The Web: Homeland Security Style

My friend’s planning to take his wife and son up to do some skiiing in Canada next week — celebrate the New Year, a new job — their first vacation after several years of penury. He hasn’t been across the border in a while, so he asks me if I know what you need to get across and back. Do they need passports these days? I don’t think so, but I haven’t been to Canada myself since a lovely trip to Toronto for newmedia ’98, and I can’t offer any real advice in this post-9/11 era. I decided to look things up.

Naturally, since my friend and his family (all US citizens) are entering Canada first, that’s my first stop. I vaguely remember running across the Canadian Tourism site some years ago, checking out a Flash movie that won an award, so I Google “Canadian Tourism” and right at the top is the Travel Canada site. Marked clearly on the left of the page under “Helpful Information” is a link for “Entry Requirements (Visa)”, where I find what my friend will need to get to the slopes. Pretty simple so far.

I don’t remember ever hearing about any equivalent “United States Tourism” site, but I try Googling it nonetheless. The first site is a link to the tourism pages of each of the states. There are commercial sites. The US Virgin Island Tourism page. A site called, which looks like it might have the right info, but which apparently also has the right info about many, many other things.

The second site listed,, has corresponding information to the Tourism Canada site two levels down from the main page, but nothing about US citizens re-entering (admittedly, Tourism Canada doesn’t say anything about Canadians returning home, either).

Of course, I say to myself, the place I need to check is the Department of Homeland Security, the über-department containing the folks in the Border Patrol, Immigration and Naturalization, etc. They’ll have the info my friend needs.

An integral knowledge of the organization of DHS is helpful to finding anything on the DHS website. For instance, if you choose “Travel & Transportation” instead of “Immigration & Borders” when you’re looking for what documents you need to re-enter the country from Canada, you might spend a bit of time in a personal Tora Bora of useless documentation.

However, if you start off with “Immigration and Borders”, read all the way through a bunch of jabbering explanatory text with inline links all the way to the bottom of the page, you might think that “Border Management” might be the place to go for the right info.

By this level the web people at DHS must have gotten tired, because it’s almost a model of clarity. Headings, sub-headings, bullet point links. And there, under “Inspections at U.S. Borders” might just be the pertinent link: “How Will I Be Inspected When I Come to a U.S. Port of Entry?”

Except. Except…

404 – Requested Page Not Found on Site

The page you requested,, is not on our site.

 Please look for related information at  /graphics/index.htm.

 You may also find related information by starting at  the USCIS Home Page.

Sure, these things happen. And like a good web citizen, I report items like this, by clicking on, say, the “Feedback” button on the top of the 404 page. What really boggled my mind was this:

For feedback about the USCIS Website only, you may send a letter to the USCIS Web Unit:
          U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
          Office of Communications, Web Unit
          20 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Rm. 4026
          Washington, DC 20529

There’s no other option to report any problems with the site.

Of course, as a good friend and a cranky citizen, I did find the information I was looking for on the Citizenship and Immigration Services site, but — wow — send a letter to them to get them to update their web page?