Americans Are Right To Worry

Americans are right to worry

James Bissett
The Ottawa Citizen
April 27, 2009

Perception is the greater part of reality and Janet Napolitano, the US Secretary of Homeland Security, perceives the northern border to be a risk to the security and safety of US residents. She has made it clear that the days of an undefended border are over and that the United States will not make a distinction between the southern and the northern border both will be treated equally. More seriously, Secretary Napolitano has indicated that she considers the northern border to be more of a security threat than the southern one. Her concerns are not new. Since the events of 9-11the the United States has systematically reinforced security measures along the Canadian border. The latest step has been to require as of June 1st of this year that all Americas and Canadians crossing into the United States possess passports.

Canadians have been puzzled by the efforts taken by US authorities to militarize our common border. They have forgotten the warning by former President George Bush that security trumps trade. Furthermore, many of our politicians, officials and businessmen have misunderstood the reasons why the United States has strengthened the border. Some believe it is simply an excuse to prevent or slow down the flow of Canadian goods crossing into the United States. They feel that security is used as an excuse to erect trade barriers and impose tariffs. Others think the problem stems from the misconception, still prevalent in the United States, that some of the 9-11 terrorists entered the USA from Canada. There may be a germ of truth in both of these assumptions but they miss the real reasons why the US considers Canadian border a security threat.

Despite clear indications from US politicians and officials and some straight talk from Secretary Napolitano, herself, Canada has not been listening. The problem centers on our immigration and refugee policies. There is a strong belief in the US Congress and the administration that Canada is soft on terrorism because our immigration and refugee policies are allowing many thousands of people into the country without adequate screening. US officials have claimed that they have apprehended a number of terrorists who have entered or attempted to enter from Canada. The most notorious of these is Ahmed Ressan, the millennium bomber, now serving time in a US jail for planning to blow up the Los Angeles airport.

Whether Canadian politicians like it or not it is our immigration and refugee policies that have caused us to be seen as the weak link in the so called war on terror. Unfortunately, there is more fact than myth in this American perception. Let us look at a few facts.

In the past 25 years over 700,000 people entered Canada asking for asylum. None of these individuals has been screened for health, criminality or security. Many of them arrived without documents or with false credentials and many of them have been smuggled into Canada by international criminal organizations. Few are detained. Most are released and asked to show up for a refugee hearing which might be scheduled one or two years in the future. In the meantime they are free to work or receive welfare. There is no restriction on their movement and no tracking system. The latest report of the Auditor General indicates there are over 40,000 outstanding warrants for the arrest of people whose whereabouts are unknown. Most of these are people who were found not to be refugees and were asked to leave.

In 2008 almost 37,000 asylum seekers entered Canada and so far this year the flow remains unabated. There is a backlog of over 62,000 asylum claims before the Refugee Board which will take years to clear. The system is out of control and yet our politicians of all parties refuse to even consider reform. To do so would offend the powerful refugee lobby and threaten the loss of ethnic voters. Furthermore, it is not politically correct to even discuss immigration and refugee policies in connection with border or security concerns.

Canadas immigration policies are also a source of concern to our southern neighbor. We are accepting many thousands of immigrants from terrorist producing countries. Since 1996 for example we have had almost 140,000 immigrants from Pakistan, over 75,000 from Iran and approximately 33,000 from Algeria. None of these immigrants may be terrorists but the reality is that only about 10% of them are checked for security and the vast majority of them are not even seen by a Canadian visa officer before obtaining their visa.

These shortcomings in our immigration and refugee policies are well known to our US neighbors. They have given up waiting for Canada to do something about the problem and have rightly decided to protect their national interest by fortifying their border. The fault does not lie with the perceptions of the new Homeland Secretary. It lies with our own politicians who are prepared to accept the draconian border measures rather than risk losing votes at home.

The creation of a tough border policy between our two countries is the wrong way to go. The costs are prohibitive for both countries. Trade and tourism are paralyzed and the costs of enhanced border procedures far outweigh the benefits. Known terrorists do not cross borders under their own identity. Nevertheless, the failure of our political leaders to take a leadership role in cooperating with US authorities to develop a common security policy relating to immigration and refugee policies is the heart of the problem.