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Enhanced border security that crosses the line

Post-9-11, most Americans appreciate the need for stepped-up security along our nation’s borders, north and south alike – provided people’s rights aren’t trampled routinely and with impunity in the process.

Huge sums are being spent on enhancing security, with more to come along the border with Canada, including more drones, electronic surveillance and manned checkpoints in places that once were “guarded” only by plastic highway cones.

This is all detailed in an excellent piece of journalism by Todd Miller at Mother Jones: US Quietly Ramps Up Security Along the Canadian Border.

Evenhandedly, Miller describes things you’ll probably deem necessary and worthwhile security measures, as we do. But you’ll also learn about some disturbing routine practices that cross the thin line that separates due caution and blatant harassment.

The abuse is insidious because if you’ve got red hair, blue eyes and your name is Tim O’Brien, Ben Willis or Guy Sturdevant, your chances of being subjected to it are probably on par with being struck by lightning. But if your first name is Mohammed, one of your parents hailed from the Middle East and you’ve got that sort of Mideast-type look about you, you’re a cinch to be treated as guilty until proven innocent of . . . apparently, being a suspicious type of person.

If you’re a suspicious-type person, all you have to do to wind up in the harassment trap is travel to Canada and go through a U.S. Border Patrol/Customs Service checkpoint on the way back.

How much stepped-up security is too much? Where is that line between due caution and the trampling of a citizen’s rights? What constitutes reasonable cause for suspicion?

If those questions matter to you, take the few minutes required to read Miller’s piece, but be prepared to be disturbed by what you’ll learn.

And if you do that, please swing back by here and share your thoughts in a comment.



  1. Bill Cook says:

    They built a big new border patrol station here, we raise enough hell about them that they try to keep a low profile.

  2. Dave Dubya says:

    “Papers, please” America is here. It’s just now a matter of degree.

    I’ve never had any issues at the border returning from Canada. Of course I would always have a case or two of some good Canadian beer with me. Usually the official would wave me through without a formal declaration.

    But those were the old days.

    Now I’n thirsty for some Brador, Carlsberg Gold, and Molson Export. Yes their Export is better if you import it.

  3. Tom Harper says:

    Over-the-top border security is a big issue here in Port Angeles. An actual terrorist, from Algeria, was captured here in 1999 before he could carry out his plans. At the time, Port Angeles had four Border Patrol agents stationed here. That number has been expanding exponentially since then, and we’ll soon have forty Border Patrol agents here, plus a smaller contingent of ICE agents.

    Nobody seems to know or explain why we were able to thwart a terrorist bombing plot with four Border Patrol agents, but now we need ten times that many agents.

  4. S.W. Anderson says:

    Bill, I’m surprised that raising hell about them has much effect. When they go past reasonable measures people should raise hell. Still, I don’t want those guarding our borders to become so tame, or so alienated by criticism, that they don’t do an effective job. I think the case Miller detailed in his story is a perfect example of going too far and being unreasonable.

    Dave, it’s sad 9-11 had to come along and change everything. But it did, showing us we had been courting disaster all along. Somewhere between the extremes of being loose and lackadaisical and behaving like some 1940’s middle European dictatorship, we’ve got to find a sensible balance.

    Re: Canadian beer. I’m trying to process your thing about Molson Export being better if imported. 🙂

    Tom, you raise a good question. Four seems skimpy, but 40 sounds a bit much. Probably great for stoking the black-helicopters paranoia of some of our less well-balanced citizens, though.

  5. Dave Dubya says:

    Molson Export can be confusing. They keep the best “Export” and send us the green bottles more prone to light and and other freshness spoilers. And I think theirs has a little higher alcohol content.

    Can’t blame them for keeping the better stuff. Of course, thanks to the boom in microbrews we have much better beer over here now.

  6. Shaw Kenawe says:

    A close friend’s son is routinely stopped and questioned whenever he travels by plane. He is half Irish, half Italian heritage, but favors his Italian side of his genes. He has black hair, is NOT fair skinned, and wears a beard. So the officials see him as an Arab. Happens to him all the time.

    Just yesterday a male relative traveled to Canada. He’s 100% Italian heritage–dark complexion, black hair, ethnic features. I wonder what will happen to him when he re-enters the US.

    This is nuts.

    1. S.W. Anderson says:

      Shaw, that’s amazing. It’s also very troubling. One thing that jumped out at me in Miller’s story is the need for a safe list, especially for people who travel back and forth regularly. Once on the safe list, people should no longer be subjected to handcuffs, extended detainment and questioning unless they say or do something to provoke that kind of treatment. What’s being done now to people like Miller’s example is abusive and a waste of time and effort.

  7. Jack Jodell says:

    It is shameful to see how paranoid neocons like W, Cheney, and Rumsfeld have adversely affected this country and the world by trampling all over our basic human rights. I am thoroughly disgusted.

  8. Snave says:

    Jack, I think you’re right.. along with a couple of the guys he added to the Supreme Court, this mass national paranoia may be one of Dubya’s “greatest legacies”.

  9. S.W. Anderson says:

    Jack and Snave, unfortunately this is going on now, long after Bush and his accomplices moved on. Apparently, the Obama administration is either OK with current practices or hasn’t paid close enough attention to notice and deal with those that are abusive. Either way, this is a very troubling situation that needs to be corrected.

  10. S.W. Anderson says:

    This is a test comment again.