Attacks redefine border strategy focus widens to entire continent : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Attacks redefine border strategy Focus widens to entire continent

Louis Freedberg, Anastasia Hendrix, Chronicle Staff Writers Sunday, September 30, 2001 ©2001 San Francisco Chronicle


The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have triggered calls to beef up America's borders, but policymakers are beginning to suggest a much broader approach: a security zone around the entire North American continent.

The concept is simple. Because it's nearly impossible to stop those with evil intent from crossing our vast borders once they arrive anywhere in North America, the goal will be to stop them before they even step foot on the continent.

This new continental approach -- being pushed by immigration scholars, some legislators and the U.S. ambassador to Canada -- would require much closer cooperation with not only our closest neighbors, but also with countries around the globe whose citizens apply for and receive visas to come to the United States.

"We need to use a strategy that focuses on the entire perimeter of North America," said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., a member of the House Northern Border Caucus.

Like many lawmakers, Larsen wants more agents on the Canadian border, but he insists that to achieve security, the United States will have to fundamentally rethink its border strategy.

"We need to move from a system that focuses on someone's point of entry to the United States to one that focuses on their point of origin," he said.

Rather than relying only on Border Patrol agents and customs officials on the U.S. ports of entry, U.S. consulates that issue visas would become an integral part of the U.S. security perimeter.

Inspections could be done at airports of origin, rather than when they arrive in the United States.

Foreign countries could be required to provide flight lists ahead of time to the United States so that passengers would be screened before they arrived on U.S. soil.

It would also require a much closer alignment -- or "harmonization" -- of U. S. immigration policies with those of Canada and Mexico.

Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, has been promoting that idea for months, but he has run into opposition from Canadian leaders, who see any demand to align immigration laws as an attack on Canada's sovereignty.

Even before Sept. 11, Mexican President Vicente Fox had committed to more vigorously enforcing its southern border with Central America during negotiations for a new immigration agreement with the United States.

So far, President Bush has not publicly pressured Canada to reform its laws,

but that may change in the real politics of the war against terrorism that will unfold in the months ahead.

Contrary to earlier reports, it now appears that none of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks came through Canada. But there have been several incidents dating back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in which suspected terrorists took advantage of Canada's relatively lax immigration laws to get into the United States.

Immigration experts uniformly say that relying primarily on border security to keep out terrorists will be ineffective.

"Using immigration and border controls to stop terrorists is a needle in the haystack approach to homeland security," said Demetri Papademetriou, co- director of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, which first articulated the broader continental view of immigration control.

"If you fortify the southern border, they can come through the northern border. If you fortify the northern border, they can come through the coastline."

For years, the major thrust of U.S. immigration policy has been to keep illegal immigrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.

The Sept. 11 attacks suddenly made lawmakers realize that the Canadian border is virtually undefended.

The northern border is twice as long as the southern. Much of it consists of vast unprotected waterways. Yet today there are only 334 Border Patrol agents on the Canadian border, compared to 9,056 on the Mexican border.

"We have taken our northern border for granted," Attorney General John Ashcroft acknowledged this week at a congressional hearing.

But many immigration experts believe that replicating our southern border strategy is likely to interfere with trade between Canada and the United States -- and do little to catch sophisticated terrorists.

"Placing controls along the border to identify a very small subgroup of people is a very expensive proposition that will inconvenience lots of legitimate travelers and trade," said Philip Martin, an immigration expert and economist at the University of California at Davis.

"The pressures will eventually result in some kind of North American agreement, which makes far more sense than for Canada to have one policy and the U.S. another."

What is equally clear is that the billions of dollars spent on the Mexican border did not prevent millions of illegal immigrants from getting into the United States and settling there permanently.

"I think the Mexican border illustrates the difficulty of any kind of strict border control policy," said Jeffery Reitz, director of Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies at the University of Toronto. "It's a kind of a fantasy to think you can close the border."

A broader continental approach to border security is also getting support from civil libertarians, who realize apprehending terrorists before they get here may lessen the need for new laws that erode civil liberties in the United States.

Bill Ong Hing, a law professor at UC Davis and a member of an advisory board to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in San Francisco, welcomed the idea of preinspections on international flights.

"One of the problems has always been that the airlines were always putting pressure on immigration agents to inspect people quickly," he said. "Even though the airlines wouldn't want inspections to take three hours on the front end, these days they'd be willing to put up with a lot more."

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-- Martin Thompson (, September 30, 2001


Canada is going to be the foot-dragger on this one.

-- Chance (, October 01, 2001.

Bordering on harmonization: Why Canada faces pressure

OTTAWA - When Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian refugee-claimant based in Montreal, was arrested while crossing into the United States from Canada with a car full of explosives to blow up the Los Angeles airport on the millennium, it came as a wake-up call to Canadians.

Here was a clear demonstration -- one that has acquired new urgency in light of the recent terrorist attacks on New York and Washington -- that Canada's refugee system, known around the world for its generosity and liberalism, could serve as an underground railroad for terrorists seeking to bring mass murder to the United States. It has also helped to fuel perceptions that Canada needs to toughen its immigration policies to bring them more in line with those of the United States.

It is called harmonization, and in recent days, discussions about what it entails have intensified. On Sept. 19, the U.S. ambassador, Paul Cellucci, sketched the Bush administration's vision of a North American security perimeter. Mr. Cellucci fingered refugee policy as one area where Canada should harmonize its policies with those of the United States.

Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, has said that in his meetings with the U.S. President last Monday, George W. Bush gave him "no expression of dissatisfaction with what we are doing." But some lawmakers say privately that harmonization could be the price of preserving the open border that has sustained the north-south trade so crucial to the Canadian economy, but which, since Sept. 11, has made Americans nervous.

So far, there seems to be little agreement on what harmonization would mean. It could, for instance, involve the more frequent use of detention as a way of curtailing the movement of refugees until their claims are settled, a provision already allowed, but not mandatory, under Canadian law. It could also lead to a further tightening of anti-terrorism provisions that, as in a case before the Supreme Court of Canada, have been challenged as draconian.

But no one really seems to know. Even Elinor Caplan, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, has been unclear how far the Liberal government would be prepared to go with harmonization. Her press secretary, Derick Hodgson, pointed out that the borders are already well-patrolled.

Last year, U.S. border officials stopped 14,000 criminals from coming into Canada, while Canadian officials stopped 21,000 from going the other way. "It has not been the case that refugees are a threat," Mr. Hodgson said. And Ms. Caplan believes "there are more similarities than differences" between the two systems

Ms. Caplan is only partly right. In 1951, both Canada and the United States signed the UN Convention on Refugees and agreed to open their doors to desperate people fleeing a "well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion."

This was in the darkest period of the Cold War, when tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience were languishing in gulags behind the Iron Curtain, and thousands of others were risking their lives to flee to the West. For half a century, each country lived up to its UN commitments in distinct ways. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 could end all that.

A comparison of the two systems entails more than just a simple reading of the federal laws, which are in a state of flux in both countries. (The Bush Administration and the U.S. Congress are considering a variety of anti-terrorist amendments, while Canada's Parliament is contemplating changes to the Immigration Act.) The very language of the statutes reveals a difference in attitude. While U.S. law refers unapologetically to "aliens" on U.S. soil, Canadian lawmakers have been struggling to decide whether "non-citizen" or "foreign national" would be the less exclusionary and more politically correct term.

The interpretation of these laws often shows a deeper difference. American courts have said the power to expel or exclude foreigners at the border is fundamental to U.S. sovereignty and is immune from judicial control.

"Under our law, someone who is not a citizen is here at our sufferance," says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center of Immigration Studies in Washington. "They are our guests and we can determine the terms of their stay. It's not a civil liberties issue. You are not fully protected by the Bill of Rights if you are not a citizen," he said.

Not quite so in Canada. In the seminal 1985 Singh decision, the Supreme Court of Canada distanced Canadian law from the American doctrine that gives constitutional rights only to non-citizens on U.S. soil, but not to those seeking entry into the country. Such distinctions could prove significant. "Differences between the courts could impede harmonization even if Congress and Parliament want to pursue it," said Mr. Krikorian.

But lawyers who represent refugees say there is not much to harmonize. In fact, they insist that when it comes to barring suspected terrorists, Canadian law is already more stringent, on paper at least, than the U.S. counterpart.

Canada, for instance, has declared membership in a terrorist organization sufficient grounds to bar someone from even applying for refugee status in Canada, and if a refugee is already in the country, it is grounds for deportation.

In contrast, the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act denies "asylum," the U.S. equivalent of refugee status, only to people who have themselves engaged in terrorism, or who are "representatives" of terrorist groups, such as officers or spokespeople. Membership in such an organization can be grounds for the denial of a visitor's visa, but not asylum.

The United States also has special protections for deportees who fear torture in their home country. Canada does not.

And though the U.S. law provides an official definition of terrorism, Canada's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration retains the discretion -- too much discretion, some lawyers say -- to decide who is a terrorist or a threat to national security.

"There is no basis to conclude that our legislation needs to be changed to defend Canada against terrorists," says Lorne Waldman, a Toronto immigration lawyer who is preparing a paper on the subject for the Canadian Bar Association.

But the written anti-terrorist provisions tell only part of the story, and in any case, they may soon be overtaken in severity by anti-terrorism amendments being contemplated by the Bush Administration.

One Bush proposal would give the U.S. Attorney-General, on the advice of the FBI, the broad power to declare a person "an alien the Service has reason to believe may further or facilitate acts of terrorism ... or any other activity which endangers the national security of the United States."

The government would not be required to prove that the person has engaged in terrorism, or even that he or she is a member of a group that has done so. Mere suspicion about the potential for future acts would be enough to allow the authorities to detain them and deny asylum. Moreover, under one proposed amendment, such a decision would not be reviewable by any court.

The proposed U.S. anti-terrorist laws would also expand the definition of terrorism to include helping a terrorist organization in any way, including providing "safe house" or "training," and would cover organizations, such as charities or political movements, which contain a "subgroup" that has committed or engaged in terrorism.

It remains to be seen whether the sweeping powers sought by the Bush Administration will be accepted by the U.S. Congress.

"It's still very much up in the air. Formal amendments haven't been introduced," said David Martin, immigration law professor at the University of Virginia and former general counsel to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. "First, we have to decide what we are going to do before you can decide whether you want to harmonize with us."

The enforcement of existing laws is also different in the two countries.

"The U.S. might insist that Canada detain people more often," adds Mr. Krikorian.

Canada is less likely than the United States to detain people who come to the country undocumented, and less likely to detain them while their claims are being adjudicated.

"The Americans are no strangers to jailing people. [Canadians] let them into the general population too easily," says Benjamin Trister, head of the Canadian Bar Association's immigration section. He says the difference has more to do with the cost of detention than with powers under the law.

"We don't follow a policy of detention, but we may see it used more often," predicts immigration lawyer Michael Greene.

Another sticking point is deportation itself -- many people, such as Ahmed Ressam, fail in their refugee claim, but their deportation is not seen through. Ressam left voluntarily, only to return later.

Another area of criticism is the ease with which one can obtain a fake Canadian passport.

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration recently admitted there are some 27,000 outstanding deportation warrants from the past five years for foreigners whose refugee claims were rejected.

While some say the answer is simply stepped-up funding and enforcement, many critics also worry that Canada is not stringent enough in attempting to sort out bona fide refugee claimants from people who may have other intentions, such as the setting up of terrorist sleeper cells. Such laxity helps foreigners quickly integrate into society even before they have established the legitimacy of their claim.

Martin Collacott, former Canadian ambassador to countries in the Middle East and Asia, says the Canadian system is open to abuse. "Overall, we are overwhelmingly easier to get into," says Mr. Collacott. "We simply have a lower bar and we have stretched the definition of refugee."

Canada has granted refugee status to abused spouses and people fleeing from persecution in democratic regimes, he notes. On a per capita basis, we take in more people than the United States.

In Canada, appeals of rejected refugee claims can take many years, during which time the claimants are entitled to welfare, health care and work authorization. In the United States, refugee claimants must rely on their own resources, or private charity, for at least six months or until their cases are decided. The law does not allow them to work right away and does not allow them to work if they appeal their case.

"If I were a refugee claimant, I would choose to come to Canada," says Mr. Waldman. "Why would you want to go to the U.S. when we give you welfare and health care?"

But Mr. Waldman questions whether generosity translates into security risk, noting that most of the hijackers had come into the United States on visitor and student visas, which are not subject to the same scrutiny as refugees and prospective immigrants.

Another sticking point in the harmonization debate may be the absence in Canada of what the Americans call a "credible fear" hearing, held to determine whether a refugee has a reasonable basis for making a claim. About 15% of claimants are rejected at this initial hearing and are subject to "expedited removal" -- swift deportation. Canada has done away with such a hearing, but still requires an immigration officer to determine, at the point of entry, whether someone is eligible to be admitted.

Defenders of the Canadian system also note that some 40-50% of refugee claimants come to Canada from U.S. soil, where they had been admitted as visitors and were free to carry out acts of terrorism before even knocking on Canada's door.

But it is doubtful whether hairsplitting over the details of the legalistic and complex systems can withstand the current pressure to appease American fears.

If, as expected, revised U.S. anti-terrorism legislation is introduced into the House Judiciary Committee this week, Canadian lawmakers will be able to see just how far the United States is willing to go to protect its border -- and to decide whether to follow.

-- brent (bonny@brass.riv), October 01, 2001.

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