Patrolling the U.S./Canada Border

Doesn't the DHS have anything else to do?

As someone who believes that our nation has a right to enforce its borders, I should have been gratified when the Immigrations official at the border saw the canoe on our car and informed us that anyone who crossed the nearby international waterway illegally would be arrested and fined as much as $5,000.

Trouble is, the river wasn't the Rio Grande, but the St. Croix, which defines the border between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. And the threat of arrest wasn't aimed at illegal immigrants or terrorists but at canoeists like myself.

The St. Croix is a wild river that flows through unpopulated country. Primitive campsites are maintained on both shores, some accessible by logging roads, but most reached only by water or by bushwhacking for miles through thick forest and marsh. There are easier ways to sneak into the U.S. from Canada. According to Homeland Security regulations, however, canoeists who begin their trip in Canada cannot step foot on American soil, thus putting half the campsites off limits. It is not an idle threat; the U.S. Border Patrol makes regular helicopter flights down the river.

Posted on June 17, 2010 at 6:57 AM • 82 Comments


Clive RobinsonJune 17, 2010 7:13 AM

I guess the $5000 gives a clue, as to part of the intent.

However they DHS employees had better be very very careful rivers move with time, what was US soil might now be Canadian soil and the opposite.

Also there is an encumbered on the authorities to give due warning by suitable posts and notices etc otherwise it can be said they are deliberately performing an entrapment which tends to be a no no in US courts.

Shay O'ByrneJune 17, 2010 7:25 AM

I have been down this river a few times, we always cross the border into Vanceboro, ME where we rent a canoe to go on our two day trip down the river. I suppose we would technically be breaking the law if we then landed on the Canadian side without clearing customs. Fortunately, Canada patrols the border with far less zeal than our American cousins.

DJune 17, 2010 7:30 AM

And how, pray tell, do they determine from up in the air that you started your aquatic travels on the Canadian side? Maybe they're landing to ask. And no one would lie. "I'm camped on the U.S. side so I *started* on the U.S. side."

$5,000 is probably the amount of money they waste on running the helicopter between catches.

MorleyJune 17, 2010 7:31 AM

For a long time, both out countries would boast about having the longest unprotected border in the world. Guess those days are over.

M WelinderJune 17, 2010 7:48 AM

I am fairly sure that ships in distress have a right
to seek safety based on treaties dating back to
when the Queen of Hearts was just a little girl.

MuffinJune 17, 2010 8:01 AM

Well, you DO have to keep out all the Canadians that are trying to enter the USA in search of quality healthcare and legalized marijuana use, don't you.

@Clive Robinson: I doubt the fines are even going to begin covering the expenses involved in helicopter flights and everything else necessary in collecting them.

ErinJune 17, 2010 8:08 AM

"Trouble is, the river wasn't the Rio Grande, but the St. Croix, which defines the border between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada."

Gee, that doesn't sound racist or anything.

kingsnakeJune 17, 2010 8:12 AM

Nothing racist about it: The Rio Grande is anything but "grande", and really not much more than a trickle.

Frank Ch. EiglerJune 17, 2010 8:13 AM

Wait a minute. The original article isn't even complaining of actual contact with the DHS, just dreaming about helicopter ninjas. And this is to be taken seriously why?

Clive RobinsonJune 17, 2010 8:19 AM

@ Muffin,

"I doubt the fines are even going to begin covering the expenses involved in helicopter flights and everything else necessary in collecting them."

It's not the value of the money it's self but the fact that they can say they have levied fines / prosecutions / cautions etc etc to get their numbers up to appear as though they are actually doing something useful with US tax dollars.

I wonder what the multiplication factor is between each dollar of fine and the publicity value it has 100 100,000 100,000,000?

Or to put it another way lets say they write out a nominal fine for 10USD what is it actually worth in extracting cash from the tax purse?

evilteqJune 17, 2010 8:29 AM

Excuse my ignorance, I'm European... aren't US citizens allowed to enter Canada (and viceversa) freely?

Count 0June 17, 2010 8:56 AM

Not anymore. I think technically people were always supposed to check in with immigration, but no one ever cared about the US Canadian border before.

Now you need a passport and have to check in with the "Authorities" any time you cross the border period. It has gotten so ridiculous that they actually installed gates in the small town of Derby Line, Vt. I guess that's to keep them damn Canadians and there health care where they belong!

I also wonder how this works exactly in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. There is no way other than air or water to get to most of that border area and I would be seriously pissed to have my wilderness outing spoiled by some border patrol a-hole in a helicopter.

OrenJune 17, 2010 9:04 AM

I have to point out that although Canada has never wanted a European-style Customs union, the trend was to make border crossing easier (and it was always pretty easy before; no ID required usually). The paranoia and stupidity of the last 10 years has been driven entirely from Washington DC.

nobodySpecialJune 17, 2010 9:04 AM

@evilteq - you can now only enter at officially manned border crossing points (a bit like the old east Germany - but without the wall) unfortunately it's a long border, so the nearest official border post might be 100s of km away.

There is a lake near here which crosses the border and was promoted as a popular tourist route for both Americans and Canadians. Unfortunately there is only a manned border crossing at one side of the lake, so the scenic loop has now become a scenic 'C'. And all the towns and tourist businesses around the lake are dying.

MikeJune 17, 2010 9:08 AM

Very immature thinking to suggest the Canadian border is not as important as the Mexican border. Furthermore, it quite arrogant to think the laws shouldn't apply in your case because it is a remote area. This is exactly what the truly dangerous terrorists are looking.

nobodySpecialJune 17, 2010 9:10 AM

> Count 0
They have thought of that - the border in inaccessible areas is to be patrolled by predator drones.
This also has the advantage that by classifying them as international flights (rather than police/DHS operations) they can stray into Canadian airspace.

kiwanoJune 17, 2010 9:13 AM

I blame the paperwork and technology that has made legal border crossings progressively easier. For decades, sailors on the Great Lakes (and I'm assuming any other waterway joining Canada and the US) had been able to get a form I-68 (Canadian Border Boat Landing Permit) which reduced the customs clearing obligation to phoning in a 1-800 number on the back of the form, telling them that you'd crossed the border, and writing down yur clearance number. That's been phased out in favour of the Nexus pass (same process, differently designed and more versatile document).

If you can get a cell signal at your campsites (which you should be able to, since the St. Croix isn't _that_ far off the beaten path), just bring a cellphone and a Nexus pass. Problem solved. A good border guard should have had the sense to tell you about this when warning you about the fine (and before the I-68/Nexus and cellphone option, there was probably some other customs preclearance procedure).

But yeah, it'd be nice if we could entirely abandon the notion that we need to control the Canada/U.S. border (as much as that may put a damper on duty free shopping).

ChelloveckJune 17, 2010 9:24 AM

@nobodySpecial - That's a perfect example of what we're trying to keep out of these United States. "The nearest official border post might be 100s of km away", indeed. We don't take kindly to that kind of talk. We use *miles* around these parts, not those commie "killer-meters". Once you let in people who talk of "killer-meters" per "leeters" of "pettrol", the next thing you know we'll have socialized medicine, legalized pot, and be spending Monopoly money. And then the terrorists will have *won*!

Seriously, though, as an American living near the Detroit/Windsor crossings, I'm utterly appalled at what our elected officials think will keep us safe. And even after we voted to throw the bums out, the next set of bums turn out to be just as bad in that respect.

BiwaJune 17, 2010 9:26 AM

Committed terrorists would come in legally on student or other visas (very easy to fake identities if you're already known): no need to try something stupid like sneaking over in a canoe.

And to be realistic, the border problem down south isn't with terrorist Mexicans, it's with hard-working laborers crossing the border.

HJohnJune 17, 2010 9:31 AM

I don't have too much concern for complaints about how the US handles its southern border, especially considering that Mexico has the toughest immigration laws on the continent, expecially in regards to their border with Guatemala.

As far as Canada goes, I cross several times a year without much issue. Usually I get the same treatment regardless of which country I'm entering. I've only crossed at three places though (Ambassador Bridge, Detroit Tunnel, and Niagra Falls) so I admit I don't have the whole picture. But I fail to see where it is unreasonable where both countries expect me to come through their front door and not their window, so to speak. If I were to cross back into the US at a river rather than at entrance, they have no magical way to know that I'm a US citizen coming home rather than a foriegner sneaking in without asking me, and of course they are going to say "if you cross at an unauthorized place we will confront you"--what else do you want them to announce?

Clearly, we can all understand why more attention is paid to the southern border. And no, Erin, it is not motivated by racism. But an insecure nothern border is like bolting the door and propping open the window. As I've seen stated on this very blog, if there is an easy way and a hard way, you invite intruders to take the easy way.

I wish open borders were realistic, but sadly, they just aren't.

matt aJune 17, 2010 9:49 AM

I thought it was over in Washington state area, but wasn't someone caught bringing explosives (in the trunk of a car) from Canada a few years back? Seems worth keeping an eye on...

Captain JusticeJune 17, 2010 9:51 AM

I think that the Americans are still a bit (quite justifiably) sore about Alan Thicke, Celine Dion, and now Justin Bieber sneaking into the country, and have stepped up efforts to combat this type of cultural terrorism.

ConfirmedJune 17, 2010 9:55 AM

"But an insecure nothern border is like bolting the door and propping open the window."

You obviously need to see the Mythbusters episode where they test "Can a person really kick down a locked door?"

I think Jamie took out the doorknob and deadbolt in two blows, splintered the door-frame. Really made me see that locks just keep the honest honest and do nothing to the dishonest.

HJohnJune 17, 2010 9:59 AM

@Confirmed: "You obviously need to see the Mythbusters episode where they test "Can a person really kick down a locked door?""

Locking the door while leaving the window open is just a figure of speech.

Mr. PaulJune 17, 2010 10:23 AM

HJohn, I think the complaint here is that camping on the shore for a night and moving on down the river seems to be a long way from "entering" the country. Sure, technically it is, but realistically it does not harm and is more hardship then necessary. And it most definitely does not require helicopters, etc. which could be used to pursue real crime.

HJohnJune 17, 2010 10:34 AM

@Mr. Paul

I don't disagree. I'm not really that concerned. But obviously DHS can't tell them its fine.

During my audits, i find people who check sports scores and the like on their breaks, and I don't say anything about it (unless they are spending hours on fantasy football or something overboard). But if asked, I would say "that's against our policy and we monitor for it." That way, if someone were reprimanded they can't argue they were acting within the policy (if a policy allowed some personal use). Those two aren't really contradictory. Sort of like speed limits. technically it's illegal to drive 56 in a 55, but cops use some judgment in when to enforce the speed limit. If the speed limit were "not too much over 55" there would be too much room to argue. Who is to say that 64 if fine and 65 is not, or who is the say that 59 deserves a ticket when quotas are due but 84 gets a warning if you're hot?

Sometimes, you have the absolutes (speed limits, internet usage, border enforcement) and apply them casually. The alternative is casual rules which just leave too much room for argument.

SavikJune 17, 2010 10:36 AM


It is not racist. You may not have seen the news lately - but the border we are having trouble with is the Mexican one. Besides all that. Mexicans are not a is a nation; a nation full of different races...just like the U.S.

Geek ProphetJune 17, 2010 10:59 AM

@ Erin


Mexico and Canada are different countries. We have different relations with them. Their populations are different for a very large number of reasons, such as culture, language, and economic status, as are their most common reasons for crossing the border. The borders have, as a result, long been treated differently.

If the situation were exactly the same *except* that Mexico was full of people with pale Nordic complexions, would the story have had to change by *one single word*? No? Then race is irrelevant.

GSEJune 17, 2010 11:11 AM


No, it's not racist. At least, no more racist than the immigration policies themselves are.

PeterJune 17, 2010 11:17 AM

Speaking from New Brunswick, I do not think that anyone has yet been fined but a number of locals have spent the night in jail because of this fanaticism. Mainer's and NBers used to routinely "fratenize", inter-marry, etc. No more. If this is an example of the social impact; imagine the economic impact. No wonder the US is in recession. Trade is the foundation of wealth.

kangarooJune 17, 2010 11:19 AM

HJohn: I wish open borders were realistic, but sadly, they just aren't.

Open borders are perfectly realistic if, and only if, common markets include infrastructure development throughout the zone.

The problems we have with Mexico have nothing to do "culture, language, history" as Geek Prophet claims. It has all to do with Mexico being a poor country relatively, while Canada is a rich country.

When the Europeans created a common market with open borders, what did they do? Spend a shit-load of German, French and British money building infrastructure in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Poland, etc (including financial infrastructure, as we're seeing in Greece today).

What did the US do when we created NAFTA? Not a damn penny went into lifting Mexico to US & Canadian standards, while creating a common market that leads to common costs throughout the zone. Any moron (aka, economist) could have predicted that would lead to people migrating from high-cost (due to common market), low-pay (low infrastructure) regions to high-cost, high-pay (high infrastructure) regions.

So the Europeans get a manageable migration from Poland to Germany or Greece to France, while we have an out-of-control migration. Where Europe has trouble is that they have trade agreements, bilateral and WTO, with Africans which increase the motivation for Africans to migrate across the Mediterranean.

We're just fuckin' geniuses. Penny-wise, pound foolish, and we blame the folks who have the least influence on the situation, while ignoring the essential factors that lead to this.

As always, it just costs money. You can't exploit a world market and keep all the profits to yourself -- not unless you're an idiot asking for blow-back.

John DohenyJune 17, 2010 11:33 AM

Um, did it occur to anybody that these patrols are largely designed to interdict drug smugglers? There is a thriving trade between the US and Canada in illegal drugs, has been for many years. Hydroponic pot (From Canada TO the US) cocaine and heroin (US to Canada), things like that. Canoes are an ideal way to move product.

For the record I think drug laws are nonsense too. I'm just suggesting you concider the bleedin obvious berfore you get all bent out of shape here. I realize that for a white person it's kind of a nasty shock to get treated like a wetback. Now you know how the other half lives.:-P

Geek ProphetJune 17, 2010 11:49 AM

@ kangaroo

I didn't say "history". I said "economic status".

If it had been relevant to the discussion, I would have ranked economic status highest. However, I submit that there are plenty of examples throughout history that language and culture matter in relationships between two countries. I believe it is naive to ever say that anything big and complex is "all to do with" only one factor.

Mike 71June 17, 2010 12:12 PM

The paranoia on the part of the U.S. Border Gestapo is amazing! This would only be justifiable if the state of Maine bordered North Korea, or the former German Democratic Republic, which no longer exists.

But then we have to do something to prevent those Canadian terrorists from smuggling their dirty bombs, legal marijuana and illegal immigrants in search of universal health care across the border by canoe!

Perhaps the DHS should start patrols along the St. Croix river with armed gunboats and recreate the Berlin wall along the entire length of the 49th parallel! That, and some psychotherapy, may help alleviate their insecurity

David ThornleyJune 17, 2010 12:21 PM

@Mike 71: Don't worry about the wall along the 49th parallel. It would take decades to do the environmental impact statement alone.

Max LybbertJune 17, 2010 12:28 PM

At least they got a warning. I know of one married couple who followed a group of hikers up a mountain, and then on their way back down got a $500 ticket from Forestry Service for trespassing. It sounds like standard operating procedure for the Forestry Service in that area.

Border Patrol AgentJune 17, 2010 12:37 PM

While that is the "law", you will be hard pressed to find anyone arrested for landing on either side, which is illegal on both sides of the border. This law is usually only enforced when there is another act of criminality like drugs, contraband, or if the person involved would not normally be able to enter the U.S. at a port of entry, therefore we have to assume that he or she is trying to enter illegally at that point. However, if you get a hyper agent or a citizen with a temper, then you never know. So while everyone is all worked up, nobody here has listed any actual problems.

HJohnJune 17, 2010 12:40 PM

@Mike 71: " U.S. Border Gestapo is amazing!"

cheap shots like that get so damn old that it's hard to have patience with them. A lot of problems have been imported to our country illegally over the southern border. That is not to say all mexicans are bad any more than it is to say all americans are good. It's just a fact we have to deal with.

Mexico is our neighbor and our friend, and I welcome legal immigrants through due process (and I do think the process needs reformed and streamlined). But your comments is just frankly stupid and evidence you have a lot to be thankful for...only someone who has always been free can possibly consider the US the "Gestapo."

It's also tough to take stupid comments like that seriously, considering the harshest immigration laws on the entire North American continent are on the southern border...of Mexico with Guatemala. We're the Gestapo? Puh-lease.

JessJune 17, 2010 12:51 PM

Max Lybbert, I suspect you're not telling the whole story. Anyone is free to enter any US National Forest. While there, subject to well-publicized local regulations, she is free to camp, operate motorized and non-motorized vehicles, swim, hike, ride horses, climb trees, shoot, hunt, trap, etc.

Unless maybe you're talking about Canada, but when I've been in the woods up there, there have been no shortage of signs telling me what I could and couldn't do.

AndrewJune 17, 2010 12:57 PM

Strictly from a smuggling perspective, it is so very easy to smuggle large quantities of materials into the Untied Snakes that cracking down on fringe area crossings by individuals serves little useful purpose.

I wrote in one academic paper, in all good faith, "How do you smuggle a nuclear weapon into the United States? Hide it in a ton of cocaine."

People are another matter. The kind of highly skilled people who act based on the orders of people thousands of miles away are dangerous indeed, even in a quantity of one (1). The international borders remain wide open to this sort through a variety of means, the most obvious being a visa walk-away.

Donald JohnstonJune 17, 2010 1:26 PM

I wonder if a threat risk assessment on this has ever been done? What effort would a terrorist have to go through to use this as an entry point? and how much could he carry? Also, what types of "villains" have been captured by the helicopter flights? Is it a good use of the US security budget?

HJohnJune 17, 2010 1:36 PM

@Andrew: "Untied Snakes "

I hope that was a pair of typos and not intentional.

HJohnJune 17, 2010 1:39 PM

@Donald Johnston: "I wonder if a threat risk assessment on this has ever been done? What effort would a terrorist have to go through to use this as an entry point? and how much could he carry? Also, what types of "villains" have been captured by the helicopter flights? Is it a good use of the US security budget?"

Unlikely. Risk assessments, feasibility assessments, cost/benefit assessments, pilot testing, etc. notoriously absent from most governments, especially federal governments. In business, such assessments are usually necessary for survival. In government, they don't go out of business no matter how much they waste or how much in debt they are.

chub flounderJune 17, 2010 2:05 PM

while we're arguing about whether it's racism or whether the DHS has anything better to do, didja ever notice that Canadian border patrol personnel seem to regard us much the same way we regard visitors from Mexico?

i'm going to agree with those of you who think border security issues are strictly economical [the richer country doesn't need any more immigrants from the poorer country, DUH!!!]. especially since Michael Moore let Americans know that Canada gives away expensive health care for free, and that many Canadians don't bother locking their doors. i'm sure those li'l factoids were well-received in Detroit.

but please, before you accuse me of being a racist, remember that you don't know what color i am. and before you assume i'm a right wing lunatic because i criticized Michael Moore, please know that i am only referring to what he did in that particular instance. for example, i don't think Americans would take kindly to a documentary by a popular Mexican filmmaker about how Mexicans can game our system.

and before you think i'm anti-Mexican [is that racist or jingoistic? i get confused about that], take a good long google at how Mexican border patrol agents treat anyone who gets caught sneaking over their southern border [according to Amnesty International]. i think it's a *leetle bit* worse than what we do here.

GreenSquirrelJune 17, 2010 2:11 PM

"As someone who believes that our nation has a right to enforce its borders, I should have been gratified when the Immigrations official at the border saw the canoe on our car and informed us that anyone who crossed the nearby international waterway illegally would be arrested and fined as much as $5,000. "

Now putting aside the question of racism (it isnt) and the issue of threat (greater in the south) and logic (none, but who is surprised) there is one issue I want to take with the original source.

This strikes me as a fairly strong example of the current problem.

This is a person who thinks Random Control X is a GOODTHING when it is applied to other people.

If you think a nation has a right to enforce its borders, then you think it has a right to enforce ALL of them. Not just the ones that dont inconvienience or delay you.

If you really do think that the US should keep all those nasty Mexicans out but let in the Good Old Canadians without a care in the world, then it probably is racist after all.

A border is a border. If you want to enforce its existence then do so. Dont complain if the enforcement then makes your life a little bit harder.

Now, there is an argument for a "free movement" agreement but then it would mean the US had to satisfy itself that Canadian immigration was robust enough to prevent it becoming an easy route in (and vice versa, which may be more important).

If there was such a deal in place, fine, and the Border Guard (*) wont say it any more. If there isnt then enforce.

* Dont you just love that Eastern European, Cold War type phrase? Makes me think of the MVD every time.

GreenSquirrelJune 17, 2010 2:12 PM

@ Andrew at June 17, 2010 1:48 PM

"You hope poorly."

Dont most people?

HJohnJune 17, 2010 2:20 PM

@Andrew: "You hope poorly."

Name calling like that sure gives credibility to the intellect behinds ones arguments.

kangarooJune 17, 2010 3:08 PM

HJohn: That is not to say all mexicans are bad any more than it is to say all americans are good.

Your jingoism is showing -- that's pretty damn ugly (unintentional, I assume).

That's not to say that all Americans are jingoist morons, any more than it to say that all mexicans are reasonable cosmopolitans.

HJohn June 17, 2010 3:17 PM

@kangaroo at June 17, 2010 3:08 PM: that's pretty damn ugly (unintentional, I assume).

if it was taken that way, it was most certainly unintentional. I regard people of all races and nationalities equally. In fact, my family is multi-racial (and I love it).

Sometimes, as Erin demonstrated above, accusations of racism are so easy to make and so quick to come that when one is seen, i ended up trying to do a preemptive strike on the criticism. Perhaps counterproductively.

So if it sounded ugly, please accept my apologize, and my thanks for pointing it out. Last thing I want is to sound racist, because racism is frankly one of the most ignorant doctrines one can hold.


kangarooJune 17, 2010 3:17 PM

@Geek: If it had been relevant to the discussion, I would have ranked economic status highest. However, I submit that there are plenty of examples throughout history that language and culture matter in relationships between two countries. I believe it is naive to ever say that anything big and complex is "all to do with" only one factor.

Except we're not talking about the "relationship between Mexico and the US over history", but the specific issue of immigration currently in the aftermath of NAFTA. There's plenty of evidence from the EU common market that migration patterns in common markets are driven primarily by economic factors -- and not by, say, the historical antipathy between Poles and Germans, or the language differences between Greeks and Brits.

Culture, language (and RACE as sociologically constructed, and not as some silly non-scientific "actual race") are relevant to the discussion of why the US was so stupid as to imagine that we could have a common market with Mexico without improving the infrastructure without unleashing massive uncontrolled migration, border controls or no border controls. That's the "complicated" situation you talk about -- but when people will move from one country to another is pretty damn simple.

Open markets in 1900 -- huge migrations within Europe and from underdeveloped Europe to the US. Closed markets from 1930 on -- relatively small migration (even though normally attributed to changes in law, we can see that those laws are useless in the face of economic forces).

kangarooJune 17, 2010 3:25 PM

HJohn: If it was taken that way, it was most certainly unintentional ... So if it sounded ugly, please accept my apologize, and my thanks for pointing it out

Impressive on the intertubes -- not defensive but thoughtful. My response was sharp only because it seemed the clearest way to make the point.

I would like to point out that the usual problems of racism, nationalism, all the tribalisms, is that they are mostly unintentional. The doctrine is a thin veneer -- mostly it's gut thinking, "common sense" that leads one to make mistakes. It's not so much about bad people as bad habits.

We should all be a little nervous about what our natural inclinations and common sense tell us.

JessJune 17, 2010 3:34 PM


Just so I understand, are you arguing that the sudden availability of additional supplies of goods caused prices for those goods in Mexico to rise? Or that USA protectionism had been good for Mexican workers?

These would be... novel economic arguments. The fact that average wages in the USA are higher than those in Mexico predates NAFTA. If anything, we might expect NAFTA to have an equalizing effect (due to other factors, this effect might be very slow).

HJohnJune 17, 2010 3:56 PM

@kangaroo: Impressive on the intertubes -- not defensive but thoughtful.

Thanks. I didn't see anything to be defensive about. If something I said came across as racist, then the problem is how I sounded, not the person pointing it out. Sometimes, things dont come across as intended in plain text, so I try to deal with misunderstandings graciously. It's not someone elses fault if I state something poorly.


NobodySpecialJune 17, 2010 4:07 PM

@Chelloveck - I assumed a country formed with French military assistance, based on a revolutionary French constitution and revolutionary French political system would use revolutionary French units rather than those of the hated British oppressors ?

Bryan FeirJune 17, 2010 4:52 PM

@John Doheny:
Actually, from my understanding, while marijuana is the major smuggling crop from Canada to the U.S., from the U.S. to Canada the big operation is cigarettes. Once smuggled across the border and thus avoiding all the excise and sin taxes, they get sold for a lot cheaper than the legal cigarettes can be, and to people (teenagers) that can't legally be sold cigarettes.

I remember seeing a news article years back that mentioned that both the Canadian and U.S. border guards along in this area were complaining about the other side being no help in stopping rampant smuggling, because the two sides were each more concerned about stopping one type of smuggling and didn't care about the other.

kangarooJune 17, 2010 4:54 PM

Jess: Just so I understand, are you arguing that the sudden availability of additional supplies of goods caused prices for those goods in Mexico to rise? Or that USA protectionism had been good for Mexican workers?

It meant that the local replacement for those goods were no longer competitive. While wages rise slowly in response to new markets opening -- not only are there issues of negotiation and convention, but the fact that those jobs never rise to the level of the costs in the richer country -- old employments disappear.

So while the new cheap goods come in, most people can't afford them. They've become a part of the same market -- so now you get cheap T-shirts, say, but the employees who would buy them no longer can sell the old woven shirts, making them "shirt-poor". The price of shirts overall may come down, but a skilled job has disappeared and replaced by crappy factory jobs.

It's the same thing that happens in the richer country -- you get cheaper tomatoes in the US, but the farmers are out of business working at McDonald. Some folks do very well in the new common market -- and if infrastructure is built in the poorer country so that the "differential advantage" is one in skills, culture, etc, and not just a labor cost differential, almost everyone comes out better.

But if the main difference between regions is labor costs, then a whole lot of people end up worse off.

Look at the American South between 1865 and 1950. Common market right? Did it do most Southerners a lick of good? The South was basically a third-world banana republic, with huge chunks of the population living as share-croppers, dirt-farmers, and cheap labor.

It was only when the North funded massive infrastructure development during FDR's term and after WWII that the South (defined as the mass of Southerners) could take economic advantage of the common market. Before, only the wealthiest Southerners enjoyed a high standard of living -- cheap goods from the North plus cheap Southern labor. But for most, they might as well have been living in Latin America.

Additionally, you see massive migrations occurring from 1900 on from the South to the North -- as soon as African Americans had access to trains, they dumped the cheap labor region to the high cost labor region. That's not a complicated "culture" thing -- that's just economics. They weren't getting the advantages of cheap goods -- they were just having chipped away the skilled jobs that were available to them.

And now some African Americans are migrating back to the South. Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure.

AntonJune 17, 2010 4:56 PM

These guys in the helicopter are not doing their jobs properly. Doesn't the border run down the middle of the river and crossing that line puts the canoeist into breach!

MikeBJune 17, 2010 5:46 PM

Re: Freely crossing the US/Canada border

In the 1970s I worked for a company which had a large office in Detroit. One of my fellow employees was British, and he liked to tell this story: On a trip to Detroit, he and some other engineers (in suits and ties in those days) decided to walk across the bridge to Windsor for a night out. As they walked back, he decided to avoid showing his British passport to the Immigration officers, so he just walked along with his friends, taking care to say nothing lest his accent give him away. As he crossed the line, the officer asked to see his passport. When he asked the officer how he knew, the man replied, "Sir, we just know".

JessJune 17, 2010 6:35 PM


Let's separate the wage differential (which exists, but existed before NAFTA as well) and its predictable effects on migration from your unconventional price arguments.

It is generally accepted that consumers will tend to buy cheaper goods, ceteris paribus. The availability of more expensive goods won't change the average consumer's decisions, so it seems unlikely that anything imported from the USA would have RAISED prices. I refer to your comment, "while the new cheap goods come in, most people can't afford them", which is incoherent. Either they continued to buy what they always did because it was cheaper, or they switched to cheaper imports. No one forced Mexican consumers to buy Gucci or nothing.

Your statement about "skilled" labor is not economically defensible. When shirt-a-day traditional weavers are replaced by a shirt-a-second machine and a workforce skilled enough to operate and maintain it, productivity has increased, unless consumers are willing to support an orders-of-magnitude premium to buy the traditional shirt, which they aren't.

If all we have left are the expected costs of displacement, retraining, and retooling, then sure, those are costs, but that is unrelated to "markets must share infrastructure" arguments. More productive workers are paid more, and so workers will migrate to areas where they are more productive. This process hurts those who are tied to inefficient methods (like post-Reconstruction Southern land barons or the owner of an inefficient factory), but helps the average worker and the average consumer. It is true that some people don't like to move, or don't like other, different-colored people to move, but why should we care about those preferences? Your arguments would have this anti-mobility crowd paying for infrastructure in benighted miserable countries the world over, or possibly joining the law enforcement industry in lobbying for ever-more-draconian immigration restrictions. I don't think the former would be feasible, the latter is repugnant, and both are completely unrelated to NAFTA.

Your comment about USA farms is just wrong. The USA is a net exporter of agricultural products, the trend is up, and NAFTA is a part of that. The sector is a relatively small employer, due to the tremendous efficiency that modern farming techniques allow (this fact is not new; the farm population has shrunk since 1910 at the latest). A single gigantic tractor can pull huge satellite-controlled implements across fields 24 hours a day, replacing hundreds if not thousands of workers and working livestock used in more traditional farming. It is true that climatic factors lead to cultivation of certain crops at other latitudes during particular seasons, but that is dwarfed by the corn, beef, wheat, etc. that we produce and the world consumes.

alreadyonthelistJune 17, 2010 10:13 PM

That'll keep those Canuks from taking our best canoe in campsites. Now can you do something about the way they drive in Florida DHS? Can we keep Sidney Crosby out of the country DHS?

BF SkinnerJune 18, 2010 6:18 AM

@nobodyspecial "country formed with French military assistance, based on a revolutionary French constitution and revolutionary French political system "

The American Revolution influenced by things that happened decades after it? Wow. What is that--a priori hoc ergo propter hoc?

Geo Wash and co must have had some really good sayers of sooth. Funny they didn't get any credit in the history books.

Josh O.June 18, 2010 8:43 AM

matt said "I thought it was over in Washington state area, but wasn't someone caught bringing explosives (in the trunk of a car) from Canada a few years back? Seems worth keeping an eye on..."

If Timothy McVeigh had brought his explosives from Texas across the border into Oklahoma, would we say we need to secure that border? What is the *real* difference in this case? I contend that there is none. Is it easier to get weapons or explosives in Canada than here? Certainly not. Probably more difficult.

Alf WhiteheadJune 18, 2010 12:22 PM

@ John Doheny

Yes, the main target of border patrols is smuggling. This could easily be solved, though, by a customs union between Canada and the U.S., similar to the E.U. Schengen zone. Smuggling street drugs across the border would remain as illegal as moving drugs around within either Canada or the U.S. and could be combat across the border by cooperative policing.

As to the racism allegations, the key differences between Canada and Mexico from the United States' point of view are corruption and effective policing. Canada has good police forces that are very unlikely to take bribes or the like. (At least, from the U.S. point of view, they are no worse than American police.) Mexico, not so much. The root cause of THAT is mostly economic, and not cultural or historical and certainly not racial.

Jonathan WilsonJune 19, 2010 1:43 AM

Re the comment about what happened in the EU when they removed their border controls, just ask the UK about all those people in northern France trying to enter the UK whether they think the border control deals are good (although one school of thought says that if the UK joined the EU common migration zone, the problem would go away as people move to and from the UK legally without the threat of mass-migration into the UK)

Kevin LydaJune 19, 2010 4:23 AM

I love this about the immigration debate in the US. It's filled with, "they should enforce laws on other people but not me," types of statements.

JPJune 19, 2010 9:00 AM

Incredible. The USA is already the laughing stock of the entire world, it seems it's not going to get better any time soon. USA is more and more becoming the Soviet Union of these times. Soon you will need a special permit to travel to your aunt 100 km away.

C U AnonJune 19, 2010 1:41 PM

@ Jonathan Wilson : Re the comment about what happened in the EU when they removed their border controls...

It needs to be mentioned that the people you refere to are not European citizens.

The strange rules that continental Europe runs on with regard boarder protection means that perversly once in France the best option for the authorities there is to push the illegals to the UK boarder and just ignore them unless they commit a crime etc.

Then there is the secondary issue of the southern European boarder being very porous. Having a lot of agriculture with labour intensive times of the year the southern EU borders facing Africa have traditionaly allowed a lot of non EU migrant seasonal workers in.

This is being exploited by those wishing to get into the northern idustrialised European countries. Again it is in the interests of the southern European nations to shove such people north.

What beats me is why so many people want to come to the UK it's not exactly the first place I'd chose to live for a whole heap of reasons (Canada / Australia rate higher).

However the UK is seen by many ethnic minorities as being so "multi-cultural" and (surprisingly) "tolerant" that it is relativly easy for them to live within the hidden (so called "Black") economy.

Oh and the UK Gov has a problem mad as it might seem with unemployment heading for 3million (say 5% of total population and much nearer to 15% of working population) these illegals are actually needed by the UK economy...

Matt from CTJune 20, 2010 12:03 PM

>USA is more and more becoming the
>Soviet Union of these times.

With minor little exceptions. Like our population is growing robustly, Russia is collapsing.

Over the next 40 years the percentage population growth projected of of the largest Western democracies, plus Russia:

43% United States
23% Canada
8% France
5% United Kingdom
-11% Germany
-12% Spain
-13% Italy
-17% Poland
-22% Russia
-26% Japan

U.S. Census Bureau projections 2009 -- 2050 (data from )

While I agree with the St. Croix situation being over-the-top (as is much of our security theater), maybe just maybe the U.S. has an immigration situation with profound long term public policy implications that can't simply be excused as right-wing racist tea partier rage?

Someone else above wrote that the inscription on the Statute of Liberty needs to be re-written. I guess looking at the numbers above, I would have to ask where else is it more true?

(BTW, over the same period India is projected to grow at the same 43% rate of the U.S., while China thanks to one child policies will be at -3%. This places the U.S. as the fastest growing fully industrialized nation, with Australia at a respectable 36% but far smaller. Of the nations > 100M in population today the only ones growing faster then the U.S. and India are Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nigeria)

How our growth, which is still driven heavily by immigration, is handled is an important public policy issue. While the Canadian border is partly caught up in the phobia over terrorism, the other part is that DHS has to appear to be enforcing things like border security equally north and south to avoid charges of racism even though illegal immigration from the south is many times greater and has a disparate negative impact on wages and employment of low-skilled Americans.

Clive RobinsonJune 21, 2010 6:01 AM

@ Matt from CT,

"Over the next 40 years the percentage population growth projected of of the largest Western democracies..."

What you also need to show is the expected increase in life span and in the % of the population that s retired...

@ ALL,

In the UK (and many other first world nations) unless we increase the age of retirment or increase the number of people being economicaly productive we are going to have to perform significant triage on those getting state assistance for all sorts of services.

And this was a known issue long prior to the current economic crissis that the banks and previous political incumbents allowed to get so badly out of control so that the UK will be in debt for the next generation or three...

Of course this is not a problem unique to the UK and some countries have some interesting proposals to deal with it. One being effectivly a parent tax whereby the children get saddled with their parents healthcare and other expenses.

And before anybody say's "what's this got to do with security?" go and look at how second and third world countries deal with "retirment" and "health care". Then ask yourself if you are prepared to put the comfort of your "old age" into the hands of the "financial markets" that appear to have no other interest other than their own?

Even if you are mad enough to say yes, it can be shown that the "financial markets" will not be sufficiently "efficient" as the disparity between first world and second/third world nations closes.

If you assume a real growth in personal income of 4% (twice that which is likley in the future) you will realise just how much of your income you would have to "save" and from what age if you expect to spend half your adult life retired (65-25= 40 years, 65+40= 105 years life expectancy in around 40 years time).

Thus the figures don't make sense in the long term (ie 1.04^80=23 -v- 1.04^40= 4.8) even with full employment...

After a little thought and playing around with figures you will realise that society and it's expectations in first world nations has to change and the sooner the better as this will mean that the level of civil strife felt will be lessened to the point that significant civil unrest etc does not break out.

Matt from CTJune 21, 2010 12:50 PM

>What you also need to show is the
>expected increase in life span and in
>the % of the population that s

I don't think it's relevant to the point I was trying to make, which is population growth in the U.S. is markedly different from the primary successor state of the old Soviet Union, or for that matter most westernized nations (although Australia and Canada also look to perform respectfully).

That population growth is the one silver lining in our current financial house of cards.

What the heck Europe is going to do with positively anemic growth combined with an increasingly retired workforce, lord only knows.

China can absorb a small population decline as it continues to industralize, expanding their economic output. Already industrialized Europe and Japan faces few options to expand their economy to support their retirees.

JakeJune 21, 2010 2:22 PM

so they put a fence in Derby Line?

I walked into Canada once, because I wanted to take a picture and the light was better when viewed from one angle that happened to be two feet over an imaginary line. Canadian customs seemed not to notice. US customs, upon my return, immediately subjected me to a full four-hour interrogation, and a very stern warning whose last words were "stay away from Canada".


HallelMarch 22, 2012 11:16 AM

can you go through the border with friends and an Israel passport? please answer back before march 22 2012. Thanks! Oh and I wont real info from the USA border people.

ZJanuary 21, 2013 6:09 PM

If the problem is drug trafficking across the US/Canada border, then the easiest way to solve the problem is:

1. Lower the price of hydrophonic weed, ecstacy, and amphetamine in the USA.
2. Lower the price of Heroin and Cocaine in Canada.

Problem solved.

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