All of the international flights from the Americas dumped into Aéroport Paris–Charles de Gaulle within minutes of each other, as they usually do, when I arrived in the early morning a few months ago. I shuffled into the immigration hall along with the deplaning masses, a shapeless hoard that defied order, especially since very little was provided.
After a half hour of this incurable chaos, with border guards barking at us like sheep dogs at a herd, and our rather saucy herd barking back in various languages, the crowd suddenly began to move forward at a surprisingly fast rate. How could this be? How could the border police possibly be processing that many passports at once? When I reached the front, I realized that they weren’t. They weren’t processing passports at all. The police had opened the gates and were letting everyone through unchecked.
As an American, who has not only practiced law, but has practiced some immigration law, I was horrified. This kind of reckless laxity would never happen at our borders – and this not from a sense of patriotic superiority. The United States has many weaknesses, but border control – especially at its international airports – is not one of them. You will not find more humorless human beings than the employees of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
By allowing foreigners to pass through unverified, the French police were not only endangering their own national security by opening their borders to shady international characters, but they were also putting the Schengen at risk. Once inside the Schengen, a foreigner can travel through any of its twenty-some member countries unchecked, as I did on this trip.
A little over a week later, as I prepared to return to the U.S., Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappeared over the South China Sea, raising questions (among many others) about two passengers onboard who were traveling with stolen passports. In the weeks since, those two passengers have been ruled out as possible terrorists. But the fact that they were able to travel on stolen passports is disturbing. According to Interpol, “In 2013, passengers were able to board planes more than 1 billion times without having their travel documents checked against Interpol’s data.”
That’s billion with a “B.”