Late last year I transited through San Francisco airport on my way home from Mexico. The Mexican border officials, like the New Zealand ones, are courteous and good-humoured, characteristics that are all the more remarkable in view of the problems that nation has with drug trafficking and its own illegal immigration from Central America. When we got to San Francisco the experience was entirely different, notable by the belligerence and downright petulance of the US border officials.
The behaviour of the young, female immigration officer who processed us was like something out of Monty Python, as she huffed and tutted and otherwise behaved as if we were most-wanted criminals trying to sneak into her country. My wife made the mistake of putting her passport on the counter about two inches from the spot indicated by this American version of a Maoist Red Guard, whereupon she picked up the offending document and slammed it down on the correct spot. More of this infantile behaviour followed but we kept our composure and responded with politeness, knowing that had we given her the slightest excuse we would have been detained and probably missed our connecting flight.
President Trump's ill-conceived restrictions on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations has just added to the awful experience of crossing the US border. The experience of a French holocaust historian, Henry Rousso, who was detained for more than ten hours and nearly deported because an immigration official did not know the law, is just another example of the chaos that reigns at the US borders. Some good may come out of this case as we can expect the French to retaliate - when the Americans started mistreating transit passengers in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 by holding them in cramped, non-air-conditioned rooms (something I personally experienced), the French singled out Americans for similar treatment at their borders - and the US soon changed their practices.
Unfortunately for many Americans, these antics aren't confined to the border. United States Customs and Border Protection operates checkpoints as much as 100 miles inland of the border, which is a bit of pain for the residents of towns such as Arivaca in Arizona, who are subject to CBP checks every time they drive to work or drop their children off at school. These officers habitually exceed their authority and are very fond of using tasers on innocent American citizens who question their unconstitutional actions.
The attitude of bureaucrats always reflects the political environment in which they operate. A belligerent government allows belligerent bureaucrats to thrive. Give those bureaucrats too much power and they inevitably abuse it. If their power over you is absolute, such as is the case of US border officials in deciding whether you may pass or be detained, they will abuse it absolutely. It doesn't seem to matter to them whether they follow the law or not and no one in authority appears to be ready to hold them to account. I have experienced similar abuses here in New Zealand with council officials who have almost unlimited powers under the awful Resource Management Act.
Update: While writing this I read a post on Not PC's blog on the very same subject.
Update 2: It appears Trump is about to modify his hardline stance on immigration with reports today that he is looking to implement a "broad immigration overhaul that would grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes." Perhaps the blowhard president is learning on the job and realising that the policies he campaigned on are neither practical nor in America's interests. If he really wants to 'make America great again' he would do well to start by reigning in his Red Guards at the border.