Does 'Smarter' Lead to Safer? An Assessment of the Border Accords with Canada and Mexico
The events that unfolded in the U.S. on September 11 generated a renewed sense of urgency over border management strategies along the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders. Recognizing that a unilateral approach to security would be ineffective, bilateral Smart Border agreements were reached between the U.S. and Canada as well as the U.S. and Mexico in December 2001 and March 2002, respectively. The intent of these bilateral agreements was to preserve the flows of tourism and commerce between these NAFTA neighbors, while concurrently bolstering security efforts. This Insight report tracks the implementation of these border accords and seeks to evaluate their effectiveness. In addition, it highlights outstanding challenges, key recommendations for policymakers, and draws conclusions regarding factors that make their efforts more, or less, successful.
The report finds that in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, both Canada and Mexico took internal measures to heighten domestic security. In Canada, an AntiTerrorism Plan allocated $5 billion to increase Customs, Immigration, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police staffing; improve screening of immigrants, refugees and visitors; enhance infrastructure protection and emergency preparedness; strengthen border-security; and increase the use of detention. The Anti-Terrorism Act, introduced just one month following the attacks, provided new investigative tools to law enforcement and national security agencies and facilitated the freezing of assets and collection of information on terrorist financing. In addition, Canada’s long planned immigration reform became effective in June 2002. In Mexico, efforts were taken to increase staffing and security along the Guatemalan border and to bolster security and monitoring at airports and ports-of-entry. Moreover, efforts were made to improve document security, including producing high-tech, fraud resistant ID cards, or Matriculas Consulares.
The report also finds that, albeit to varying degrees, the bilateral agreements encouraged the development of innovative approaches to managing border security. In Canada, the Smart Border accord led to the creation of the jointly operated NEXUS fast-lane program, the planned expansion of Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBETs), a draft agreement on Safe Third Countries for asylum-seekers and a Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program, among other initiatives. In addition, the accord also encouraged the harmonization of visa policies, data-sharing and biometrics standards between the U.S. and Canada. In Mexico, the 22 point agreement reached by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Interior Minister Santiago Creel included provisions related to the secure flow of people, goods, and infrastructure. Among its accomplishments are inter-governmental meetings, the creation of working groups and task forces, the training of officials on fraud detection, and a focus on infrastructure protection, enhanced surveillance, and contingency planning. Most notably, the accord provided a platform from which to further coordination and cooperation between the Mexican and U.S. governments.
Based on these findings, the author recommends that all three countries prioritize the development of a long-term strategy for North American integration; resolve ongoing challenges at the border, including delays, outdated infrastructure and smuggling; strengthen institutional capacities, and; engage in a public education campaign to transform traditional misperceptions that pose barriers to policy implementation.