NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Tale Of Two Borders

March 15, 2000

The U.S. borders with Canada and with Mexico could hardly be more different. One is heavily fortified and patrolled. The other is mostly open, lightly guarded and porous.

  • An army of nearly 8,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents guards the 2,000-mile Mexican border -- four agents for each mile.
  • Where the Rio Grande and treacherous terrain fail to thwart illegal crossings, the U.S. has erected 12-foot high steel fences.
  • But the 4,000-mile long Canadian border is patrolled by just 311 agents -- a boundary that wanders through prairies, mountains, vast lakes, woods, national parks and even a public library.
  • At Canadian checkpoints, auto traffic flows smoothly, few cars are searched and relatively few travelers are interrogated.
  • There are 30 to 40 miles between some checkpoints and no fences.

When an Algerian was arrested in December for trying to smuggle bomb-making materials into the U.S. at the Port Angeles, Wash., security at the Canadian checkpoints was swiftly beefed up. Traffic at major crossings was backed up -- sometimes in lines three to four miles long. But border officials, believing the threat has diminished, eased up and things were back to normal by late January.

Some officials fear the porous nature of the northern border is still an open invitation to terrorists.

Source: Donna Leinwand and Yasmin Anwar, "America's Guard Is Down on Porous Frontier," USA Today, March 15, 2000.


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