In late July the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing on whether DHS’s international agreements really help to provide the actionable intelligence needed for US border security. This testimony followed on the heels of the release of the DHS Northern Border Strategy, announced by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in June. What makes this unique? For once, it’s not the often-debated Southwest border with Mexico that is being talked about – it’s our northern neighbor, Canada.
Not only is this the first unified strategy to guide the Department’s operations along the U.S.-Canada border, it’s the first unified strategy of its kind. Despite unprecedented levels of resources deployed to the Southwest Border in the last year, as well as a National Counternarcotics Strategy, DHS has never before released such a comprehensive strategy for the management of our borders – let alone the Northern border.
But why the Northern border? What makes it different than the Southwest border? For starters, the size – at 5,500 miles, the US border with Canada covers an expanse almost three times the size of the land border with Mexico. The diverse environments, waterways, terrain, and weather add another layer of complexity – unlike the Southwest border environment, law enforcement officers at the Northern border must be prepared for sun and rain, but also snow and ice, and everything in between. The maritime border component means the Coast Guard of both respective countries are also engaged, in addition to CBP, ICE, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and a host of other federal, state, local, tribal, and private sector partners. But perhaps most importantly, the security concerns are quite different. There are fewer camera systems in place, and far more restrictions that limit or prohibit the use of fences, video, sensors, and other types of surveillance. Important portions of the border are heavily populated by citizens and homeowners, and concerns for the protection of environment and wildlife are paramount. The area has been described as a “patchwork quilt of businesses, parks, public and private land”.
What can the governments of both countries do to work together to protect this “patchwork quilt”? How can they share the vast stores of information on passengers, cargo, and companies in a way that creates transparency and breaks down siloes? Can access to expanded information, paired with new advances in technology and commitments from both parties to work together – particularly through cross-designation of law enforcement officers on the water and on both sides of the border – act as a force multiplier? For a more thorough discussion of these topics, I recommend reading the Post Summit Report released by Deloitte Consulting following this year’s U.S./Canada Border Security Summit. More information can be found at: