New security secretary called for review to kick the tires'
Homeland security secretary says she just wants to 'kick the tires' in her new department
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
February 27, 2009 at 10:26 PM EST
WASHINGTON Janet Napolitano, the new Secretary of Homeland Security, admitted Friday that she knew little about Canada-U.S. border issues but sought to allay Canadian fears that the Obama administration intended to further thicken the frontier in ways that could impede trade.
I'm fully cognizant of the close relationship with Canada and Canadian security agencies, she said in a conference call with Canadian journalists. The call was intended, she said, to dispel misconceptions that had arisen after she ordered a review of northern border issues in her first weeks as secretary. That review seen by some as the first step toward new, tougher restrictions on trade and traffic across the border once regarded as the most open in the world has yet to be completed.
Ms. Napolitano rejected suggestions that a further thickening of the border was intended. She said she was aware the word was commonly used by the Canadian media but added, I'm not sure its an accurate characterization.
I have very little actual experience with the northern border, Ms. Napolitano said. The former Arizona governor knows the U.S.-Mexico border and its myriad but far different problems extremely well. She said she ordered the wide-ranging northern-border review, and several others in the Homeland Security Department, as a way for me to kick the tires at the department.
She also said she intends to visit the Canadian border soon. She has previously made only a couple of trips to Canada, including one visit to northern Manitoba, where she saw polar bears.
Certainly, the era of Canadian-U.S. relations that predated the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when Canadian and U.S. residents crossed the border especially at innumerable land crossings with little or no identification and often with no checks at all, has gone.
Increasingly stringent requirements now mean that citizens of both countries need to be able to establish both their identity and their citizenship at border crossings. As of June this year, that requirement will mean U.S. citizens will need passports or new passport cards to return to the United States. Canadians, except for those under the age of 16, already need passports for air crossings; passports for land crossings will be required on June 1.
Ms. Napolitano, 51, is the first woman to head the Homeland Security Department, a sprawling amalgam of agencies ranging from the Coast Guard to Immigration and the special air marshals now on board U.S. aircraft. It was created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks as the Bush administration's attempt to pull together disparate agencies charged with internal security and border protection.