Tight U.S. security at border slammed

Military-style searches crippling


Monica Wolfson, Windsor Star

Published: Friday, October 26, 2007
The Windsor-Detroit border crossings have become like military checkpoints, a frustrated Detroit chamber of commerce vice-president said Thursday.
"There used to be spontaneous travellers that would go to Detroit for lunch," Sarah Hubbard said at a border security conference at Casino Windsor.
"The shopping centres were full of Ontario licence plates. We want the Canadians, but every time a barrier is put up to create more problems. Every time we get more people (working at the border), we have more bureaucracy."

BACKUPS: Motorists line up to enter the Windsor/Detroit tunnel. Delays are only going to get longer, say officials, as the U.S. tightens security at the border.


Travellers better not expect things to improve, officials said, forecasting security will get tighter to protect the U.S. from terrorists and other scourges, like drugs and illegal immigrants.
"It's not going to be better tomorrow," said Robert Trotter, a retired regional commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"When they put more officers (at the land border), what do you think they are wanted to do?" said Trotter, who still trains supervisors.
"They are supposed to find drugs, illegal immigrants, currency.
(The U.S. government) wants a return on its investment. They want accountability."
Trotter was a panelist at the international conference on border security co-ordinated by Texas A&M University and Dalhousie University. The University of Windsor was host.
TRADE IMPACT
The conference brought together academics, government officials and business executives to discuss how trade is affected by border security.
Hubbard scoffed at government websites that list average border wait times, suggesting they don't reflect the true delays at peak times.
She said Nexus and Fast programs, meant to help commuters and regular truck traffic get through quicker, don't work in Detroit because travellers are backed up into the tunnel or on the bridge, preventing anyone from getting speedy passage.
Hubbard also complained that border officials are implementing arbitrary quotas to check identification or search cars instead of allowing border guards flexibility in taking a "risk-based assessment" approach.
"We know something is creating these backups," she said.
In response to Hubbard's criticism, Gregory McCann, assistant director for trade operations in Detroit for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said law enforcement is trying to balance the need for flowing trade and finding terrorists.
"Trade is at record levels," McCann said. "(U.S. Customs and Border Protection) contend to make efforts strong in facilitating trade and maintaining security. We don't see those missions as conflicting."
Researchers at the conference showed that the burden of increased border security is being shouldered by Canadian businesses.
"The pain is disproportionately on smaller businesses and automotive suppliers, not General Motors or Ford, who have the resources to adjust to delays," said Wayne Glass, director of grants at Schoolcraft College in Livonia.
"We don't want (government) to wantonly introduce regulations. They need to do a cost-benefit analysis."
Many Canadian businesses have moved away from "just-in-time delivery" to a "just-in-case" approach. They have constructed warehouses in the U.S. to store goods to deal with border delays that can add six to eight hours to a delivery.
"The effect (of new inspection fees and tighter border security) is to penalize cross-border trade and benefit inter-state travel," said Lynda Watson, director of the U.S. commercial relations division for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
Over the next few years U.S. border security will probably get more stringent, Trotter said.
The U.S. Congress probably won't relent on requiring a passport at a land border crossing as early as next summer because land travellers are the most difficult to assess, Trotter said.
BIOMETRICS WAY TO GO
"These people land right in front of you," Trotter said. "Biometrics is the way of the future. I think that's how we'll get around this."
Biometrics are digital fingerprints, pictures and retina scans. The U.S. already takes that kind of data from visa holders travelling into the U.S. by air.