New realities eroding border double standard
Security, migrant issues give Northern states 'wake-up call'
By Erin Kelly
The Arizona Republic (Phoenix), July 6, 2009
Washington, DC — At a recent meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, lawmakers implored Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to make sure new passport requirements don't get in the way of French-Canadian grandparents crossing the U.S.-Canadian border to visit their grandchildren.
There was no mention of how those new rules might hurt Mexican grandparents trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border to visit their grandkids in Arizona, California, New Mexico or Texas.
'There's been very much a double standard in dealing with the two borders,' said Jim Kolbe, the former Republican congressman who represented the Tucson border area for more than 20 years and is considered an expert on immigration issues. He said Northern border residents would be 'aghast' if the federal government erected the kind of fences and barricades there that line the Southwestern border.
That double standard could come into play as President Barack Obama and Congress look to take on immigration reform this year or early next.
Experts say the different treatment stems in part from economic reality. Canadians, unlike Mexicans, have not endured the kind of poverty that drives immigrants to cross the Southwestern border illegally in search of jobs. Last year, officials apprehended 723,840 people trying to enter the country illegally. Nearly 662,000 were from Mexico; 610 were from Canada.
But there also has been a perception, refuted by Homeland Security officials, that nothing bad is going to come across our border with Canada, where the lifestyles and appearance of the residents often mirror those of middle-class Americans.
In truth, there is growing drug-related violence in Vancouver near the U.S.-Canadian border, where drug-dealing gangs caught up in a turf war have killed several high-school students this year and gunned down a 23-year-old mother as she was driving. Her 4-year-old son was in the car.
But that violence has not garnered the same attention as the drug-cartel killings along the U.S.-Mexican border.
'Every time I mention that there is a gun and a drug problem along the Canadian border, people are incredulous,' said Rick Van Schoik, director of the North American Center for Transborder Studies at Arizona State University. 'They don't believe me.'
This year, Northern border residents are being forced to think of their border as 'a real border' for the first time because of federal efforts to beef up security to keep out terrorists. That realization, which Napolitano called a big 'culture change' for the North, is spurring lawmakers far from Arizona to take a new interest in border issues just as Congress is trying to tackle comprehensive immigration reform.
'I think the Northern border members have had a wake-up call,' Van Schoik said. They are now beginning to realize how much border security and immigration legislation can affect them and are taking a bigger interest in the debate, he said.
When the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative took effect this summer, requiring U.S. citizens for the first time to show passports or passport cards to re-enter the United States from Canada or Mexico, it was one of the few times when a new law treated both borders equally.
Enforcement has focused largely on the Southwestern border, where a fence more than 600 miles long has been erected. There are about 10 times as many Border Patrol agents guarding the nearly 2,000-mile Southwestern border as the nearly 4,000-mile northern border.
'People have been used to going back and forth across that (northern) border pretty easily as if it were not a real border,' said Napolitano, Arizona's former governor. 'I think it's fair to say that, that (new passport requirement) is a big change for that area of the country.'
Another factor making Northern lawmakers more sympathetic to the concerns of their Southwestern counterparts is that immigrants from Latin America are increasingly making their way into the Midwest, North and Deep South to find work.
'The immigrant experience is now being felt in almost all parts of the country,' said Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. 'Places that have not been traditional destinations are seeing immigration. As a result, there are people in Congress who are active in the immigration debate who never would have been before.'
The debate now includes New Yorkers pushing for guest-worker programs to ensure that apple farmers get help from immigrants to pick their crops and Vermonters seeking year-round visas for Mexican and Central American immigrants to work on dairy farms.
'I hope that some who have stood in opposition to sensible immigration reform will recognize that hard-working farmers and their communities are as much the victims of their misguided obstructionism as are the immigrants they seek to punish,' said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., urging reform in part to help his state's struggling dairy farmers.
Most Northern border lawmakers supported efforts in 2006 and 2007 to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The measures stalled in the House because of opposition from Southwestern and Midwestern members who thought they were not tough enough on border enforcement.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is working on immigration-reform legislation that he hopes to introduce this year. He has taken pains to court the upstate New York farmers who increasingly need immigrant labor to pick their crops and milk their cows.
At a recent hearing of the Senate judiciary subcommittee on immigration, Schumer, who chairs the panel, reached out to Southwestern border lawmakers.
Turning to Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Schumer said senators from both border regions share 'long and rich histories of welcoming immigrants from all over the world.'
'I hope that my colleagues will agree to work together to capitalize on areas on consensus rather than exploit areas of disagreement,' Schumer said.
Kolbe said he finds it amusing that Northern lawmakers suddenly care about issues such as balancing security and commerce at the border.
'They're suddenly facing up to the some of the same difficulties we've faced up to for years and years,' he said. 'When we brought up these issues, they'd say, 'Yeah, yeah, that's not our problem.' Well, now it is.'