A senior official in the Obama administration doused hopes on Wednesday that the Canadian border will be treated differently than the beefed-up Mexican boundary where drug violence is escalating and countless illegal immigrants flood into the United States every day.
"One of the things that we need to be sensitive to is the very real feelings among southern border states and in Mexico that if things are being done on the Mexican border, they should also be done on the Canadian border," Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, told a Canada-U.S. border conference.
The daylong Brookings Institution event featured dozens of participants from both countries discussing ways in which the movement of goods and people across the Canada-U.S. border could be facilitated. Napolitano's remarks closed the event on an almost depressing note.
"We shouldn't go light on one and heavy on the other," she said of the Canadian and Mexican borders.
"This is one NAFTA, one area, one continent, and there should be parity there. I don't mention this to suggest that everyone in this room will agree with that, I mention it to suggest it's something I have to deal with, and so I ask for your sympathy."
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She later had a sobering message for Canadians hopeful that, under Obama, there would be freer movement of goods and people across a Canada-U.S. border that looks almost Utopian compared to the chaos at the American-Mexican boundary: it's a real border and things aren't easing up anytime soon.
"It's as though there's not a border at all," Napolitano said of the close relationship between the two countries, particularly among those living in border communities.
"People are used to going back and forth, and the hockey teams go back and forth ... people just don't think of it as two different countries. But the reality exists that there's a border there too."
Canadians do think that they have a close relationship to the United States, probably that it's a closer one than Mexico's, what with a shared language and historic patterns of migration and long-standing economic integration and the clustering of our population so close to the border. A cross-border community does exist, as Napolitano said, and until recently was marked by the sort of easy travel that made the community that much more integrated. I myself remember with fondness the procedures that let me cross, with a relative minimum of fuss, over the border to camp in the Five Fingers area or visit the statue of Nikola Tesla on Goat Island in Niagara Fall, NY. As I blogged last 4th of July, the idea of accessing the United States easily appeals to me. Knowing that this is gone, and likely won't return unless we enter a general North American passport union (and at what cost?) makes me sad.