we climbed into Donovan to drive a few feet over to the next stop, the CBSA checkpoint on the Canadian side.  Elapsed time, 20 minutes.

One down, one to go.

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