Eventually, we moved on to my background, and I mentioned I had done a masters in computational neuroscience. He said something like "oh neuroscience, my great aunt had that", I think he thought it was an illness? Was sort of expecting the reality TV cameras to be busted out at that point...
He let me through though! Usually I clear immigration in Ireland (one of the few places you can do the immigration before you leave), and those folks are always much more pleasant.
I've found American Border Patrol and Customs to be fairly relaxed though. I am a white American guy from the Midwest, so that may have something to do with it. I find the TSA to be more of a pain.
I've long since learned the lesson that joking around with them is absolutely never, ever worth it. It's sad, because it presumably makes their jobs joyless, and the actual nice people more likely to leave. But here we are.
The terrorists are winning. sigh
Its a hard point to convey without really spelling out the underbelly of American society
If you wanted?!
No way this is real.
I mentioned the sign and was threatened with a "deep" inspection and guaranteed enough detention time to miss the flight.
We dumped it, boarded a 5 hour flight, pushed the call button and asked for cow milk to help get through the flight. They came back, 3 other moms did the exact same thing, and got told they were out of milk.
Quite unpleasant, security theater is such a waste.
"Why did you go to Italy?"
- To attend a conference.
"Which conference did you attend?"
- European Conference on Machine Learning
"Machine Learning? (smile) How do you learn from machines?"
"Yet a growing number of researchers are dubious — not just about the projects themselves, but about the science on which they are based. "Simply put, people (including professional lie-catchers with extensive experience of assessing veracity) would achieve similar hit rates if they flipped a coin," noted a 2007 report1 from a committee of credibility-assessment experts who reviewed research on portal screening.
"No scientific evidence exists to support the detection or inference of future behaviour, including intent," declares a 2008 report prepared by the JASON defence advisory group. And the TSA had no business deploying SPOT across the nation's airports "without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment", stated a two-year review of the programme released on 20 May by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the US Congress."
One rule of thumb is that you Never joke with the airport security (1). So wouldn't that go both ways?
Needless to say the US immigration officials took some offense and asked him a bunch of questions. I'm not sure they realised it didn't say what they thought it did, even after we explained about French Connection.
These were obviously simpler times as I also as a teenager once went through US immigration wearing a Threadless Community Party t-shirt: https://www.threadless.com/product/383/the_communist_party
I think the person who is actually reading people is the person who checks your ID and boarding pass. Though honestly I think that process would be pretty easy to fool either way.
From stories I heard airport security is more serious than CBP though
She looked up and laughed, and in very broken English explained she was trying to use the accents of incoming Americans to improve her accent to help in her job when dealing with English speaking foreigners.
I have had less pleasant, aggressive questioning dealing with British immigration when flying into Heathrow as well as Irish immigration when flying out of Heathrow, though in the latter case the proximal cause was my fellow traveler choosing to lie. :(
It's like that cliché often employed in coding interviews, but immigration officers are more serious about it: They don't need a correct answer, they are interested primarily in observing your answering process.
FYI: It's not just Ireland that let's you clear US-immigration before departure: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_border_precleara...
I've been going through Dublin myself for years, and I can highly recommend it: In worst case, you'll be told to leave the terminal, but you won't go into a holding cell - and yes, officers there are much more friendly than their counterparts in the US (I guess they are all infected by the Irish hospitality).
If it passes in Canada, it's only a matter of time before it happens in Ireland (or you lose the pre-clearance option).
Indeed Canada, Ireland, and Abu Dhabi wait until you arrive there from the USA to do their own immigration so it only goes one way.
The US-Canada agreement is the oldest one, largely due to the amount of cross-border air travel, and Canada has the right under the agreement to operate preclearance stations for the Canadian border inside US airports, but has never chosen to do so.
Saves a lot of time and hassle.
What sounds really, really annoying is that there are no facilities whatsoever (save for a coffee kiosk) and that you can't even sit down until the gate opens.
Personally, I wouldn't know since I never flew via Abu Dhabi (let alone to the US).
(he ate too much dangerously delicious lasagna when in Malmo)
I don't understand why host countries don't try to make themselves the most favorite country in the world for their guests. I believe, "not allowing terrorists/drug dealers/illegal workers etc. etc. inside" is just the marketing as I seriously doubt people who slip through the cracks of a saner screening process would be a significant problem. Therefore, I wonder the real reason but can't think of any.
You shouldn't think of governments as agents with a singular, unified purpose. What you're observing is the effect of many agents with misaligned incentives, and a huge coordination problem. All this leads to a situation where large costs are incurred for no real purpose, because no agent is incentivised to put what you called 'marketing' in doubt.
For example, it's a huge cost for a politician to argue that fear of terrorism is overblown. So pretty much none of them do that. TSA have no incentive to reduce their powers. Etc.
All three of those have an access to a very sophisticated immigration scam operatives. Terrorist get extensive training in faking their identities, drug dealers have huge network of contacts and insider moles and illegal workers know the trafficking cartels.
The real reason of American immigration fiasco is deep rooted racism and against primarily non-white people. You will barely hear anything from any politicians about white people who illegally come and stay in USA from Canada and Europe. If H1B beneficiaries were mostly British or Canadians US government would have increased the limit 5x by now.
While that is true in many cases, in many others it is not. I lived on a border town for a few years and made friends with some DHS agents there. Listening to their stories re drug trade I got the impression that many of the people carrying drugs over are actually poor, uneducated, uninformed, etc. While some of the techniques may be sophisticated, I got the impression that the traffickers themselves frequently were not. I would imagine basic abrasive interrogation techniques would be reasonably effective.
All of this could be backed by the personal data has been collected before hand.
The old (and often linked?) article about airport security in Israel describes how the actually rely a lot on people being able to spot strange behavior.
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Once I got asked how many times have you been here, I replied that this is my second time (thinking he means San Francisco), but he said: "It says here that you were in the US 3 times". That really got me nervous, I wouldn't like to get turned away and look for a flight back home.
Do they think that a poor guy at the border can recognize a skilled terrorist? What they do is scare the hell out of ordinary people.
Odds of their screening catching a skilled terrorist? Pretty low -- although terrorists generally fall into the category of "bungling" more than "skilled". Odds of them catching people who are smuggling drugs, or entering as "tourists" but actually planning on working? Much higher -- because it's easy to learn to recognize the common cases.
Is there? What's the difference if the emotion is 'nervousness' and the outward expression of that emotion signals 'nervousness'? Who is skilled enough to distinguish between the two degrees of nervousness?
Someone who spends 40 hours a week practicing.
If you were a 'bad' border protection agent, and you let everyone through, how do you learn? And equally if you select people for secondary interrogation that are allowed to enter, how does that feed back to you?
I guess I'm curious to know a bit more about how the organisation is structured, as there's equivalent in tech discussions, "Ten years experience vs. one years experience ten times." Without some structure to know when you're doing it wrong or right, you can be talking to people for 40 hours a week and not get much out of it.
A bit similar method is (or was) used to keep the X-ray machine operators at airport awake. Software superimposes images of prohibited items on the X-ray image  and operator is supposed to notice them.
The other case (false positives) would be harder to tackle on the case or border agent. Maybe it would help if the same agent was actually involved in the detailed investigation and not just responsible of flagging suspicious people.
Is this acceptable? Is there any correlation between "criminal" or "terrorist" and "acts nervous at border"? Are common border guards trained well enough to distinguish these subtle cues if they exist?
If you're twitchy, talking fast, sweating and can't answer questions accurately about your job or a place you've just visited, then yes I think that is absolutely suspicious and worth investigating.
Immigration let everyone through without question, but as soon as they saw him with the guitar they asked him to step forward to an inspection point. I went along to observe, and it was quite interesting. The guy and the lady at the inspection desk asked him to put the guitar case flat on the desk and open it to remove the guitar.
While he did this, I noted that they never took their eyes off his face. They never even glanced at the guitar or the case. He was halfway through taking it out when they told him it was all OK and to stow it away again and be on our way.
I had always heard that the officers watched for your reaction which 9 times out of 10 gives the person away if they are trying to hide something, but this was the first time I had witnessed it first hand.
You still have to talk to the immigration officer though - everyone does.
Once I was returning from a year long trip where I visited 16 countries. Too many for the immigration form, and half of them were visited on another passport (dual citizen). Immigration asked me what country I visited and hesitated a bit. Then I told him that I did not know how to answer since I have been traveling around the world!
I know several engineers who are very good and probably have never heard of BST because they are too busy writing CSS or designing circuitboards.
1. Why'd you lose your wallet? [Uhh...?]
2. When'd you lose it? [At a software conference this past weekend]
4. So how many days ago did you lose your wallet again?
I wonder how long they'd put up with my ramblings about memoization and search optimizations before they let me through. :P
Lets say you have two borders. One has a cursory check of documentation, so allows people to sail through. This costs 2X to man. Another has a more interactive exchange, but each interaction takes longer, so costs 5X to man.
So you either pay 5X, or 2X and then have 3X to do something else with. Could you use that 3X to better protect the border through pro-active investigation and analysis?
For example to attend a conference. Things like a "World Plumbing Conference" exist, though I'm not sure if it was ever held in the US.
(Not everyone is a seasoned flyer who knows the rules!)
So the policeman looks at it and says "Oh, the database department. Which databases do you guys use?" Basically I was able to identify myself with some Oracle and knowing who Scott Tiger was.
The policeman appeared to be an IT drop-out who switched to police.
What's sad is that in this climate it's not completely unbelievable that something like this could happen.
It makes sense really - I don't know why this would cause outrage.
In other words, this does not seem to me like anything new.
Part of their job is simply to determine that you are who you say you are. They do this every day - within reason I expect they can ask you any arbitrary question related to you and your life to observe how you respond. They just want to catch those out that aren't, for whatever reason, being genuine about their story. I think there's a false assumption here that somehow @cyberomin's ability to actually _solve_ a BST was in some way tied to his likelihood of entry. That's obviously ridiculous. I imagine his response was still genuine enough that they believed him. Frankly as another commenter joked, I think they could have asked him to prove P=NP. It's when you reply confidently with an 'obvious' solution that they might raise an eyebrow.
Yes it would be unreasonable if their ignorance actually lead to you being denied entry. But in not one of the experiences here, or with @cyberomin, was that actually the case. The thing is, of course, that they're aware of their ignorance and the absurdity of their questions. You see, they know that they're bluffing. That's kind of the point.
It is, perhaps rather unfortunately, part of their job to make you feel uncomfortable, ask probing questions and weed out inconsistencies in your responses. Isn't that part of professional questioning? I can understand the frustration at the abruptness of the questioning, and it's hardly a friendly welcome. I've been angered leaving immigration before and I have to remind myself that ruffling my feathers is all part of the act. When first complaining to a friend she asked, "what did they insult you or something?" Actually, no. They just asked me lots of questions.
Clearly I'd like to think some questions are off-limits - I know there have been justified concerns about this - especially recently. And I understand this is hot topic right now - precisely why I think we should be careful - more careful than ever - not to overreact. From what I observe: The guy arrived, he was asked questions about his profession, his answers were evidently sufficient and he was let in. It happens to thousands of people every day. Honestly? I don't think there's a story here.
> I think there's a false assumption here that somehow @cyberomin's ability to actually _solve_ a BST was in some way tied to his likelihood of entry. That's obviously ridiculous.
You just got off a plane. You've been in the air for the past 23 hours. The agencies in charge of border security at your arrival airport have a reputation, and a well-deserved one at that, for (1) harassing foreigners, (2) having unclear policies, and (3) more recently, having no idea what the actual law is (or actually outright disobeying it).
Still think it's that ridiculous?
On top of that, there's a long history in our industry of people reading questions and answers off pre-prepared lists and saying "oh, your nuanced, correct answer doesn't match up with what I've got written down here - sorry, I'm trashing your application".
While it would absolutely disgust me to see the TSA/CBP use something like that, I would also be completely unsurprised to see it happen - especially if it happened to a non-US citizen, since they have next to no legal standing in the U.S.
It's a bluff. Which is to stress a more important point: it's not for us to second guess the subtleties of a border agent's questioning. That's part of their professional training. -- That is of course, unless we have cause to believe the questioning is in some way unethical. And you raise (1), (2) and (3) that are clearly examples of unethical behaviour. But with respect to this story - where is the evidence that any of this happened? 
This is _precisely_ why we should be careful not to generalize and be accurate in our criticism - if we are to be taken seriously in an area where there is understandably much cause for concern.
: To be clear: A technical question about a passenger's stated profession is not unethical. Yes, it would be unethical if the quality of the _technical_ answer was somehow tied to admittance. But again there's no evidence that that happened.
"Attending a conference on computational geometry."
Pause for thought -- several seconds.
"Applying computers to solving problems in geometry."
This got me waved in. Co-workers told of the encounter later on proposed an alternative reply: "You wouldn't understand." Given the tone of the agent, those might have been very costly words.
However, if it's really true, it is depressing. He was actually given an A4 sheet to balance a BST. Wow.
What if he failed the test? I assume that CBP cannot deny you entry because you didn't brush up on your algorithms and data-structures during your flight. But, they can still keep you detained for secondary screening.
Imagine this happening at the time when companies are starting to accept that you can't interview candidates solely by asking them to solve algorithms on a whiteboard, then some inexperienced staff go to Wikipedia and expect people to be able to recite it.
The question's what happened as he said he was too exhausted, does he get flagged for secondary screening? The travel ban is suspended AFAIK.
We are witnessing self-division at sad levels. We had a flare up of xenophobic attacks in South Africa last week. In an earlier incarnation of such attacks in 2008, mostly Zulu people would ask you what certain things are in Zulu, and if they perceived that you don't know what they are, they would accuse you of being a foreigner, and anything could happen to you. An example that became popular was "what is an elbow or knee in Zulu?". I'm not making this up, and this happened in a country with 11 official languages.
The point I'm getting at is that this lawlessness started because a populist president and other leaders started shooting from the hip, making inflammatory statement and playing political football with our lives.
Trump is worse IMHO as he signs an Executive Order and things go crazy until the courts can act. You should worry when your first citizen is not well-acquainted with your Constitution like our dear Jacob Zuma and your Donald Trump are. The country ends up being run through the courts, and the courts don't act expediently.
Border guards are allowed to ask you questions to see how you react and to corroborate your story.
If someone (from any country) entered claiming to be a physicist, would it be reasonable to ask him to try to solve some integrals?
How are immigration officers supposed to do their jobs? The purpose of immigration officers isn't to just blindly stamp passports; they actually have to determine if the person attempting to enter should be allowed to enter. Which interestingly, is the job of immigration officers across the world.
I feel like people are just looking for fight and begging for something about which to be outraged. Immigration and Customs officers from all countries have been doing this as long as there have been Customs and Immigration.
(Not saying that this is the correct approach, just saying that this is possible if correctness is not a goal.)
Whether this relates to Trump: As others have pointed out, yes this has been happening before Trump, I'm not alluding to Trump being the sole cause. The point that I'm making is that leaders (president and even local leaders) who can make statements or take actions that are contrary to the country's laws have an effect on the guy on the streets. If you tell me that foreigners are taking our jobs (regardless of its truth), I might not be very objective as a CBP employee. I might even be biased against certain people, but that's hard to judge as we are different as humans.
The guy on the tweet said he was asked 10 other questions, and they seemed to expect textbook/Wikipedia type answers. A blog post from him will hopefully have more details for us to make better observations. You make a fair point about the physicist, but everything in moderation is fair.
My point if any, is that what leaders/politicians say affects our attitude and often opinions. Whether we like such leader or not, I hope we can agree on that at least.
Spare me. This stuff was happening pre-Trump, and it will happen post-Trump.
To be clear, I don't think Trump is directly responsible for this. But I think he's sent a signal to fascists and racists around the country that America is for white people and it's okay to throw your weight around. He's a bully, so he's emboldened other bullies (which, unfortunately, dominate law enforcement).
You have that exactly backwards. He was voted in legitimately by the right and center because the left failed to do anything to address their grievances, justified or not, and circumstances.
Trump (and Brexit, etc.) is the signal that the public is sending to the left and may heaven help us all because we're sure going to need it.
That doesn't change the fact that his rhetoric has emboldened hard-right fascists and bullies. It's inarguable at this point.
And no, I do not think any or even most programmers should be expected to know how to balance a binary tree on demand.
Yes, and I did us both the courtesy of not drawing attention to or responding to the cringiest parts of it. Others have provided stories of similar stuff happening under other presidents. Case closed.
I would have been better off not reply to such drivel - thank you for reminding me.
And if you thought it was disingenuous, and chose to answer anyway, don't make it worse: the goal should be to improve the conversation.
Perhaps you thought they should have already known about such things, or that they should have looked them up on their own. You mention that it was answered elsewhere in the thread: you could have referenced those comments as well. but choosing to respond like you did does nothing to improve the discourse.
You should be banned for an argument that disingenuous.
So, it's "yes and no but mostly no"
All of this "anecdotes are now valid data" nonsense seems to be contradictory for a group of people who purport to be interested in software engineering and the implied respect for statistical validity that would encompass.
Why is this even a story? Immigration officers ask questions to detect inconsistencies -- nothing at all new about that-- nothing even wrong with that. The guy couldn't even answer it and was still admitted. If he was arrested because he couldn't solve binary trees, now THAT would be a story.
Where are you getting this from? You're linking the questions supposedly asked to someone entering the US to the president that was inaugurated a little more than 30 days ago, who has not passed any kind of legislation or EOs that would have any impact on what border control agents ask their clients.
> The point I'm getting at is that this lawlessness started because a populist president and other leaders started shooting from the hip, making inflammatory statement and playing political football with our lives.
Zuma has been in power since 2009. Ah yes, I remember the SA of 2008, such a peaceful, strife-free wonderland.
The country wasn't different between 2008 and 2009, but as a township living black South African I can tell you that because of what populists have said, and the role of the media incorrectly reporting to click-bait us, things have gotten worse.
To answer your first question, many people have posted that this has been happening in the US, what I'm saying is that if a senior political can say something popular yet Constitutionally incorrect, people who have the "power" to act on that will use their power.
That doesn't justify the actions in any way, but it shows you how powerful the media are at forming narratives -- and how easy it is to fall for the trap.
I think its fair to say this kind of treatment of people is nothing new - but to say the media is "forcing" a narrative here is hard to swallow. Trump has made it, at the very least, incredibly easy to create a narrative of racism for his detractors and the richard spencers of his supporters.
Allowing an innacurate narrative to propagate is part of the problem.
Commencement speech quote. "When Mexico sends its people" doesn't sound particularly specific to illegal immigrants.
Trump at the very least made it easy to form this narrative.
ed: “Trump is a white nationalist, so to speak, he is alt-right whether he likes it or not,” Spencer in a recent interview on “The David Pakman Show.” http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.768982
Its true of the MSM and the far right.
I suspect Trump deliberately chose the words to cover both bases. (Well, to the degree he can deliberately do anything, that is.) It sounds like he's referring to all Mexicans, which satisfies his alt-right supporters. Meanwhile the more scrupulous supporters (or even unscrupulous ones when they want to play semantic games) could plausibly interpret the words to mean only "illegal immigrants", thus denying racism at the heart of Trump's campaign.
"Take him seriously, not literally." Worked wonders for him.
Awful shit that happened under Obama (of which there is no shortage) is on Obama. Now? Trump owns it.
He also explicitly stated that he refused to answer the BST question and they moved on to other questions.
Meaning it's not even speculation to claim that they weren't requiring an accurate answer to the BST question for entry: it's demonstrably true fact.
Or harassed and intimidated a 70-year old children's book author:
Or almost deported a visiting Holocaust scholar:
Or maybe, just maybe, I come from a family of immigrants who has seen people around him treated this way even before we elected a racist reality tv star as POTUS.
You've obviously got some good reasons for feeling this way, but the way you've been using sarcasm to vent them is not helpful. It limits the upside to provoking indignant agreement from those who already agree, and amplifies the downside by basically throwing lit matches at a petrol station.
Difficult as these divisive topics are, HN is committed to trying for thoughtful discussion and we need everyone's help with that.
And all 3 of those stories you provide are non-Muslims, and 2 of them are white Australians, so it's not directly a "racist" event.
And it doesn't have to be a "racist" event. The administration literally said they wanted to "ban Muslims", this could be exactly the policy they wanted when they passed the Executive Order. And the only way to tell is to get Congress to do more digging.
The Administration opened themselves up to the question of whether they are unfairly targeting Muslims when they said they wanted to "ban Muslims" from coming to the U.S. and with all of their heated rhetoric on the campaign trail.
Sure they can, if you're not a citizen or permanent resident.
I asked him how come he knew about that stuff and he told me that in a former career he was working in IT as well. I thought it was funny.
Given how poorly academics, research and other fields pay, I wouldn't be entirely surprised to find that there are highly educated people trying to make ends meet working for the TSA or Customs. And odds are they are eager to dust off that knowledge and put it to use when they can.
When you say you do not know or answer a different question, it makes it harder to check that box off. Most officials just want to check a box and move you (and themselves) on. Don't make it difficult for them.
Once I got to the states however, the only problem I had was that lines were long. The CBP officer handling me and letting me in to the country was very nice and polite, and after the usual "business/pleasure?" and "how long are you staying?" questions etc. I was let in to the country with no issue.