Securing the Northern Border Starts with Securing the Southern Border
While many policymakers are justifiably fixated on the crisis at the southern border, we must not forget the U.S. also has a porous border with Canada. Stretching over 5,500 miles, it’s the longest in the world and nearly three times as long as our border with Mexico. It features remote, sparsely populated, and inhospitable terrain through which illegal border crossers can evade detection. It doesn’t pose the same threat as the open U.S.-Mexico border, where cartels have operational control, fentanyl pours in, and Border Patrol makes over 200,000 apprehensions a month, but we take our eye off it at great peril. Still, efforts to secure the northern border must start with securing the southern border.
In 2007, Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigators simulated carrying radioactive material across the U.S.-Canada border in three separate locations, evading detection each time. On a fourth go, a resident alerted Border Patrol but responding agents were unable to locate the GAO team. This despite the post-9/11 fixation on deterring radioactive “dirty bombs.” The 2007 report highlighted “unmanned and unmonitored” roads near the border, ports of entry that were unmanned overnight, and ineffective barriers. It concluded “more human capital and technological capabilities are needed to effectively protect the northern border.”
In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a Northern Border Strategy to “provide overarching Department-wide strategic guidance and direction to better manage the northern border.” But by October 2016, even the New York Times reported “authorities…cannot say with certainty how much criminal activity occurs as a result of Northern border crossings because their means of detection are so limited.” Compounding this problem is the presence of tribal land along the northern border, which non-tribal law enforcement cannot enter.
DHS updated the Northern Border Strategy in June 2018, noting “The most common threat to U.S. public safety along the Northern Border continues to be the bi-directional flow of illicit drugs.” Fentanyl, marijuana, and ecstasy are especially prevalent. By 2018, the U.S. had 2,200 Border Patrol agents at the northern border, up from only about 370 in 2001. But in recent years, hundreds of agents have been reassigned to the southern border. By September 2020, CBP saw a 1,000% year-over-year spike in drugs seized at the northern border.
It’s not just drugs; it’s people. In fiscal year 2022 there were a whopping 279 encounters with aliens on the terrorist watchlist at the northern border. By contrast, the southern border saw 141 such encounters. Total apprehensions at the northern border, while small compared with those at the southern border, have spiked dramatically under Biden. Fiscal Year 2020, the last of Trump’s term, saw 32,375 – an average of under 3,000 per month. Fiscal year 2022 saw a three-fold jump: nearly 100,000 apprehensions, an average of more than 8,000 per month (note this doesn’t include figures for Sept. 2022, the last month of the fiscal year).
Controlling the Canadian border starts with securing the southern border. With such a clear and present danger there, we can’t fault Border Patrol for diverting resources from the northern border. Many of those apprehended at the northern border first entered from Mexico. We must at least double Border Patrol manpower, implement retention and recruitment initiatives without the wokeness, and deploy advanced screening technologies to gain operational control over both borders. We must also build the wall.
Ultimately, material resources cannot fix bad policy. The Biden administration has exacerbated the crisis from day one. Trump used statutory authority to implement the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which returned asylum-seekers to Mexico pending the outcome of their claim, but it was immediately suspended by Biden. The same authority could be invoked to institute a “Remain in Canada” policy for asylum-seekers apprehended at the northern border while bringing back “Remain in Mexico.”
We also must enforce safe-third-country agreements. These stipulate asylum-seekers must seek protection in the first safe country they enter instead of “country-shopping” for a better land further away. In December 2002, the U.S. and Canada signed such an agreement but it contains too many exceptions. It must be strengthened and vigorously enforced as apprehensions at the northern border skyrocket and include aliens of far-flung nationalities.
As Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said in 2016, “No one is arguing that the Northern border is the same as what’s happening down on the Southwestern border, but we can’t forget about this area…If we take our eye off of that, they will go where the weakest link is.”