We all know that security has been tightened at U.S. border crossings since 9/11. And that's why we were quite surprised when we found out the tale of one particular crossing on the border with Canada.
This official U.S. Customs and Border Protection reporting station is on the border between Manitoba, a Canadian province, and Minnesota, and relies on the honor system. Yes, the U.S. government is counting on all people who cross into Angle Inlet, Minnesota, to report themselves via telephone. There are no permanent customs or immigration officials who work at the checkpoint.
Angle Inlet is the northernmost city in the contiguous United States. To get there over land, you have to drive 40 miles within Canada to the other end of the Lake of the Woods, so the Minnesota town is in essence an enclave that sits within Canada. Because of that geographical quirk, and because very few people live up there, the checkpoint has always been laidback.
But in this day and age, law enforcement officials in Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota, are very concerned. The sheriff there says he has intelligence that drug smugglers and potential terrorists take advantage of the "honor system" to cross into Angle Inlet illegally and then take a boat across the Lake of the Woods to go into "mainland" Minnesota.
The checkpoint looks like a shack. You are supposed to stop your car when you get there, get out, and pick up a videophone that often doesn't work.
When we got there, we picked up the phone and pushed a button that has the American flag on it. Nothing happened the first six or seven times I pushed the button. Finally, I heard a Customs employee's voice. She said her name was Officer Johnson, and she cordially told me she was in the Customs office in Warroad, Minnesota, about 50 miles away.
She told me to stand in front of the camera so she could see me. Then video of her popped on the screen so I could see her. She asked for my name and my purpose for coming to the United States, and asked me to hold my passport in front of the camera so she could see it. I was then approved for entry into the United States.
While we were at the border "shack," other cars just zoomed by; not necessarily because the motorists were up to no good, but because many perceive the shack with the faulty phone to be a cumbersome waste of time.
Residents are given special permits to avoid going into the shack, but it's estimated by the local sheriff that 70 percent of the people who are supposed to stop don't bother doing so. So is this border checkpoint going to stay this way? That's what we asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
They told us that this is not considered the "highest risk" area. But officials did tell us some changes are in store.
Customs officers do make patrols to the checkpoint. They said those patrols will be increased. In addition, they said there will be technological changes, including the installation of cameras providing surveillance over the area, not just inside the shack.
Before we left Angle Inlet, we met one motorist from Manitoba who did his law-abiding duty and picked-up the videophone to report his arrival into the United States. But it would not work for him, so he picked-up an old-fashioned payphone and called the office. They couldn't see him or his passport, but customs officials thanked him for trying, and then let him into the United States.