Thoughts On Travel To Canada
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2017-09-23 11:45 by Karl Denninger
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Thoughts On Travel To Canada
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A few random thoughts on my recent trip (with Sarah for her 21st birthday) on our trip through Canada, including the Niagara area, Toronto and Algonquin Park.

First, the welcome from the border agent at the Windsor crossing was amusing.  These guys and gals (by the way, all who we encountered on both sides of the border were guys) have an "interesting" job; they have to see hundreds of people per day, and only a few are worthy of more than a short list of questions and a look-see.  Figuring out which, so you spend the time on those who shouldn't come, obviously is a learned experience.  Nonetheless the one dude at the Windsor crossing who we drew was funny; after the usual questions as to where we were headed, how long we intended to stay, etc, he asked if we had any firearms or weapons in the vehicle.  "No" was the reply, of course, since we didn't.  He then continued: No mace or Bear spray?  I again said "No" and he remarked that since we were going to Algonquin we might want the Bear Spray, and after a nice pregnant pause he chuckled.

It was an interesting little quip on what is otherwise a necessary and amusing formality.

I haven't been to Canada since 9/11 when they imposed passport requirements (you used to be able to enter and return by land using just a driver license; not any more) and while I expected quite a bit more formal procedure than previously it was only slightly more time-consuming and we were waved through.

Out decision was to "glamp, sorta" -- in other words, tent camp in campgrounds with organized facilities.  Part of that is a money-saving issue, although around Niagara I doubt it saved much off-season (if anything) compared to cut-rate hotels.  On the other hand it was fun, I like sleeping outside, and as long as I have somewhere to ****, shower and shave it's pretty much like being in a hotel as far as I'm concerned.  The weather cooperated nicely; we had zero rained-out days.

I won't go into the details of our time there -- for that you need to head over to and check out Sarah's blog (heh, she'd like the ad revenue from the views!) but I will make some comments on Canada from a societal and functional point of view.

First is the border difference.  We put on a damn good show of a "more-secure" border but in fact we don't give a ****, and it's obvious.  The Rainbow Bridge at Niagara is one example; you can cross on foot there, and we did -- both ways.  The US side has razor wire on top of the fences.  The Canadian side?  Nope -- just a fence.  Both have the usual customs person interrogating you and checking passports, but there's one thing of note: Canada does not let in or tolerate all the illegal immigrants that the US does.  So while the Canadian border may look less-secure, it in fact is more secure because they give a **** about functionality instead of simply being for show.

Where does this really show up?  I saw a help-wanted sign in Canada for housekeepers at a motel: The wage offer was $17/hour.  Gee, I wonder why?  I also bet they get takers at that wage too.  Americans won't do the jobs the illegal Mexicans do eh?  The hell they won't -- they just won't do it at $5/hour.  And don't tell me about businesses being "unable to find workers"; they don't seem to have that problem in Canada.  Nor does it hit prices to any appreciable degree; yes, they're higher than in the US -- by roughly the exchange rate, although there were instances where I saw no difference of materiality between US and Canadian prices.

Sales taxes, however, are insane.  They call it "HST" and it's 13%.  The exception appears to be "essential" consumables (e.g. not-prepared food in a grocery store.)  This leads to a secondary problem which I've noted here in the US too -- all the hospitality places are including taxes in their "suggested tip" amounts.  That started a while ago in a few places here in the US but is now damn near everywhere and it's all over Canada too.  In fact I didn't see one "suggested" tip amount during this trip on either side of the border that excluded sales tax.

This is enough of a scam, especially in places with high sales taxes or where there is a secondary sales tax (e.g. "resort area" taxes) that I think it's time for people start intentionally zero-tipping everywhere until it stops and raising hell about it to management besides.  This is an outright fraud as exactly zero of the tax goes to the establishment or the server and it results in actual tip amounts that are ~2% higher than intended in high tax areas.

Let me be clear: This is not an indictment aimed at Canada -- it's everywhere now.  Every single place I saw on both sides of the border that presented a tab that had a "suggested tip" on it including the damned sales taxes in the suggested amount.




That's utter and complete horse**** and the only way we as consumers will stop it is to zero-tip everyone until management cuts that **** out and reprograms their systems to exclude tax from the suggested amounts.  This is an intentional fraud and it needs to be stopped -- now.

In the US this is going to start being good for complaints to the State Attorneys General everywhere I see it, and I suggest you do so as well.  This is flat-out consumer fraud folks, it's trivially documented and while the individual amounts stolen are small over the total amount of spend in these establishments it amounts to billions.

Second, gas prices are nuts.  I didn't find a single instance under $4/gallon.  Of course they price in liters, but I can do the math, and when it's over a buck a liter, and it was everywhere, well....  I also saw stickers on pumps showing the tax breakdown as well, and the reason for the crazy prices is simply taxes, not fuel costs.  If you're wondering if this dissuaded people from driving big SUVs and even big RVs, the answer is no.  Nonetheless when you stick $60 (!) into a sedan and barely fill it that gets your attention fast.

Third, use cash.  Why?  Exchange, basically.  Yes, virtually everywhere will take Visa or Master Card and some will take Discover, Amex or both.  Of them Discover was the most-friendly in terms of total cost, but still shaved a bit on the exchange rate.  Their lack of additional fee, however, made them the most-competitive by far -- after cash of course.  The problem is that only about 30% of places there will take Discover cards in my experience.  Speaking of which zero gas pump readers will take US cards in my experience but that's fine with me because cash is, as noted, the better deal.  The cross-bank ATM fee on reasonably-large withdrawals is rational (a couple of percent); of course on small amounts you get murdered exactly as you do here in the US.

Credit cards are handled in an interesting way up there.  Nobody touches them except you.  If you go into a restaurant or bar and want to pay with plastic the server comes to your table with a little wireless device that has a keypad, a card reader and printer in it.  The amount pops up, you input the tip, approve the amount, and stick your card in.  It authorizes, you pull the card and the receipt prints.  This utterly stops the practice of stealing magstripe or other data by servers and establishments.  I like it a lot and the US is vastly behind the times in this regard.

Let me repeat that: There was not once that I ever handed a plastic card to anyone to pay; they brought the little handheld terminal (which had a bank logo on it) to me.  These devices were everywhere; I saw them on checkout counters in the smallest trinket shops to bars, restaurants and similar.

I've had multiple instances over the last five years or so where I'm quite certain a server or other person at an establishment stole the magstripe, took a picture of the number on my card, or both.  The pattern of fraud was obvious when it happened and yet not once has any issuer done anything other than void the transaction and send me a new card (with a new number, of course.)  The idiocy of not stopping this crap at the source ought to be obvious.

One quick note if you like adult beverages: Drink beer, wine or buy liquor by the bottle at the LCBOs (state-owned and run liquor stores.)  We had repeated problems with shorted mixed drinks, including some severely shorted ones.  Two places that didn't short were the Loose Moose on Front Street in Toronto and a bar attached to a hotel in Niagara, but even there it was a problem in that Canada appears to have a rather interesting view of how much booze should go in a mixed drink.  Of course they can't short-pour your beer or wine, but if you don't like beer or wine you're ****ed and done and will be paying for liquor you are not getting.  This happened often enough that there's only one real defense, especially if you like "foofoo" drinks that are hard to taste the booze quantity in: Don't buy them.

There's a rumor that Cannabis will be legal next year in Canada; it's legal for medical use now, apparently, from the signage I saw around.  Around Niagara anyway it may as well be legal for recreational use already; the smell of it coming from vehicles passing by was, well, unmistakable -- and frequent.  This will get fun if and when Canada formally legalizes it and Americans decide to spend their hard-earned money on the other side of the border!

It's a beautiful nation up there, although I don't know if I could deal with the obvious white powder problems in the winter months, or the idea of $4+/gallon gas.  Nonetheless if you think that slamming the door on illegal immigrants here would cripple the economy this much is certain: There's zero evidence that it would, or will, to be found in the Canadian experience.

One of the more-interesting places was a "castle" that was the showpiece of a wealthy man who got well over-extended (gee, where have we seen that?) and blew himself up financially.  I've got a thing for old organs, and there's one in the castle, which appears to be in operational condition (the pipe set is there) that I found especially interesting.

Enjoy, and again, for pictures and a "touristy" view of the country head over here:; bookmark it as there will be multiple articles in the coming days and weeks, likely adorned with a lot of pictures as well (we shot a ****-ton of them.)

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Posts: 452
Incept: 2015-05-03

Vancouver WA
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I am glad you and yours got to have a nice trip, it is pleasing to hear your daughter had the opportunity to enjoy her 21st not only while on vacation, but in a safe environment.

On a side note, WA St has what is called an "Enhanced Driver's License" (I have one) that allows entry into Canada without a passport. Although that little fact did/does you or non-boarder state residence and ounce of good, it is an FYI.

Canada has also been know (At least up this way) for it's cannibals production and in my opinion (I have no facts to base in on) has been a much bigger player in the illegal pot market than Mexico, but hey if the screamers want to shine the light in the wrong direction, oh well.

Although it is a beautiful country to visit, I certainly would not want to live there.

I am just kind of thinking out loud, Canada's drinking age is 18/19 I wonder how much of the watered down drinks can be contributed to that, especially when you can sell to unsuspecting foreigners.

I am glad you guys made it back oky doky
Posts: 103
Incept: 2009-03-05

Sunny UK
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13% sales tax? Heh, try 20%. VAT sucks, always has, but even more so after it was bumped from 17.5 to 20%. And of course it never goes down again, except that one year it was 15% just after the 2008 crash, but that was an 'emergency' measure.

"Credit cards are handled in an interesting way up there."

That's standard practice over the pond, has been for years now. No one but me handles my card, ever. Hell, most of the time I don't even need to use the reader now, just tap my contactless card to it and it instantly pays (30 limit so you don't get hammered in the event someone steals the card and tries to use contactless to pay for something expensive, since no PIN is required for contactless).
Posts: 199
Incept: 2013-09-12

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Haven't been to Canada in about 7 years, though I used to visit regularly. Usually Montreal, but also Toronto, Windsor, Niagara Falls, the Soo locks, and western Canada. Camped just outside Montreal for the '76 Olympics. First trips over the border were in the early 1970s and, being young and therefore deemed suspicious, was usually thoroughly searched. Later on and up to 9/11, never any delay crossing back and forth whether traveling by car or plane. Gas was always expensive there. Also an inordinate number of speeding tickets being issued in Montreal, particularly on the bridges. Graphic pics on cigarette cartons made me wonder how any Canadian smoked. My last few post 9/11 trips involved long delays at the Quebec/NY border. They didn't spend much time with us as we didn't fit any profile, but the lines of autos were very long as others were detained for various amounts of time. I didn't used to think twice about crossing the Canadian border, but I do now.
Posts: 143
Incept: 2009-03-14

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Radiosity wrote..
That's standard practice over the pond

Yep. I'm a fan. Problem we had in Europe 5ish years ago was a lack of a chip in our cards, so we had to swipe in their readers. Fortunately, that's no longer an issue.
Posts: 576
Incept: 2010-03-12

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My trainer's grandparents immigrated from Italy to Canada after the war in the early 1950's settling in Toronto and still live there. His parents immigrated to the U.S. in the late seventies from Canada. He was born, I think in 1982, and yes he's an American citizen.

What most businesses don't realize is, when it comes to wages is you get what you pay for. You pay dirt wages you usually get a bunch of dirt balls for employees. I've found paying market PLUS you get a group of employees that want to come to work and do play nice with your customers.

BTW that $17 per hour starting Canadian wage is equal to $13.77 U.S.. That is still pretty good pay for housekeeping even in Canada. Minimum wage is presently $11.40 ($9.23 U.S.) in Ontario and it's going to $14.00 ($11.34 U.S.) the first of Jan 2018 and up to $15 Canadian ($12.15 U.S.) on Jan 1st 2019. Wait for the economic implosion to start in 2018. What good is $15 Canadian an hour if you can't get a job and if you have a job you can't afford the cost increases on everything around you.

I also saw an article last month that construction wages are up 30% since Trump started coming down on illegal immigrants.

What kills me with the left is they tell everyone how great all the free stuff is in these socialist countries yet they never tell anyone what it really costs.

Like the study back in 2013 that Canadian healthcare costs almost as much as healthcare in the U.S. per person. They ended up with rationed healthcare and I thought single payer was going to save us all this money, another lie from the socialists.

This from the far left leaning Huffington Post.

Canada is the socialist utopia the Democrat's want, but funny thing is, why is it every election the Hollywood left threatens to move up there if their candidate loses and they never do. Well inquiring minds want to know? It's the taxes folks plain and simple.
Posts: 150044
Incept: 2007-06-26
A True American Patriot!
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A fair number of chips, even though present in US cards, don't work in Canada and thus it tells you to swipe (which it does have on the side of the device.) However, interestingly enough, Discover -- if it worked at all -- always read the chip.

Here's the interesting thing -- I saw a LOT of prices (wanted to get a power strip at one point, went into a Lowes, observed the prices there on the shelf for various items) and they were roughly in line with US prices ex the exchange rate. Same for food and drink, mostly, other than the screwing you took on any drink that contained liquor. Yes, in GROSS DOLLARS its more, but remember the exchange rate too, and it matters. Of course in a "resort" area you're going to take it up the chute to some extent, but it was no worse than you get around here in the same sort of place.

Now the one place that was obviously and utterly NUTS was housing. The ads on the subway cars and similar for various schemes to "buy" a house on a small salary were outrageous, and would doom anyone who was dumb enough to take them. WHEN that blows up, especially in areas like Toronto, oh boy is it going to suck. And the high-rise housing in Toronto is flat-out nuts cookie-cutter stuff one after another, and I shudder to think at the asking prices.

Winding it down.

Posts: 103
Incept: 2009-03-05

Sunny UK
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How do they measure the drinks over there, Karl? Here, pubs use a special thing that goes on the spirit bottle in place of the cap, then the bottle is mounted on the wall. You just press the glass against the simple device attached to the bottle and it measures precisely one shot, so you always know you're getting the right amount.

I'm guessing they mix by hand so they can screw you to the max?
Posts: 150044
Incept: 2007-06-26
A True American Patriot!
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The problem becomes particularly acute with a mixed drink that requires more than one liquor. If the "standard amount" is 1.5oz of alcohol, but you use THREE liquors to get there, well, how do you do that with your "standard shot machine" (or cap, which does the same thing)?

You don't, basically.

Then again at 12:01 we went into a nice little dive bar outside of Dayton operated by a lovely gal behind the counter, ordered up a Long Island, and watched it be made in front of us -- and it was nearly ALL booze, exactly as it should be. smiley

So yeah, drink here in the US if you want to drink.

Winding it down.
Posts: 91
Incept: 2009-03-15

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Karl, if you like organ music, Canada, and legendary computer scientists, you might like to try to see Donald Knuth's composition Fantasia Apocalyptica being performed next year at the First United Church in Waterloo, Ontario, on Sunday, 4 November 2018.
Posts: 65
Incept: 2010-12-21

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Hey, that's Casa Loma! Almost any and every kid who went to elementary school in the GTA got to go on a trip to Casa Loma. I remember the underground tunnel and the half-finished bowling alley and lots of other things, but for some reason I don't remember the organ.
Algonquin Park is great and in my opinion a much better Canadian experience than the city.
Honoured you visited us in great white north (har har) and am glad it was an enjoyable trip for you both.
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A True American Patriot!
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Bowling alley is no longer accessible (the gift shop is there, basically) but the wine cellar is visible. The two towers are accessible too -- they would make good dungeons for the crazy politicians -- lock 'em up in there and let 'em rot.

The tunnels to the stables and such were closed (as were some other areas in the gardens) due to setting up for what looked to be a pretty impressive Haunted House schtick due to run the month of October. There was also a wedding going on the day we were there, which was quite amusing.

The organ is right in the front room. It's quite a neat place, and incidentally part of what ruined the owner was an utterly insane property tax hike the city imposed. The city commissioners responsible for that should have been hung from their nuts and the carcasses left for the crows and ravens; I'm quite certain Pellatt was not the only person dispossessed of everything he owned by that little stunt.

Winding it down.

Posts: 151
Incept: 2009-08-17

Boynton Beach, Fl
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I grew up in Buffalo. We used to go to Canada frequently. Crossing the border did not even require a license. All took was a quarter for the Peace bridge and answering a couple of questions like where were you born, where were you going and how long were you staying.

My mother was born in Toronto and she never gave up her citizenship. So she always had a green card with her. We often went to Toronto to visit relatives as well as the Falls (the Canadian side is best) and Niagara on the Lake which is quite English.

However, when I was in high school, we took a couple of one week canoe trips to Algonquin. One time we were paddling up the Otterslides (a creek between lakes about 10 feet wide) when we came upon a bull moose feeding off the bottom of the creek. He was huge. We waited patiently until he was done and had ambled off before continuing. Loved those canoe trips, but boy did I get sunburned legs. I could barely walk for two days.

I also went one time with my wife and we got "winded in". I think it was Burnt Isle lake and we were faced with a 5 mile paddle directly into the teeth of a strong wind We were not making much progress until I started tacking down the lake. It took hours, but we had to get to our car that day so we could get home to Buffalo that night. We finally made it.
Posts: 2
Incept: 2017-08-20

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Many years ago my wife and I honeymooned at Lake Louise and made a circuit through Alberta and BC. We made many return trips to Calgary and later to Regina in Saskatchewan. This was before the GST was instituted and many things were much cheaper than back at home in Montana. We haven't been back since 9/11 and all the new security measures and passport requirements came into effect.

You are right about the gas prices. They were ridiculous even in the 1970s. We see a few Canadians who are making crosscountry trips drop down and drive the US "HiLine" to take advantage of the much cheaper fuel on the US side.

Posts: 2133
Incept: 2007-07-30

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Here, in India, all he establishments have wireless CC swiping machines and all the cards are password protected. You need to enter the 4 digit password while swiping. It is a mandate from Central bank, RBI.
Posts: 132
Incept: 2009-05-11

Davenport, Fl
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Being from Buffalo, I fondly remember the days of a wave thru border crossing with no ID.

One thing you didn't mention, did you notice the difference on the "Canadian Side" VS USA Side?

Take a drive to the falls on the USA side, you go thru chemical plant hell. Take a drive on the Canada side, nothing but winding roads, fields, houses and flowers.

Btw, nice bike paths too.

Posts: 150044
Incept: 2007-06-26
A True American Patriot!
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We didn't drive on the US side; we walked over the Rainbow Bridge. I do know what the US side approach looks like however... "sucks" would be an accurate description.

Winding it down.
Posts: 109
Incept: 2012-11-20

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When I first moved to Canada from the UK, I went to buy something with my UK credit card and, when they swiped the card, it was the first time they'd ever seen their computer say 'use the PIN pad'. Fortunately it did work :).

Sales tax is a combination of Federal and Provincial. It's a total of 11% here, and was 10% until the province raised it earlier this year. It's 5% in Alberta, so one impact is that people buy non-essentials in other provinces to save money. Doesn't work for cars, as they charge you the extra tax when you register it in the new province.

Actually, the sticker price on cars is often lower here than in the US, but dealers don't give the same big discounts that you can get there. Used to be that many people would buy a US car and import it to save thousands of dollars, but that's not worthwhile for most of them any more, particularly with the hassle of dealing with US warranty work.

Amazon don't pay provincial sales taxes, so that's 6% saved on everything people buy online here, giving them another reason not to buy locally. On the other hand, mail is slow and retail prices are often close enough to online that the tax is worth paying to avoid waiting days for delivery.

Gas is expensive, but it was more like $10 a gallon when I left the UK, so it still seems cheap in comparison. I gather some people in BC actually drive across the border to fill up in Washington, because BC's gas taxes make it worthwhile. And quite a few will still drive through the US on long cross-country trips. Cheese is expensive enough that there are actually cheese-smuggling gangs sneaking it across the border: Canadian customs caught a big one a couple of years back.

As for immigration officials, one benefit of the pre-flight clearance for flights to the US is that it's usually staffed by US/Canadian dual-citizens who live in Canada, so they're usually far more relaxed than those on US soil.

Healthcare... I pay tax for it--no idea how much goes to healthcare--and then my employer and I pay about $5k a year for insurance between us. And a friend told us last year that he'd be dead if he lived in our province, because they don't cover the treatment he had for his heart failure. Americans wouldn't put up with what we get here.

Housing varies a lot across the country. It's expensive pretty much everywhere, but it's insane in Toronto and Vancouver. I gather both have seen significant price falls recently, though.

As I understand it, one big issue with housing in both cities is that much of it has been bought by foreign money with Federal government insurance to repay the banks if the loan goes bad. So if the prices drop too far, the foreign 'investors' go home, and Canadian taxpayers are left paying off their debts.
Posts: 10
Incept: 2016-12-10

Austin TX area
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THX Karl..I too just returned from an off-season trip, to Bavaria/Germany to Tyrolian Alps. Reflections: (1) Seems most tourists' needs cost about 10 euros: museums, large liter beer, sm cafe meal w/o drink, bus ticket to airport, good hot breakfast, castle entrance. (2) Lots of paleo friendly food. Food was AWESOME, lots of meat, cheese, fresh bread, wursts, fresh veggies, pastries. Likewise beer seemed SO fresh tasting, not bitter. (3) Don't quite "get" Oktoberfest. Carnival was fun, but in the "tents" people drinking vast liters of 6% beer. After trying to chat with several glassy-eyed folks, I finally left, thinking someone would fall on me or worse. (4) Most Germans, in tourism at least, speak some English. Germans SUPER friendly to me, I was told to expect different. I took a terrible fall on a dark cobble street in Wurzburg and several nice folks helped me (shoulder smashed pretty good, but OK enough to travel, taking plenty ibuprof.) (5) Overall, did not see very high numbers of "refugees" in Bavaria or Munich. SUM: w/ travel buddy, my half: $1,475 cost Included buses, food, trains, bike tours, Romantic Road bus, very comfortable mid range hotels, Super Sale airfare from TX, etc. Did not need a car, buses and trains run about everywhere. TONS of great photos. sample pic: BMW, CSU election Rally, Bavaria promoting industry.
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Incept: 2011-04-08

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The card thing is coming to,the US too. Longhorn (the bar side) and Friendlys both have tableside,electronic kiosks.

Posts: 3
Incept: 2010-06-27

Alberta Canada
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As a Canadian, I have to note that photo ID must be used to vote in any election in Canada, and you must be registered to vote in the location that you do vote in (big voter registration drives are conducted, by government paid canvassers). We did have a problem a few years ago with people smuggling, usually from Asia, where boat loads would show up to claim asylum. Once the system switched from catch and release, with a date in the future with a very small compliance, to holding the people and deporting as appropriate, the boats stopped coming. Also, our current governments actions on admitting refuges from Syrian camps was modified to families only, no unaccompanied males of military age, seems to have limited the number of problem cases brought in.
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