Monday, April 23, 2012

The Myth of Border Security

There is no such thing as border security, not in the United States. Most people who talk about border security focus on the southern border, but the northern one counts too. We could spend hundreds of billions of dollars securing the Mexican border, and the terrorists would just cross the much longer, much more open Canadian border.

Last week, Saeton Kevin Grant showed just how easy it would be. Admittedly, Grant was travelling into Canada, out of the United States. But crossing the border in either direction is easy, so long as you avoid the legal crossings, as Grant did. From The Province:
Grant, who rode a bicycle across the Manitoba-North Dakota border near Boissevain, Man., just after dark on Saturday, had been deported from Canada twice before — the last time in the summer of 2010.

A Canadian resident heading home spotted Grant on the North Dakota side of the border around 8 p.m., Saturday, [RCMP] Sgt. Line Karpish said. She said the resident saw the man again on the Manitoba side of the border, still riding his bike.

"It didn't seem right and they contacted us," Karpish said, adding a check with the Canada Border Services Agency at the Boissevain crossing revealed they hadn't cleared anyone through riding a bike.
Grant was found in Boissevain, but ran away from the mounties and ended up in Winnipeg, where local police found him several days later. No word yet on where he'll be deported to (it's not clear from the news reports whether Grant, a Jamaican, was legally in the US in the first place). But the real story here is the complete lack of border security. Border patrol only realized this man had illegally crossed the border when an eagle-eyed (get it?) citizen told them he had. Even then, he still got away, and was only found days later at his girlfriend's house in Winnipeg-- the same girlfriend who had impersonated an immigration officer in order to prevent his previous deportation. (In other words, any good movie character would dismiss her house as "the first place they'd look.")

Ultimately, this guy actually was caught, but what would he have had to do differently in order to succeed? Not much:
  1. Travel in an inconspicuous car instead of on a bike so Eagle Eyes didn't notice.
  2. Make the crossing in the middle of the night after Eagle Eyes had gone to bed.
  3. Not cross at a highway where he could be seen. Carry the bike through a field if necessary.
  4. Not leave his ID behind when he ran from the mounties.
  5. Once across, figure out the first place they'd look for him, and go somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Note that had Grant done just one of these things, he would not have been caught. That he was caught at all was only the result of a fantastic chain of coincidences and stupid mistakes. Of course, his entire reason for crossing was to see his girlfriend and daughter*, so #5 was out of the question, and maybe he simply didn't own a car. But those aren't going to be problems for terrorists, at least not if they have any funding. And even if they did make all the same mistakes, if they have days in-country before being caught, that's more than enough time to carry out whatever dastardly plan they have.

The fact is, border patrol only stops two kinds of people-- the law-abiding and the unlucky idiots. Every single person who crosses legally is stopped by the border patrol, no matter who they are or their reason for crossing. Criminals are only stopped when they make stupid mistakes like Grant did. The border patrol is going to catch the rookies and the ill-prepared, but a well-funded, trained terrorist isn't going to have any problem crossing the border if they really want to.

People who say we can solve this by simply securing the border a) don't have any idea just how costly that would be and b) usually ignore the Canadian border anyway. We could spend tens or hundreds of billions of dollars building the highest double fence ever conceived across the 1,969 miles of the Mexican border, and it would do jack squat to secure the 5,525-mile Canadian border. If your goal is merely to restrict trade and immigration with Mexico but not Canada, that's fine. If your goal is to stop terrorists, you're kidding yourself and wasting the taxpayer's money.

Those who want more border security need to admit that it's not going to do a thing to stop terrorists. If they want to justify a fence, they need to do so on the grounds of restricting trade and immigration with Mexico, without resorting to the specter of terrorism.

*His daughter is about a year-and-a-half old. I could write a whole separate post on the ethics of breaking up this family again, but I won't. At least not right now.

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