The top two senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said Tuesday the federal government has control of only 32 miles of the 4,000-mile-border with Canada, providing terrorists with what could be an easier entry point than the southern border.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and committee chairman, said that the lack of a strong defense along the northern border is "absolutely alarming" and that it leaves the American public "grossly underprotected" from terrorist attacks, drug smugglers and other illegal activity.
"The Department of Homeland Security has concluded that the risk of terrorist activity across our northern border is actually higher than across our southern border," Mr. Lieberman told reporters, after releasing a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that said DHS could do a better job of border defense. "The report also finds that less than 1 percent of the border is under operational control — less than 1 percent of our northern border."
The report found that the interagency task forces established by DHS could do a better job of sharing information and making sure they're not duplicating efforts.
Matt Chandler, DHS spokesman, responded by saying the department has "made critical security improvements along the northern border, deploying additional Border Patrol agents, technology and infrastructure" and is in the process of finalizing a "northern border strategy" that will address some of GAO's concerns.
"DHS is also reviewing the inventory of interagency forums to assess efficiency and identify challenges, and [Customs and Border Protection] and [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] will continue to work together to improve coordination of northern border enforcement activities and ensure compliance with existing interagency agreements — addressing additional key GAO recommendations," he said.
The northern border long has been overshadowed by its southern counterpart, thanks to the huge flow of illegal immigrants that has traditionally come from the south and the recent uptick in violence related to the drug trade between Mexico and the United States.
A new study released Tuesday by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, said that roughly 11.2 million illegal immigrants lived in the United States last year, a number that remained virtually unchanged from 2009. The report represented a leveling off of the population after an 8 percent drop between 2007 and 2009, which many attributed to the poor economy and stiffer enforcement along the Mexican border.
But with the southern border garnering most of the attention, concerns have been raised that its northern counterpart is being overlooked.
Two years ago, Mr. Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the committee, requested the GAO report back on the level of cooperation and information-sharing among DHS and law enforcement agencies in Canada, and on the state and local levels in the U.S. border states.
"Historically, the United States has focused attention and resources primarily on the U.S. border with Mexico, which continues to experience significantly higher levels of drug trafficking and illegal immigration than the U.S.-Canadian border," the GAO report found. "However, DHS reports that the terrorist threat on the northern border is higher, given the large expanse of area with limited law enforcement coverage."
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