It’s Time to Look North

Has racism blinded Trump’s administration from considering potential threats along the northern border?

By Timothy K. DesJarlais, University of Arizona


The border between the United States and Mexico has always been an icon for American security.

Even before the era of Donald Trump, politicians and pundits alike toyed with the idea of building a massive southern wall. While the idea for a wall originates as far back as the 1920s during the Prohibition Era, the “Secure Fence Act” was not signed until 2006, under President George Bush.

The bill provided for additional barriers, checkpoints and fencing along nearly 700 miles of the US-Mexico border. To add some perspective, the actual border is 1,900 miles long (including natural barriers like the Rio Grande in Texas).

In 2011, President Obama claimed the border fence was completed, an assertion many Republicans disputed and even PolitiFact agreed was false. Although approximately 700 miles of fencing or barriers of some sort were erected, much of the border still did not have a barrier. Remember, barriers include even small, flimsy barbed-wire fences.

Border-security issues hit close to home for me, being a lifelong resident of Tucson, a city located a little more than 40 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. Throughout my life, I have heard countless political figures from senators to congressmen call for some kind of means to secure the border.

Securing the Wrong Border

image via Mother Jones

In 2016, though, Donald Trump emerged as a candidate who claimed that he would actually build a wall along the border. After his promise became a rallying cry throughout his campaign, he has since signed an executive order to begin the process.

Rather than get bogged down in the debate of whether we should or shouldn’t have a wall along our southern border, I want to address a different, related issue. The U.S.-Canada border is massive compared to the U.S.-Mexico border. It measures 3,987 miles, which doesn’t include the border between Canada and Alaska.

As far as I know, in comparison to the U.S.-Mexico border, no official barriers have been erected or proposed along the U.S.-Canada border. Security measures are taken, and the U.S. Border Patrol do guard the Canadian border, but why does it fail to receive the same attention as the U.S.-Mexico border?

In fact, Trump was so desperate to portray the border with Mexico as a national security threat that his campaign aired an ad depicting hordes of immigrants storming across the border. Later, America found out the video footage was actually from Morocco and had nothing to do with the U.S.-Mexico border.

I do believe in securing borders, but if President Trump really wanted to “make America safe again,” why has he seemingly disregarded the Canadian border as another zone needing to be secured? In fact, research shows illegal immigration, especially from Mexico, has been on the decline. Even more interestingly, many illegal immigrants in the United States are people who simply overstayed their visas, a good portion of people coming from Canada and Europe.

It’s important to note that Canada is not dealing with the same widespread issues of cartel and drug violence as Mexico. And for the moment, illegal immigration from the north is not enough to grab the headlines, but one possible future threat to the United States from the north, ironically enough, could become more likely thanks to President Trump himself.

Recently, the Trump Administration made a botched attempt to institute a temporary ban on refugees and travelers from the Middle East as a way of keeping the “bad hombres” out. Despite little to no evidence, President Trump is convinced that refugees escaping to America are actually Trojan horses for terrorist cells and criminal networks.

The Department of Homeland Security does have rigorous screening processes, but can and should improve them, although for the moment, their efforts seem to have been successful with no major breaches.

Securing the Wrong Border

image via Arquivos Reporter

In response to President Trump’s refugee ban, however, Canada immediately announced they would receive any Syrian refugees turned away from the United States. Some would say that if Canada wants to expose themselves to the threat of being “infiltrated by terrorists,” it’s their choice. The situation becomes much more complicated, though, especially when you examine the security situation along the US-Canada border.

If President Trump and his administration use the logic that refugees are fronts for terrorist cells, then Canada is welcoming them into their own country. But, even more, terrorist cells can still infiltrate the United States through the porous northern border.

Some believe that just because Mexico is “filled with crime and criminals,” the country will also be the backdoor for ISIS fighters from the Middle East. In reality, Mexico has some of the strictest immigration laws in the Americas, and, additionally, due to its own political climate, Mexico is not a common destination for Middle East asylum-seekers.

I do not intend to scare anyone by suggesting ISIS and Al Qaeda cells have infiltrated refugees in Canada and are attempting to penetrate our northern border, but even the FBI agreed that the northern border poses a security threat and mentioned some of my aforementioned concerns.

So, why haven’t more people considered the Canadian border an issue, especially people like the pervasively white, older base supporting President Trump? While I do not inject race into everything and believe many issues go beyond skin color, I have a deepening suspicion that negative stereotypes of Mexico and Mexicans are complemented by America’s positive views of Canadians, as English-speaking, whiter and more Anglo-Saxon than the nation’s southern neighbors.

Thus, I believe Canada, not Mexico, would be the ideal launching ground for terrorist cells to infiltrate America because if they do so, President Trump and his supporters would never see the attack coming, for they will be too busy staring south.