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Why US immigration queues move oh-so-sloooowly


“Be careful of American Immigration even if you are only in transit.”

“Don’t say anything unless spoken to.”

“We know someone who was kept for two hours and missed their flight home.”

With all of these warnings we landed in Miami in transit to Costa Rica with some trepidation. I had warned my husband – who had a history of upsetting airport staff – to be polite and to do everything he was asked and not to make any wise cracks.

We followed everyone from the London flight to the monorail which would take us to the immigration desks. It began well as we were first on and I even found myself a seat but the train did not move. Next thing we knew we were all told to leave the carriages as the train had broken down and we were to wait for the next one. Not an auspicious start.

Two stops and two escalators later we arrived at the queue for immigration along with hundreds of other tired and disgruntled travellers in transit through the U.S. As we wound in and out of the barriers, like some modern day country dance, we became more and more tired and more and more worried about our reception.

After half an hour of manoeuvring we found ourselves at the front of the queue. It was our turn to be called up. The man behind the desk looked at us and looked at our passport and then began the most bizarre and interesting conversation.

He asked where we came from in England.

“The city which claims Robin Hood from South Yorkshire,” he said and before we had time to reply in support of Nottingham he asked me where Neath was – the place of my birth. Unlike many Americans he seemed to know about Wales.

We then had to go through the ritual of placing fingers and thumbs on the green light and when he told me to look into the camera he told me to place my elbow on the green light too. Not wishing to do anything wrong I did as I was told.

“Tell me, ” he asked, “Do you have a single sister at home or even a female cousin?”

I wanted to know why.

“Because I like a woman who obeys,” he said with a dead-pan face and that is where it registered that the elbow had been a joke.

“Obeying” led on to marriage, to my father being a vicar, to the difference between a vicar and a rector, to the new Archbishop of Canterbury being an “oil man”, to a discussion on the possible new Pope.

Ten minutes later we were through Immigration. I do not know what the people behind thought as they waited patiently. I know that our general impression of U.S. Immigration had changed radically. Yet, as we found out later, our man was the exception. We can only hope that we see him again on our way back home.

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