Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano eyes Canada-U.S. border

Posted by admin on Jan 28th, 2009

By Shadi Elien, Georgia Straight. January 28, 2009

Strengthening the Canada-U.S. border has become one of Janet Napolitano’s first initiatives in her new role as the United States’ secretary of homeland security. Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, is the first woman and third person to take on the job. Mere days after taking office, she has asked for a comprehensive review of the 4,000-mile-long border between Canada and the contiguous United States.

“The northern border of the United States has become, since 9/11, important to our national security,” read a press release issued on January 23 by the Department of Homeland Security.

Reports that examine the vulnerability of the border, as well as what programs and funding are required to improve security, will be released on February 10 and 17.

A November 2008 report by the United States Government Accountability Office concluded that a “large expanse of areas with limited law enforcement presence provide potential for terrorists and other criminal elements to enter the United States undetected at or between the northern ports of entry”.

Harsha Walia, a local immigration activist and No One Is Illegal organizer, wasn’t surprised to learn about Napolitano’s focus on Canada’s border.

“Fear-mongering and the ability to use really evocative rhetoric around security and terror have proven very effective unfortunately, forcing the population to become complacent and uncritical,” she told the Straight in a phone interview.

“It’s a mythology that leads people to believe that the border is insecure, when the reality is that the border is already fortified,” Walia added, citing the Safe Third Country Agreement as proof that Canada is focused on secure border crossings.

In a statement last year to the House committee on homeland security, Jayson Ahern, deputy commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said: “Over $100 million has been appropriated in FY 2008 for the construction of ports of entry on the northern border. By the end of FY 2009, CBP intends to have 1,500 Border Patrol agents deployed on the northern border, a 30 percent increase over current staffing and a 500 percent increase over FY 2001 staffing levels.”

Homeland Security’s Northern Border Project aims to integrate the air, land, and maritime assets of Customs and Border Protection and deploy video and mobile surveillance along selected areas of the border.

The use of video and mobile surveillance is upsetting to Walia, who fears that the increased use of such technology could result in an atmosphere which normalizes the invasion of people’s privacy without the “visible and tangible symbols of being monitored”.

“It’s a cliché but it goes back to George Orwell’s 1984 idea that the most effective method of surveillance and creating a police state is to make it not evident that you’ve created such a state to the people who live in it,” she said.

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