U.S. looks to seal its borders
Jan. 31, 2006
WASHINGTON—Tom Tancredo's fence along the Mexican border will cost about $1 million (U.S.) per mile to build, he figures, but the wall he wants along the Canadian border would cost a bit more because of rougher terrain. (one million a mile is a bargain at twice the price)
In the 61-year-old Colorado Republican congressman's ideal world, the U.S. is sealed off by walls to the north and south, illegal Mexican immigrants are sent home, would-be bombers stay in Canada, and his country can finally deem itself safe from terrorists and drug-runners.
It may seem absurd on the surface, but it's not totally fanciful. The U.S. House has already passed a bill okaying the Mexican fence, a proposal an indignant Mexican President Vicente Fox has branded America's Berlin Wall.
The Tancredo initiative is also a sobering lesson in how Canada can get sideswiped by the increasingly poisonous relations between Washington and its Latin American neighbours in this hemisphere.
The problem becomes more acute when major elected officials in this country continue to occasionally take to the airwaves to spread the myth that the Sept. 11 hijackers entered the U.S. from Canada.
As Tancredo said in an interview with the Toronto Star yesterday, once you seal off your southern flank, your problem becomes your northern flank.
"Right now, we have a problem," he said. "We all know the northern border is porous. People can come through it at their whim." In effect, Canadian "problems" become American "problems" through geographical proximity, he believes.
"If you have an unsecured border, then the policies of your neighbours become yours," he said. "You have a very liberal refugee policy which makes it easy for people to come, especially from the Middle East. As a result it is easy for them to enter into the United States."
The U.S. Senate has yet to deal with the House security bill, but Washington said yesterday it will speed up the removal of illegal immigrants caught near the Canadian border, extending a program already in effect along the Mexican border.
The so-called "expedited removal" frees up space at immigrant detention centres by deporting undesirables more quickly, according to the Homeland Security department.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says the program is part of a countrywide effort to "implement new tactics throughout the U.S. in order to gain control of our borders."
With the relationship between Washington and Mexico City now featuring bellicose rhetoric, gunfire at the border and allegations that Mexican authorities are running drugs into the U.S., it is instructive to remember how official Ottawa shuddered when incoming U.S. President George W. Bush made it clear where his international priorities lay shortly after taking office. It was that extended hand to the south, and two middle-aged men in cowboy boots trading quips at a Mexican ranch, that signalled a change in tone in Washington-Ottawa relations. It was only weeks after the Supreme Court handed him the U.S. presidency in 2001 that Bush headed to Mexico to glad-hand with Fox on his first official foreign visit from the White House.
Months later, he prepared to welcome Fox to Washington for the first black-tie visit of a foreign head of state, saying, "I can't think of anything more important for our foreign policy in our hemisphere (than) to have good relations with Mexico."
Ten days later came 9/11, then the Iraq war and the end of the Bush focus in the hemisphere.
Then came vigilantes at the border, a dead migrant, the discovery of tunnels for contraband and calls for The Wall.
Now come July elections with leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador leading in polls, bringing the leftist lurch in the region to Washington's doorstep.
He has rejected Washington's attempt to compare him with Venezuelan regional strongman Hugo Chavez, but he has called the Mexican Wall "absurd" while pledging he could work with the Bush administration.
Early hope for an immigration accord, including a plan to create a guest-worker class for illegal immigrants in this country, passed as the Bush administration focused on Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill Tancredo backs, known as the Sensenbrenner bill for its sponsor, Wisconsin Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, would jail illegal migrants for up to a year if they are caught in the U.S., and those who help them could be jailed for up to five years.
That sparked fear among churches and other charities that they could be prosecuted for providing shelter or food to illegal immigrants.
The fence would build on a 24-kilometre test fence along the border at San Diego which is said to have reduced people and drug smuggling. But still the migrants keep coming.
According to U.S. figures, 1.2 million were intercepted at the border and 411 died trying to cross from Mexico to the U.S. last year. But it was the death of 20-year-old Guillermo Martinez on Dec. 30 which inflamed the situation. U.S. Border Patrol officials shot and killed Martinez in the no-man's land between the U.S. and Mexico, apparently as he was heading back to his home country. The death sparked outrage in Mexico and a call by Fox for an inquiry.
U.S. officials countered that their agents have increasingly been pelted with rocks and sniper fire. Chertoff travelled in an armoured vehicle to the border to warn there would be zero tolerance for violence there.
Since then, the U.S. has accused Mexico of using its own military to help escort drug smugglers into Texas, a charge Mexico denies. Washington complained Mexico was distributing Arizona maps to would-be illegal immigrants, highlighting highways, water supplies and relief beacons. And more than two tonnes of marijuana were found in a tunnel stretching from near the Tijuana Airport to a warehouse in San Diego.
"One reason we don't have tunnels being built between Canada and the U.S. is that people don't need them," Tancredo said. "There is a very easy pathway into the United States from Canada."
He says he believes the new Stephen Harper government may place more emphasis on border security, and not become part of the problem as has Fox.
But what would his wall do for Canada-U.S. relations?
"Good fences make good neighbours," he says.