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Card furor borders on ridiculous

The people who keep watch on our borders are a breed apart. Call Kevin Corsaro, give him a chatty, "How are you doing?" and you get a clipped, hilarious response.

"I'm living the dream," barks the public affairs officer of Customs and Border Protection's Buffalo field office.

You can't blame him for that snappy retort. Every day, Corsaro and his colleagues face pressures the rest of us, tucked into our cars and cubicles, don't dream about.

As we go about our business, we don't have to think about the fact that we have enemies who spend every waking hour trying to figure out ways to kill us. (And don't say I'm "fear mongering," to use the popular term. It's the truth.)

The onus isn't on us to keep terrorists from blowing up Niagara Falls. We don't have to scrutinize people entering the country, trying to figure out who's lying. We don't have to wonder if a car holds a bomb, a biological agent or, worse, a CD by Manhattan Transfer.

Oh, sorry. I got carried away. The point I'm trying to make, though, is that most of us see no reason to make life easier for our border protection.

Just listen to everyone kvetching about the "PASS card."

The acronym stands for "People Access Security Service." If you don't have a passport, word is you'll need a card by 2008. It'll cost $50 or so, and you'll have to show it when you cross the border to go to Happy Jack's. Or May Wah. (I like both.)

You won't need the card if you're enrolled in a frequent-border-crossing program, like NEXUS. Or if you have a passport. (Why don't any Buffalonians seem to have passports?)

It's a change. For years, we've been able to flit over the bridge with just a driver's license.

But the cost and inconvenience are, for me, a small price to pay for increased peace of mind.

These cards will make it easier for agents to sniff out the people who want me dead. Given the current dangerous international situation, I give stuff like that a high priority.

"If we have a uniformed card, it would sort of make it easier," says Corsaro, the border official who is living the dream.

He suggests that acquiring the card might not turn out to be the inconvenience folks fear it will be.

"We don't know how they're going to issue it," he reasons. "Until we know, it's even hard to comment on it."

Jared Agen, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, explains the card sprang from laws passed by Congress after Sept. 11, 2001.

"Our main focus is that we wanted secure or safe documentation on the border," he says. "Birth certificates and driver's licenses are not where we want to be. There are thousands of different birth certificates and many types of driver's licenses."

I like to complain as much as anyone. But I can't see what bugs people about increased security. I'm happy when agents search my shoes at airports, when they check my ID at the border. It means they're earning the tax dollars I pay them.

Plus, I'm not fighting in Iraq, as people who hear I support the war are always quick to point out. If this card helps us triumph over the terrorists so we can put this whole unpleasant episode of world history behind us, I'll get one.

Then I'll wedge it proudly into my wallet along with my license, Premier Card, St. Vincent de Paul Frequent Shoppers Card, gym card, Colored Musicians Club card, etc.

And when I go to Happy Jack's, I'll hand the card to the nice inspector with a smile.

But I won't say: "How are you doing?"

Now I know enough not to ask.


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