Congress introduced legislation that would substantially increase the number of border guards along the Canadian border following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
More than 20 senators asked President Bush to allocate money to strengthen the border between the United States and Canada. Specifically, they asked to triple the number of Immigration and Naturalization Service, Border Patrol and Customs Service agents at the border, and improve the security infrastructure at key ports of entry.
Other measures pending at press time called for inspections by hand of every shipment that comes into the United States. Although that particular measure is unlikely to succeed, the strengthened security efforts and border delays have raised alarms among trucking groups. In the days immediately following the attacks, traffic at the U.S. borders with Canada – and Mexico – ground to a halt.
After the attack, Customs put the borders on Level One alert, which calls for “sustained, intensive anti-terrorist operations,” Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner told members of a U.S. Senate committee in early October. “Despite initial concerns about our Level One alert placing an undue burden upon normal border flows, we have in fact succeeded in reducing waiting times at the border to levels they were at prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.”
Border traffic will have to return to normal if the U.S. economy is to rebound, says American Trucking Associations economist Bob Costello.
Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner, and more than $1 billion in exports and imports move across the border each day. Mexico is now the second largest trading partner of the United States, and while cross-border commerce is hindered by security and disputes over the North American Free Trade Agreement, any slowdown will hurt.
“The economies of the U.S., Canada and Mexico are linked,” Costello says. “If we sneeze, they get a cold.”
More than 80 percent of freight that moves between the United States and Mexico moves by truck. At the Canadian border, a truck clears customs every 2.5 seconds, says David Bradley, CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
“Our two economies are too integrated. Too many jobs in too many communities on both sides of the border rely on trade moving efficiently.”
Trade and political groups in both countries are now considering steps that would streamline differences in U.S. and Canadian customs and immigration with a goal of eliminating the need for tight border controls between the two countries. The move would create a perimeter security border around both countries.
While Canadians are concerned that such a move would threaten Canada’s sovereignty, businesses are pushing that move. Bradley says until that issue is addressed, it will not be possible to eliminate border disruptions due to security.