Experts warn of ‘southern border mentality’

Published on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 by Meg Olson

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As the wheels of immigration reform start to grind in Washington D.C., local voices need to be heard to insure a healthy national economy and healthy communities along the northern border.

“You don’t have to trade security for liberty,” said Margaret Stock, one of two members of a bilateral immigration reform task force who spoke at a November 7 forum at Western Washington University. “You need a strong economy for security.”

Co-sponsored by the Border Policy Research Institute (BPRI) and the Center for Canadian and American Studies, the forum featured Stock, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, lawyer and a West Point professor; and Edward Alden, a journalist and author of The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11. They were part of a Council on Foreign Relations task force chaired by former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Tom McLarty, former Clinton chief of staff. The task force released a report in July recommending changes as the Obama administration prepares to tackle immigration policy reform.

Alden described the CFR report as “hawkish” and said the task force recommended increases in security, especially at the southern border, and beefed up workplace enforcement to control illegal immigration. However, if immigration reform stops at “keeping people out,” which Alden referred to as a southern border mentality, it will eventually fail, “and there will be damaging results.”

“That mentality is not inductive to a smart immigration policy,” he said, “one that is good for Whatcom County, Washington state, the United States.”

The United States economy has traditionally relied on the innovations that immigrants bring to our country, and the harder it is for the innovators to bring their ideas to the U.S., the more it drags down economic growth.
Alden pointed to the recent decision of Microsoft Corporation to build a new research facility in British Columbia instead of Washington because of fewer immigration hurdles for experts from other countries. “They needed a way for people to come into the U.S. quickly, legally and easily,” Alden said. “However important it is to improve enforcement, if the perception that the United States has become a country not welcoming to immigrants takes hold, we are in trouble.”

Stock said their task force concluded immigration reforms needed to tackle three critical goals: make legal immigration efficient and responsive to labor needs, cut down on illegal immigration, and offer a fair and humane way to deal with immigrants already here. “You can’t deport 12 million unauthorized people,” she said.
Anticipating an emphasis on security in upcoming immigration reform discussions, Stock said northern border interests needed to get the message to policy-makers and legislators that security at this border needed to focus less on policing the border and more on intelligence and cooperation with Canada, approaches that might be less successful on the border with Mexico.

“There is a marked difference in the cooperation between the two countries,” she said. Under the 2001 Smart Border Accord Canada and the U.S. set up preclearance procedures, shared biometric and trusted traveler programs, coordinated visa policies and immigration databases. There is less infrastructure on the northern border than on the southern border, more water to patrol, lower violence and criminal activity is more bi-directional.

“There are things we can do on the northern border we can’t do on the southern border – things that are cheaper and more effective,” Stock said.

There is also a different relationship along what some call the longest undefended border in the world, but that Stock pointed out was increasingly monitored by a growing border patrol. “We’re not defending it from the Canadians!” she said. “Americans trust Canadians with the keys to the castle.” Canadians and Americans work together in the North American Aerospace Defense Command, she pointed out, a joint military command to “detect, intercept and if necessary engage” threats to Canadian and U.S. airspace.

If U.S. and Canadian border agencies could share more, from entry and exit data to facilities, they would save money and leave less of a footprint in the communities along the border, while getting the job done.

“The character of a community along the border can change as we change our tactics,” Stock said.