New cross-border agreement to ease border problems

Feb 11, 2011

By Meg Olson
A new U.S./Canada agreement highlights greater cooperation across the border as the key to increased security and prosperity for both nations.
“We agreed to a new vision for managing our shared responsibilities —- not just at the border but “beyond the border,”” said U.S. President Barack Obama in a February 4 joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The agreement commits the two nations to a spectrum of cooperative measures, from greater sharing of information between agencies on both sides of the border to developing joint policies, programs and facilities. A Beyond the Border Working Group will work to develop a plan implementing the goals of the recent declaration.
“Just as we must continually work to ensure that inertia and bureaucratic sclerosis do not impair the legitimate flow of people, goods and services across our border, so, too, we must up our game to counter those seeking new ways to harm us,” Harper said.
Congressman Rick Larsen said the agreement shows the two governments are on the road to understanding the best way to manage the northern border. “The big concern has always been applying a southwest model to this border,” he said, and the agreement is a positive step away from that model. “It’s a positive thing for our respective countries’ economies and security.” He added it was encouraging that the two leaders had committed to investing in infrastructure and technologies at the nation’s busiest crossings, several of which are in Whatcom County.
The declaration comes in the wake of a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found the northern border to be highly porous. “Customs and Border Protection does not have the ability to detect illegal activity across most of the northern border,” the report states. While 1,000 of the 4,000 miles of border were described as meeting Border Patrol standards for “full situational awareness,” because of inaccessibility only 32 of those miles earned the tag of having an “acceptable level of control.”
Rather than more boots on the border, the report recommends the kind of partnerships the new U.S./Canada agreement hopes to foster. The report targets a tangle of overlapping missions and incompatible agreements between agencies as the most effective place to improve security on the northern border.
Reviving the concept of “perimeter security,” the new agreement sets a goal of common standards for customs processing of goods, and collecting and sharing information about travelers.
For example, the agreement points to using information about who has entered Canada to give U.S. agencies information about who has left the United States. Such an entry/exit system, mandated by Congress in 1996 and again in 2002 and partially implemented as US-VISIT, has always hit the stumbling block of how to check who has left the country without putting an unacceptable drag on mobility between the two countries.
“It also commits us to finding ways to eliminate regulatory barriers to cross-border trade and travel, because simpler rules lead to lower costs for business and consumers, and ultimately to more jobs,” Harper said.
It could be a while before we see how the new agreement will trickle down to reality for local communities and economies, said Gordon Rogers with the Whatcom Council of Governments.
“The wheels of national government move slowly, and when the rules of two different nations are involved and concerns about sovereignty, it takes a long time,” Rogers said. “It’s a lot of really good ideas, but how will it be implemented? We don’t know.”