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FAST frustrations

WINDSOR, Ont. - Mark Richards is fuming over FAST. The Windsor, Ont.-based company driver who hauls daily into the US has been unable to secure a FAST card in three attempts, and he says he has receiv...

WINDSOR, Ont. – Mark Richards is fuming over FAST. The Windsor, Ont.-based company driver who hauls daily into the US has been unable to secure a FAST card in three attempts, and he says he has received no explanation why. At $80 a pop, he has spent $240 and counting on FAST applications and is no further ahead than when he started.

Richards says he has never been denied access to the US in nearly 30 years of crossing the border and he doesn’t have a criminal record. Now, he says it’s affecting his ability to do his job.

Neither he nor the company he hauls for have the patience, time or money to be spending up to two-and-a-half hours waiting to cross the border while FAST card carriers scoot on by through the FAST lane.

It’s a common problem for Canadian truck drivers. The Free and Secure Trade program was intended to provide thrifty, easy access to the US for drivers who are enrolled in the program and regularly cross into the US.

However, drivers who are refused a card (or in some cases who have had it confiscated on the spot) are often left with no explanation.

It’s a problem the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) is well aware of.

“There’s a perception at least, that a driver can be rejected for reasons they may not be aware of and they have very little avenue to have the situation rectified,” said Ron Lennox, vice-president, trade and security with the CTA. “This is something we’ve been talking back and forth with Customs on for the last number of years.”

In July, there was some cautious optimism that the US Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) was poised to rectify the situation. The agency appointed an ombudsman, and set up a Web site truckers could visit for information about FAST card denials or confiscations. The Web site can be found at:

“In the event you are denied or revoked from the SENTRI, NEXUS or FAST programs, you will be provided information in writing detailing the reason for this action,” the Web site reads. “The letter will also contain guidance on how to seek additional information, if necessary.”

However, it also suggests that those who require additional information will have to go through the cumbersome process of obtaining details through the Freedom of Information Act.

“You also have a right to view records that CBP may have on you,” the site says. “You may seek copies pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).”

Dan Joyce, partner with the law firm Jaeckle, Fleischmann & Mugel and an expert on immigration issues pertaining to the trucking industry, said most drivers who are denied a FAST card have made the major faux pas of withholding information during the application process. Applicants are required to foreclose any and all information regarding past convictions or run-ins with Immigration, and if they fail to do so, they may find themselves scorned by the FAST office administrators.

“So far, the biggest reason for denial is that the person wasn’t being truthful (on the application),” Joyce tells Truck West.

“They don’t disclose everything and they play this cat-and-mouse game. The irony is that often if they had disclosed it, it would not have been a problem. They’re denying the application not based on what wasn’t disclosed, but on the fact it wasn’t disclosed.”

Once an applicant has been red-flagged, it’s not an easy trap to get out of. Joyce says that even if an applicant discloses all information on a second application, the program’s administrators still refer back to the first time when the applicant wasn’t 100% truthful.

“If you haven’t been truthful, they ask ‘How can we rely on them to be totally compliant?'” Joyce points out. In Richards’ case, this may have been his major mistake. He recalls a trip he made into the US several years ago when he forgot to clear one section of an LTL load.

Upon realizing he made the mistake, he took corrective action, turned around and headed back to the border to clear the rest of his load. He remembers Customs officers applauded him for doing the right thing – and then slapped him with a fine.

“They gave me a $100 fine and that was the end of it,” he recalls.

Now he wonders if that small detail, and neglecting to disclose it, was enough to have tripped up his FAST card application process?

It’s quite possible, according to Joyce. But what’s even more disconcerting is that in some cases CBP – like any other bureaucracy – simply makes mistakes.

“There are problems with people getting dinged for things that don’t belong to them,” says Joyce. “Somebody with the same name may have a criminal record. Those are easier to correct but the problem is they (CBP) don’t tell you everything. They never reveal what they know about you.”

Even with the recently-established ombudsman, there’s no formal appeals process for FAST card applicants who have been declined. Joyce empathizes with professional drivers who find themselves unable to obtain a FAST card for undisclosed reasons.

“It’s very frustrating, it’s like (CBP) intentionally sets up all these roadblocks,” he says. “CBP has to understand how important their decision is – it could be costing people their careers.”

However, he adds “The CBP people tell me that they give people every chance in the world to say the right thing…To get lied to the face is something they consider offensive.”

To avoid finding yourself in the same situation as Richards, Joyce advises to reveal everything during the initial application process. If you find yourself declined, you can always contact an immigration lawyer but as Joyce says “They’ve already cast the dye before they call us.”

His final words of wisdom: “Be 100% truthful. There’s no way to win and no risk worth taking if you don’t do that. I don’t think people are aware of how important that is. Don’t think of it as a game where you can sneak something by them, because 99 out of 100 are going to have a bad result.”

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