This past summer, US and Canadian border control agencies put some of the finishing touches to the joint Beyond the Border Action Plan, a protocol to track the comings and goings of their respective residents into each other’s territory. That sounds mundane, but since neither country had consistent means of tracking when visitors actually left to return home, there used to be no easy way to identify or capture information about those who flouted the laws and stayed longer than they were welcome.
The Action Plan works on the principle that when a Canadian drives out of the country, he can end up in only one place: the United States. And when an American crosses over her northern border, she can end up only in Canada. Thus, by sharing the entry/exit data, American and Canadian border control agencies know not only when an alien enters their country, but also—perhaps more important—when one leaves.
And from now on, Canadian and US authorities will know when you leave on your winter vacation as well as when you return. By knowing exactly when you entered and when you exited—and thus how long you stayed—they will know whether you are a “taxable” alien, whether you have complied with the terms of your visa if you’re a student or a part-time worker/consultant, or whether you are an unemployment cheat (collecting Canadian benefits while working on your Florida tan).
That’s the story on the northern border. And then you look at the other one, 1,900 miles from southernmost Texas, through lawless, furnace-like deserts, to California’s Pacific coast: as different as two borders can be. Through much of that border, inhabited mostly by lizards and snakes, flow thousands of migrants daily, from Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize, El Salvador, Mexico, and who knows where else, all of them adding to the millions of other undocumented aliens—many of them children, all of them poor.
American legislators have for years been attempting to reform America’s immigration laws but have been hung up on how to mitigate the political fallout. Politicians catering to the country’s Hispanic community are determined to find some road to citizenship or amnesty for the 11 million or so undocumented aliens already in the country. President Obama is committed to this course, and if he carries through on his pledge to stop deportations (which never really got started in a meaningful way), and grants what amounts to amnesty, the Homeland Security and immigration apparatus in the country will be so overloaded that foreign applicants for green cards (legal permanent residency)—and those for other visa categories for skilled workers and professionals from other parts of the world (including Canada)—will just have to wait, and wait longer.
Republicans, and a growing number of Democrats, insist that until there is a controlled southern border, any attempt to ameliorate the undocumented immigrants already in the country will be a powerful inducement for millions of others to give that treacherous journey a try, as dangerous as it is.
Many Canadians have asked me how they might migrate to the US to rejoin family members, to position themselves for certain jobs, or to retire in more salubrious weather, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from suggesting they try crossing the Rio Grande. That’s a joke, folks.