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Chuck Around New York

Border Security
By Senator Charles Schumer

Democrat and Chronicle Op/Ed - 9/10/08

While the Department of Homeland Security has taken many steps to strengthen our defenses in the seven years since the terrorist attacks of 9-11, they have unfortunately also missed many opportunities to make us safer. One of the DHS’s most glaring – and least publicized – omissions is the failure to develop and pursue a coherent strategy for securing our northern border.

DHS’s central goal should be to protect our northern border without crippling cross-border commerce or the travel and tourism industry. According to the Canadian Consulate, Canada is New York’s largest trading partner and Canada trade is related to 348,000 jobs in New York State. Any security plan should address the concerns of local business leaders and the law enforcement community where the economy relies on Canadian trade and commerce.

Faced with this challenge, the DHS's response has been piecemeal and ineffective. The administration’s harebrained scheme to require passports at the border did not address the need for both security and commerce along the northern border. I was successful in delaying implementation of this plan so that New York State could, after much effort on my part, develop the enhanced drivers licenses. This new driver’s license - which will be available in just a few days - shows that we can protect security while facilitating legitimate trade and travel.

Moreover, DHS has treated the northern border as an afterthought, rather than a top priority. Repeated investigations by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office have found serious weaknesses in Customs and Border Protection efforts to secure the northern border. The agency lacks critical handheld radiation detectors, and has not adequately trained its officers on how to verify licenses to import radioactive materials. Undercover investigators have crossed the U.S.-Canada border without detection, even while carrying a duffel bag that could easily be used by terrorists to transport radioactive materials for a dirty bomb.

Meanwhile, our border agencies are struggling with severe and chronic under-staffing. Our border officers are dedicated and diligent, but they cannot protect us without adequate manpower, equipment, and training.

We must close these loopholes -- and fast -- even while we explore other potential weaknesses that must also be shored up. To be successful, DHS must focus on creative solutions, like the enhanced drivers license, that better achieves both security and efficient commerce along the US-Canada border.

It will be up to the next administration to devise and implement a comprehensive, tailored plan to protect our northern border. Our new president should begin by conducting a comprehensive risk assessment so that we understand the unique nature of the security challenge on our northern border. We can then move on to providing the resources and creative strategies that have been dangerously lacking for far too long.

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