Monday, June 05, 2006

Border crossings

This is a picture of the Canadian border near Blaine, Washington, not far from where the Minutemen have been holding border watches this spring. As you can see, the border itself consists of an eight-foot-wide grassy ditch between two parallel country roads. Crossing it entails taking a short leap over the ditch.

It's in a remote part of the county and, though Border Patrol vehicles can be seen driving past from time to time, it's the kind of place where someone with a well-laid plan could easily slip over late at night.

There are a lot of places like this along the U.S.-Canada border, which at about 4,000 miles is more than twice as long as the 1,500 miles or so we share with Mexico. What's even more common, in sparsely populated regions of the Northwest especially, is large tracts of wilderness and open range where security is nearly nonexistent at worst and widely sporadic at best.

In other words, there are many more multiple opportunities for Islamist terrorists to enter the United States from Canada than there are from Mexico. Crossing the Canadian border in untracked areas, unlike the Mexican border, is neither terribly hazardous nor even particularly daunting.

However, most terrorism experts will tell you that terrorists prefer to travel incognito with fake papers and are most likely to try crossing through a regular port of entry with those papers. Remote border crossings are a real risk for such operatives because they become more exposed out in the open, rather than simply mingling in with the thousands who cross borders legally every day.

Perhaps more to the point, the presence of Al Qaeda cells in Mexico is virtually unknown, but the presence of Al Qaeda in Canada is very well established indeed, as the Ahmed Ressam case demonstrated vividly.

In other words, if you're genuinely concerned about terrorists crossing our borders, you'll increase funding for port-of-entry security and for monitoring open areas -- on the Canada border primarily.

So it seemed altogether fitting that on the day that the National Guard began its photo op, er, security mission on the Mexican border, the news from Canada came once again to remind us that, when it comes to the issue of border security as an aspect of the "war on terror," our top priority has to be the northern border, not the southern one:
Police said Monday more arrests are likely in an alleged plot to bomb buildings in Canada, while intelligence officers sought ties between the 17 suspects and Islamic terror cells in the United States and five other nations.

A court said authorities had charged all 12 adults arrested over the weekend with participating in a terrorist group. Other charges included importing weapons and planning a bombing. The charges against five minors were not made public.

The Parliament of Canada, located in Ottawa, was believed to be one of the targets the group discussed.

[Michael Stickings has more on the arrests.]

As I asked previously:
Why, if post-9/11 border security is such a suddenly serious concern, aren't we sending the Guard to the Canadian border? -- It is, after all our longest and most porous border, and its many open spots do not entail dangerous and potentially lethal desert crossings. Perhaps more to the point, the one terrorist who did try to sneak into the USA with explosives as part of a plot to attack a major metropolitan area was caught on the Canadian border.

The Ressam case was particularly revealing when it came to the presence of terrorist cells in Canada:
Ressam's plot was ultimately foiled on December 14 by Diana Dean, a U.S. border employee, but his capture would reveal that operatives were also inside America waiting to liaise with their counterparts across the Canadian border. Algerian and Brooklyn resident Abdelghani Meskini was the man supposed to meet Ressam in Seattle and was arrested a few days after the latter's capture.

On December 19, Canadian Lucia Garofalo was also arrested trying to smuggle an Algerian at a remote border crossing in northeastern Vermont. Garofalo was found to have contacts with Atmani and Meskini as well as high-ranking members of GIA cells in Europe. [7] Another Algerian with links to Meskini, Abdel Hakim Tizegha, was arrested on December 24 in Seattle, accused of being part of Ressam's group. In the weeks that followed, a number of Algerians were stopped and questioned in major cities and border regions across the United States and Canada.

Of course, the answer for dealing with this problem doesn't entail building fences, or placing National Guardsmen on the Canadian border, or setting up citizen border watches. Hell, we could place "moats, fiery moats and fiery moats with fire-proof crocodiles" on both the borders and it wouldn't work.

It entails giving the Border Patrol both the manpower and the surveillance technology it needs to adequately monitor the borders and stop foreign terrorists effectively and professionally -- instead of cutting their budget as the Bush administration has done.

So when the Minutemen and their fellow nativists start citing Sept. 11 and their fears about border security as the reason why they're really mounting their Mexico border watches -- surely, it has nothing to do with the fears about the loss of white "culture" that so many of them seem to want to talk about -- it couldn't hurt to remind them that what they're doing is far more likely to dilute a serious effort to bolster antiterrorist security where it counts the most.

And the practical effect of the nativists' border campaign so far? It isn't pretty:
It was early on a May morning, still dark, when Border Patrol agent Dan McClafferty first smelled death, its rich odor piercing the desert bouquet of sage, salt cedar and creosote. Following the beam of his flashlight, McClafferty looked under the thorny branches of a paloverde tree and found what he was looking for.

The body of the 3-year-old boy lay still, covered with a jacket and his arms crossed over his chest. His mother, found wandering along a desert highway hours earlier, had carried him there as she had tried to cross into the United States illegally.

The sad discovery was not unique. Since 1993, when the Clinton administration began a crackdown on border crossings in San Diego and El Paso, more than 3,500 people have died trying to cross into the United States through desert. And, as officials work to put more patrols and fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, immigrant advocates fear there will be more deaths among the tens of thousands who attempt the trip.

Most of the deaths so far -- 959 since Oct. 1, 2001, according to local government statistics and the Mexican government -- have been in Arizona, where the landscape comprises mountains, ranches, Indian reservations, military proving grounds and endless miles of cactus-filled desert. The boy, who was found on May 16 and whose name could not be ascertained from U.S. or Mexican officials, was one of the latest additions to the list.

This is why the current "immigration debate" is so misbegotten. As with most outbreaks of right-wing extremism in the mainstream, its eventual toll is unfailingly, inexorably, a litany of human misery and injustice.

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