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U.S.-Canada border could get security upgrades

by Candice Miller on July 18, 2011

July 15, 2011 
U.S.-Canada border could get security upgrades
Increased federal funding could help boost protections at Mich. entry points, other areas
NATHAN HURST/ Detroit News Washington Bureau
Washington— The push for greater security along the border with Canada is getting some traction on Capitol Hill that’s likely to lead to more boots — and technology — on the ground in Michigan.
Included in the 2012 appropriations plan for the Department of Homeland Security that was put forward by the U.S. House is $500 million — a rare $10 million boost in an otherwise austere era on Capitol Hill — for “border security fencing, infrastructure, and technology.”
It comes with the strongest caveat to date in favor of beefing up homeland security spending along the border with Canada: a mandate the money is spent in a way that helps achieve “operational control of the Northern and Southwest borders of the United States.”
Add that to the roughly $17 billion the Washington-based Brookings Institution estimates is spent each year on border and immigration enforcement, not including capital-intensive projects like the building of border fencing between the U.S. and Mexico.
The ideas for achieving the goal of 100 percent operational control — meaning U.S. officials know what’s going on at all times and have the capacity to respond — could bring a litany of new security initiatives and personnel to the hundreds of miles of open water separating the Great Lakes State from America’s neighbor to the north.
Among the ideas: more boats, cameras and watchtowers and possibly unmanned drones patrolling the skies, raising concerns in some lakeside communities.
A new, 60-foot security tower in a residential area of Grosse Pointe Farms has caused concern for some nearby residents. Joseph Greiner, 79, lives about 500 feet from the tower, which went up in June.
“I have no problem with controlling the border,” Greiner said. “I just don’t think there was a necessity to place the tower where it is.”
The City Council will vote in August on adding radar capabilities. “I’m personally against being irradiated with 50,000 thousands watts of microwave power,” said Greiner, a radar instructor when he was in the U.S. Army.
The urgency for beefed-up capabilities came to light last month when boaters near Algonac spotted a Czech national swimming in the St. Clair River trying enter the United States illegally.
It was happenstance that the moonlight mariners caught the would-be illegal entrant.
‘We have two borders’
New security measures against terrorists or illegal immigrants are a significant step forward for Michigan and other northern states, Capitol Hill lawmakers say, since the perception is the Mexican border is where the nation’s greatest national security threats lie. The U.S.-Mexico border has had many headline-grabbing incidents in the past few years, with Mexican authorities’ often-deadly clashes with drug gangs pushing up against the U.S.’ southern doorstep, and sometimes spilling over.
“We have a lot of concerns in Michigan too,” Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit. “It’s hard to overcome the perception that all of the problems we have are along the Mexican border.”
The Canadian border hasn’t been without its problems.
A report released earlier this year by the Government Accountability Office showed that even though 44 percent of the Mexican border was under “operational control,” less than 2 percent of the Canadian border was under operational control. Though nearly three times as long as the southern border, the northern border has just more than half as many staffed land border crossings. It also has nothing that matches the border wall or fence that runs along sections of Mexican border.
Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, one of three Michigan lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee, noted during a recent Capitol Hill hearing on border security, “We have four to five times the hits on the TIDEs list on the northern border than the southern border.” The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment system tracks information from federal security agencies — including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation — on suspected or confirmed terrorists who are disallowed from entering the country.
But Miller said DHS officials have made it clear potential terrorists view Canada as a more viable entry point to the United States than Mexico.
“I like to remind people that we have two borders,” Miller said. “And both need to be secured.”
Doing so in DHS’ Detroit Sector — which spans more than 500 miles of water — is no easy task. All told, DHS officials estimate about a quarter of the Detroit Sector is under operational control, a number that’s improving as Miller and her fellow Michiganians on the Homeland Security Committee — Reps. Clarke and Tim Walberg, R-Tipton — push for more focus on the U.S.’ northern border.
The Mexican border is less than 2,000 miles long, about half the length of the border between the Lower 48 states and Canada. Besides Alaska, Michigan has the most miles of northern border at 721. The border between Alaska and Canada tacks on another 1,538 miles, mostly wilderness.
Michigan’s border also runs right through one of the nation’s most active recreational boating and fishing areas. In Lake St. Clair, for example, it’s not always simple for boaters to avoid accidentally slipping across the line separating Canadian and American waters, exacerbating the issue of enforcing the border.
Multifaceted approach
Getting the Detroit Sector’s remaining 75 percent under control will take a multifaceted solution, said Michael J. Fisher, chief of the border patrol for DHS’ U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“To minimize the risk in an area like Detroit or Michigan, we wouldn’t want to overwhelm with just patrol agents,” he said. “The approach for Detroit in particular and the northern border in particular is going to be predicated on three things: information, intelligence … and integration.”
Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., the U.S. Coast Guard’s commandant said controlling the nation’s marine borders — including those along the Great Lakes — is difficult and in need of more resources and coordination between agencies.
“We have difficulty reaching out everywhere we can,” Papp testified before Miller’s subcommittee.
But Papp also pointed to recent steps taken to improve operational efficiencies along the border, including the new $30 million Operational Integration Center on the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township. Opened in May by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, the facility is home to a command center where federal officials can monitor cameras recently installed immigration-related federal detainees.

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