Veteran readers of this blog may remember that I once traveled to Madagascar, and then took a rail-trip through some European countries. That was an exciting, and unforgettable, trip. One of the countries I visited was Germany, and while at the castle grounds in Heidelberg, I scraped up some dirt for a friend back home. His family was from Germany, but he couldn’t travel there, so he asked me to bring back some soil from his ancestral land.
As I sat in the airplane, approaching the U.S. on my return, I pondered the customs slip the attendant had given me. Among the items that needed to be declared was “soil samples.” Should I declare my bag of dirt, and risk losing it, or should I remain silent about it – and risk serious legal troubles should they discover it in my luggage? I chose to declare it.
One of the first things I noticed, about Philadelphia International Airport, is that practically all the employees there are black. Yes, this airport had achieved the ultimate “diversity”: An almost 100% black work force. I can’t say that there’s any connection between this fact, and the attitude I encountered while trying to declare my bag of dirt.
For some bizarre reason, I expected the customs agents to appreciate my honesty. I actually thought they’d show some concern, some degree of responsibility for their task of protecting our nation’s borders. Instead, when my turn came to approach the agent, he seemed annoyed that I was causing him extra work. He directed me to a different line. When I got there, not a soul was waiting for me; perhaps they were all on break. After a while, somebody did show up. When I told him I wanted to declare something, he also seemed slightly annoyed. He directed me to yet another counter a few yards away. When I got there, the man seemed perplexed at my declaration. He didn’t seem to fathom why I even bothered. When I handed him the bag of dirt, he looked at it, turned it over a few times – and then announced, “Yes, it’s dirt. Have a nice day” or something to that effect. Whatever the rational for having to declare “soil samples,” it apparently didn’t apply when those samples were “dirt.”
Maybe things have changed at Philadelphia International Airport – or maybe $27,000 is considered a more serious threat than a bag of dirt. According to Philly.com:
Federal agents at the Philadelphia International Airport Sunday seized nearly $27,000 from a Ghana couple after the duo allegedly failed to report the cash.
Investigators said the couple was after their arrival from Germany referred to a secondary inspection during which the man said he had $6,000. When U.S. Customs and Border Protections officers explained federal currency reporting requirements, the man revised his estimate and wrote he had $16,000, according to authorities.
A baggage examination allegedly turned up multiple envelopes containing $27,431.30 in U.S. currency, British pounds, Swiss francs and Ghana cedi. Officers returned $500 to the couple for “humanitarian purposes,” according to a news release, and seized the remaining $26,931.30.
Personally, I think the 4th amendment should be honored; the government should not be allowed to seize people’s money without charges, and without accountability. On the other hand, why would a “visiting” couple from Ghana have so much money with them? My guess is that they were up to no good; perhaps their “visit” was intended to last until the end of their days on Earth. They don’t seem to be very bright people. Did they really expect customs to wave them through after declaring $6,000?