US, Canada Extend Border Security Cooperation
By Mickey McCarter
HS Today, November 25, 2009
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano joined her counterpart from Canada in Washington, DC, Tuesday to announce a bundle of cooperative efforts on information sharing, maritime security, customs enforcement, and other areas of shared importance to the United States and Canada.
Napolitano and Canadian Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan hailed the joint efforts as a means of synchronizing common battles against threats posed by terrorism and crime while strengthening legitimate travel and trade between the two nations and globally.
'Close cooperation and coordination between the United States and Canada is critical to the national and economic security of both nations,' Napolitano said in a statement. 'Minister Van Loan and I are committed to working together to combat transnational threats and facilitate lawful travel and trade on both sides of the border.'
The two officials reviewed progress on goals established in their last formal meeting in May with a focus on increased information sharing and integrating law enforcement but also protecting privacy and financial security.
But perhaps the biggest move came from the United States joining a preexisting biometric data-sharing initiative with Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. The cooperation nations designed the initiative to aid their immigration systems by identifying fraudulent refugee claimants through an exchange of fingerprints to see if asylum seekers actually are shopping around for a country to admit them.
Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney hailed the inclusion of the United States in the initiative as a powerful extension of its reach.
'Previous trials show that biometric information sharing works,' Kenney said in a statement. 'For example, when the fingerprints of some asylum claimants in Canada were checked against the US database, more than a third matched and 12 percent of these individuals presented a different identity in the United States. The data sharing helps uncover details about refugee claimants such as identity, nationality, criminality, travel and immigration history, all of which can prove relevant to the claim.'
Many of the other efforts announced Tuesday involve moving people and goods across US and Canadian borders securely to support travel and trade. The two nations have agreed to align their trusted shipper programs, for example, so that the US Customs Trade Partnership against Terrorism and the Canadian Partners in Protection are working without conflicts. Balancing the two separate programs would provide the United States and Canada with similar views on trusted shippers and secure supply chains.
Napolitano and Van Loan also unveiled a Maritime Annex to the Joint Framework for the Movement of People and Good During and Following Emergencies, which the two nations set up in May. The maritime annex provides guidance for communication and coordination in the event of an emergency impacting shared waterways or ports. With this pact, the United States and Canada could speed assistance to each other in the event of a maritime incident.
Beginning today, Canada begins to accept NEXUS and Free and Secure Trade (FAST) trusted traveler cards as identification for passing through land and se ports of entry, Van Loan announced. New enrollment centers for the programs will open in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, in Canada; Calais, Maine, in the United States and a shared location in Lansdowne, Ontario, and Alexandria Bay, NY.
With regard to other information-sharing initiatives between the two countries, the US Department of Homeland Security and the Canadian Public Safety Ministry nearly have completed a memorandum of understanding that would enable them to share information on money seized at their shared border. Law enforcement officers in both nations could then use that information to assist in efforts to track money smuggling to disrupt those operations.
Napolitano and Van Loan further promised to share more information on human trafficking in both nations and across their shared border. They indicated a particular interest in ensuring that the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games do not provide an opportunity for human smuggling as large numbers of international visitors travel to the Canadian city for the games.
The officials also agreed to share best practices and boost collaboration in efforts to secure critical infrastructure and fight violent extremists.
The meeting was the second formal meeting between Napolitano and Van Loan as part of an agreement to meet biannually to resolve issues of trade and travel and to foster cooperation against terrorism and crime–although Napolitano has traveled to Canada several times to participate in forums there as well.
The next formal meeting between the two officials is scheduled to occur in six months.
'A shared understanding of the threats and risks we face is paramount to our common objective of enhancing US-Canadian security. We are working together to achieve this,' Van Loan said in a statement. 'We have a joint responsibility to secure the safety of our citizens.'
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