By Joe Guzzardi
September 14, 2016
While the presidential campaign has brought attention to security issues at the southern border with Mexico, the U.S. has quietly been focusing more attention and resources on the northern border with Canada. Neither presidential candidate has said much about the northern border. When asked, Republican Donald Trump said that he has no plans to build a wall along Canada and the U.S., which is just as well since it would be well-nigh impossible.
Because Canada has accepted more than 25,000 Syrians since November 2015, legislators in northern states have expressed increased security concerns. A Montana state senator who lives four miles from the border, Mike Cuffe, told the Wall Street Journal that he worries about the easy access terrorists have to the U.S. through wide swathes of unguarded terrain. Security resources are mostly focused on the southern border where, in 2015, more than 86 percent of agents were placed. Only 2,200 agents, working in shifts, patrol the northern border.
But during a Senate sub-committee hearing, Alan Berstin, Customs and Border Protection head, said that security experts consider entry through Canada a more significant threat than through Mexico “because of… people who can enter Canada and then come across our bridges into the United States.” Although the Canadian government has pledged to take more Syrians during future years which critics perceive as heightening risk, Canada has officially also voiced security concerns. A representative for the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. said that “a threat to one country is a threat to another.”
Last year, two U.S. Senators, Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) co-sponsored legislation to increase funding, and add more agents along the most remote regions of the largely unprotected north. Along lengthy stretches of Montana and North Dakota, few fences exist, and natural obstructions are ineffective in stopping illegal entry. Interviews with CBP agents found that illegal entry from Canada is a growing concern, and that unlike the southern border, human smuggling is more well-organized and efficient.
On my recent trip to Canada, I noticed that wheat fields and overgrowth are so dense that the border is difficult to even find and identity. So called slashes or country-cuts mark the border’s actual location. The International Boundary Commission has created a visible line that runs through 1,349 miles of forested land along the 5,525-mile border between Canada and the U.S., a narrow, clear-cut vista informally known as the “Slash.”
The challenge for both countries is to balance security with the flow of commerce to insure that trucks and other commercial vehicles don’t impede traffic, and create lengthy delays. Traffic between the U.S. and Canada represents the largest bilateral flow of people in the world, about 300,000 per day.
With little fanfare, however, the U.S. has increased its efforts to secure the northern border, especially along the more remote routes. Underground sensors, thermal sensors, and unmanned drones have been added to the equipment used to protect about 1,100 miles of border.
High-tech equipment helps, but more manpower on the northern border would be more efficient at deterring the increasing threat that Middle Eastern refugees resettled in Canada represent. A greater technological presence is welcome, but shouldn’t replace agents on the ground.
A Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow, Joe Guzzardi can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.