Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Border Smuggling

Tomorrow morning I will be driving south of the 49th to celebrate American Thanksgiving with my parents. It has been many years- twenty two, in fact- since I last was down to celebrate with them. Here is the tale of that long ago trip. My apologies for the length of this. It is actually an excerpt from a longer piece of writing. Oh- and if you manage to stick with the story to the end you will see "then and now" pictures of Rebekah and me. 

When Rebekah joined our family in April of 1988 she was flown into the Seattle airport. Her Korean passport had an American visa stamp in it, so there had been no problem with her entering the USA. The following November the kids and I headed down to my parents’ farm in northern Idaho to celebrate American Thanksgiving. Here I was, an ex-pat American who had been living in the great white north for six years, finally living close enough to home to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. (We had just moved from Fort St. John to Nelson) Not only would I be celebrating Thanksgiving, it would be baby Rebekah’s first trip to meet her two great grandmothers. 

We left Nelson early in the morning, hoping to be down to the farm by lunch time. The boys were excited as well, singing songs and jabbering in the back seat. It was one of those special times, the kind where you feel perfectly content and secure, where “all is right with the world.” 

I pulled up to the small border crossing and rolled down my window, positively aglow with the anticipation of my first Thanksgiving home in years. The border guard asked where we were headed, then stuck her head in the window to see who was in the back of the van. When her eyes lit on Rebekah she asked to see her identification. Still smiling, all still right with the world, I handed Rebekah’s Korean passport and Canadian immigration papers to her. She thumbed through the documents, scanning each one with a growing look of concern. This border guard was starting to mess with my glow. 

Then she looked at me and said she needed Rebekah’s entrance visa. Wondering how she could have missed it, I pointed out that it was stamped in the back of her passport. No she said, that was just a temporary 24 hour visa issued for in-transit purposes only. Rebekah needed a regular visitor’s visa to be allowed entry to the United States of America. 

Her official “don’t mess with me” tone had me reassessing my previous “all’s right with the world” sentiments. However, I knew there was no way they could keep me from crossing the border. After all, I was an American and it was Thanksgiving. She begged to differ, saying it didn’t matter, refused to let us cross, and informed me that I could go to the nearest border crossing staffed with an immigration officer to see if they would issue the appropriate paper work.  

I don’t want this to degenerate into name calling, but seriously this lady was Scrooge one celebration early- the nearest crossing with an immigration officer was a two hour drive away, and not in the direction we were headed. I pleaded. I begged. It was not to be. I turned around and headed back north, silence emanating from the back seat and my glow having turned to a burning anger. 

Did I mention it was Thanksgiving and I am an American? Nobody was going to stop me from spending the holiday with my family! There was just one slight problem- the guard had strictly warned me not to attempt crossing again without the proper paperwork or I could be charged with attempting to smuggle an illegal alien into the country. Apparently they frown on this. 

I took her words as a direct challenge rather than the warning they were meant to be. This time I would not volunteer any information about Rebekah. I would simply drive up to the next border crossing, a mere hour’s drive away, roll my window down just enough to be able to talk to the guard but not enough for him to stick his head in, and vaguely wave towards the back seat when he asked who was traveling with me. 

My heart was racing as I approached the border. All was going as planned until the guard looked at me and asked if I happened to have a Korean infant traveling with me. Busted. I could not believe it. Apparently the witch on a broom we had encountered at the last crossing had phoned this crossing and warned the staff that there might be a woman in a blue van with three young children attempting to cross the border after being denied entrance earlier in the day. 

I'm just not the kind of person you would expect to carry out illegal activity between international borders, and thankfully this kind border guard didn’t think so either. In what had to have been an absolute God moment, he looked at Rebekah (she really was sweet!) and asked to see her passport. It turned out that he had a nephew adopted from Korea and he was quite taken with the little fellow. I told him my story- the long wait for Rebekah, the misunderstanding about the 24 hour visa, and my deep desire to be home with my family over the holiday. 

Then this man did the impossible! He told me he would go fill out a bogus piece of paper saying he was allowing her to cross the border, which he really didn’t have the authority to do since he was not an immigration officer, but would do anyway. He simply asked if I could mail the paper back to him when I returned to Canada so he would know Rebekah was no longer in the US. I was quite sure it was no coincidence that we happened upon a customs officer who had a Korean nephew and a big heart! 

We made it home for Thanksgiving thanks to the compassion of this kind man, and I had one more reason to be thankful this particular year, namely that I wouldn’t be sharing my turkey with the inmates at the local detention center instead of those nearest and dearest to me.

Rebekah's first birthday, two weeks before the border incident
 22 years later


  1. What a wonderful story. Enjoy your second Thanksgiving of the year!

  2. Awww, what a little angel. Her two great-grandmothers must have been so excited to meet her. Hurrah for the good guys out there!

    I hope tomorrow's border crossing is uneventful and that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    PS - There are two babies in the first picture.

  3. I love that story! And the picture of you with little Rebekah is so special!!
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Wow what a story, we dont celebrate Thanksgiving but maybe we should.

  5. Today's post was partially directed towards you, so I'm glad you read it. =) That mushroom incident was terrible, but I really was a good kid. A little weird at times, but almost always in a good way. I had several friends whose parents would only let them attend events if I was going to be there, because they knew I would try to keep their kids out of trouble.

    I exposed my youthful weirdness in an early post:

    I hope you had a nice time with your parents yesterday. =)