Cooperation is key
to better security
By Vashti Van Wyke, and Deborah Waller Meyers
The terrorist attacks on America had an unexpected effect along our northern border. For days following the assault, factories in Michigan and Ontario were silenced, and millions of dollars in goods were left sitting idle on both sides of the border. This impressive, self-imposed blockade made it abundantly clear that our old system of federal border management became obsolete on Sept. 11.
Reacting in fear, some argued that ensuring greater security would require us to sacrifice efficient trade and commerce across the border. But nothing could be further from the truth. Cross-border cooperation on security goes hand-in-hand with increased trade efficiency along the border. By working with Canada to separate frequent and pre-approved crossers from those who are unknown -- and may pose a potential risk -- the United States can increase security while speeding the crossing of legitimate goods and people.
Put simply, more cooperation, not less, will make us all safer and more prosperous on both sides of the border. In December, federal officials from both countries came to Detroit to announce they had signed a Joint Statement of Cooperation on Border Security and Regional Migration Issues. This move toward creating a "smarter" border is a step in the right direction. If properly funded and implemented, it will likely bear fruit in the future.
Federal authorities in the United States and Canada need not look far for proof that this kind of cooperation works. In fact, local officials, citizens, business people, and law enforcement authorities in Detroit and Windsor have been quietly making cross-border cooperation a way of life for years.
The most celebrated form of local collaboration has been in matters of trade and economic integration, an obvious fit for communities on both sides of the border. After all, Canada is the largest U.S. trading partner, and the province of Ontario alone is our fourth largest partner (after Canada, Mexico and Japan); the Detroit/Windsor border crossings handle more than one-third of all trade between the United States and Canada; 27 percent of all trade between the two countries crosses Michigan's Ambassador Bridge; and Canada trades more with Michigan than any other US state, purchasing 58 percent of Michigan's exports in 2000.
But cross-border cooperation on nontrade issues has also been a local instinct for decades. For instance, the Great Lakes Mayors Conference, created in the 1980s, convenes annually to discuss common border issues; the Windsor-based Tunnel Bus helps commuters, concert goers, sports fans and casino patrons cross the Detroit River; conservationists and government officials from both sides of the Detroit River work to protect shared waterways, establish recreational Greenways and restore natural habitats; and Port Huron and Sarnia, Ontario have an agreement to share emergency response equipment and personnel. More recently, the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments has secured funding for cross-border, binational projects under federal transportation legislation; the joint U.S.-Canada preclearance program (NEXUS) was opened recently at the Blue Water Bridge; the University of Windsor's NAFTA tuition program allows Americans to pay the lower tuition rates; and joint Canadian-American law enforcement teams working against cross-border smuggling rings hold monthly meetings of the Northern Border Intelligence group.
These creative solutions to cross-border problems need not be only a local phenomenon.
The proposal made in early January by Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow to conduct "reverse inspections" -- meaning inspecting vehicles before they cross bridges and tunnels into the United States -- is an example of creative thinking at the federal level that can improve security while enhancing cross-border cooperation and trade. It's common sense that we are all safer if the cars and trucks crossing our bridges and tunnels have been checked for bombs and other contraband before they enter the country.
Doing so requires not only increased security cooperation, reciprocal posting of customs and immigration personnel, and greater intelligence sharing between the US and Canada, but also -- and perhaps most important -- a willingness to think differently about how we manage the border.
Just as governments, business leaders, environmental activists, and private citizens in the Detroit and Windsor areas have found ways to solve local border problems together, so too the national governments will have to work together to make more effective management of our borders a reality. We have seen the stunning results of U.S.-Canada cooperation on trade and other matters; now let's reap the results of a similar collaboration on security.
Wyke is communications director and Deborah Waller Meyers is a policy
analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Both
writers are originally from Michigan.
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