“Got any beer, liquor?” said the big U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) guard, stepping off the curb and toward the car.
“Yea, we bought some beer in Quebec.” I responded.
“How much? 12-pack? Case?” he asked.
“Yeah, no problem,” he said waving his hand and walking to the back of the car. “Open your trunk, please.”
We were stopped at the Armstrong-Jackman Border Crossing, returning from a week-long trip to Canada. A chilly wind swept across the barren road. Ours was the only car.
“The beer’s OK. But this egg here… this could be a problem,” he said pulling a jumbo-sized chocolate Easter egg from our trunk and walking beside the car.
My wife and I looked at each other and laughed at the joke.
“I’ll have them check inside to confirm. I’ve never seen one this big, but if it’s like the Kinder eggs, we’re going to have to confiscate it. Unfortunately, this could take a while,” he said.
“Are you serious?” I asked.
“Yeah, Kinder eggs are banned in the United States, because children could choke on the little toy inside.”
The idea seemed ridiculous. During Easter in Brazil, where my wife is from, and from where we had recently moved, these popular football-sized chocolate eggs line whole aisles of supermarkets. They hang above your heads like massive grapes dangling from a wooden vine. Everyone, who has the means, gives and receives at least one for Easter. When we saw a stock of even larger-than-normal eggs in a supermarket outside of Lévis, Quebec, we couldn’t resist. We had never seen one of these in the United States. We were now learning why.
“When were they banned?” I asked.
“Longer than I’ve been here.” He responded and asked us to move the car up, park, hand him the keys, and head inside. They would be searching my vehicle, he told me, and I had paper work to fill out. Hopefully they wouldn’t fine me.
Although Kinder eggs are sold around the world, I quickly learned that they were, in fact, banned in the United States. The 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibits embedding "non-nutritive items" in food. The Consumer Product Safety Commission additionally issued a recall on the eggs in 1997. But the U.S. war on these chocolate treats is reaching ridiculous proportions. According to a CBP advisory issued this week, last year “CBP seized more than 60,000 Kinder Eggs from travelers’ baggage and from international mail shipments,” more than double the previous year.
Ours was the second chocolate egg confiscated that day at this tiny crossing on the Northwest border of Maine. The CBP officers told us they often seize several eggs a day, especially around Easter.
The increase in chocolate egg interdiction coincides with an unprecedented build-up of the border patrol apparatus along the northern U.S. border. In the name of securing borders and fighting terrorism, in less than a decade the U.S. government has quintupled the number of Border Patrol agents on the U.S.-Canadian border to currently about 2,000. As Joseph Nevins wrote in this blog in December, “Given the very low number of unauthorized crossing of the northern U.S. boundary, the agents need something to do.” Some officers have turned to interior policing—boarding trains along New York’s east-west Amtrak rail route, questioning passengers about their place of birth and citizenship, and arresting and detaining suspected undocumented individuals. Other officers, it appears, are left with the duty of seizing chocolate Easter eggs.
“This is going to take a while. There is a lot of paperwork,” said the officer behind the counter, once we were inside. He asked for our identification, car registration, and my parent’s telephone number, since we had borrowed their car for the trip. He grilled us on the immigration status of my wife, who is a legal resident, and had me fill out what appeared to be an endless stream of paperwork, which relinquished our right to the chocolate egg.
“That is the biggest one of those eggs I have ever seen!” joked an officer as he walked past the counter.
“Who’s going home with the egg?” I asked. “We’d like to know what toy we missed out on.”
“No. This is going to be destroyed,” responded the officer without looking up from the stack of papers in front of him.
While we waited, a truck driver came and went. The officer attending to us slapped on plastic gloves and walked to our car where he searched our belongings, opening suitcases and ruffling through bags. He soon returned empty-handed. Two hours passed. The sun sank lower in the sky. I should call my aunt, I thought, to let her know that we will be arriving several hours late. What a waste of time, energy, and resources.
If you figure that at least two hours is spent on the paperwork, processing, and destruction of every confiscated chocolate egg, that means that in 2011 alone the CBP spent 120,000 work-hours fighting Easter. That is equal to 15,000 work-days. In the middle of an economic crisis, while budgets are being slashed, CBP officers are wasting taxpayer money, their time, and our time, seizing Easter eggs. Sadly, even the officers know it.
“I just have to keep telling myself that I am confiscating something that could potentially hurt a child,” said the officer before us, shaking his head, as he worked on what I hoped was the last of the paperwork. “I just have to keep telling myself that.”
Michael Fox is the editor of the NACLA Report on the Americas. Despite the hype and the multi-million dollar Kinder Egg business, it appears that over the last two decades only a handful of people across the globe have actually choked to death on Kinder Eggs. For more from the Border Wars blog, visit nacla.org/blog/border-wars. And now you can follow it on twitter@NACLABorderWars. See also "Undocumented, Not Illegal: Beyond the Rhetoric of Immigration Coverage," by Angelica Rubio in the November/December 2011 NACLA Report; "The Border: Funneling Migrants to Their Doom," by Óscar Martínez, in the September/October 2011 NACLA Report; and the May/June 2007 NACLA Report, Of Migrants & Minutemen.