A Tale of two Borders

by Passenger Service: State troopers ride-along with truckers in crash study

Earlier this summer, my colleague Rolf Lockwood and I spent a day being carted back and forth across the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor-Detroit. Inside the SUV with us were the bridge’s president Dan Stamper and his assistant Colleen Robar, who were showing us the private company’s latest bridge expansion projects on both sides of the border.

We crossed back and forth a couple times. Heading back to the U.S., the Customs cop asked Colleen who we were and what our business was. She explained that Mr. Stamper — you know, the bridge owner’s right-hand man — was showing a couple of journalists around.

The bored guard was hardly impressed. He beamed back at us before handing over our passports. Geez. Not one for name-dropping, I suppose. If the top dog of this thing can’t get a “have a nice day,'” I wondered, then what should a trucker who has the misfortune of picking the line with this guy at the end of it, expect? You’d think that having to comply with a new crossing rule every couple months and waiting at U.S. land ports for untold minutes every day is unpleasant enough without having to meet the grump patrol.

In the months immediately after Sept. 11, I fielded dozens of calls from frustrated truckers and small fleet owners overburdened by the first wave of U.S. security protocols. While sympathetic with carriers struggling to adapt to the changing regulatory climate, I’d point out that after sustaining a terrorist attack of the magnitude the U.S. did, our southern neighbors were perfectly within their rights — both legally and morally — to do what they thought was needed to defend their country.

Begrudgingly, most of my callers agreed. Besides, business was reasonably positive; volumes strong; rates climbing higher; and costs successfully being passed on (remember that?) — so just chalk it up to the cost of doing business in this new, volatile Millennium.

But now, with southbound lanes drying up and headhaul values falling, the breaking point has been reached for many carriers, especially small-to-medium guys who no longer have the chin for the left hooks the U.S. continues to throw at them: Redundant background checks; electronic pre-notification; FAST revocation; hazmat endorsements; port ID cards; passports; amended hours-of-service compliance; restrictions on leafy greens and beef. What else? Drug testing; English proficiency enforcement; and I’m sure there’s one or 10 other rules I missed.

Look, I’m the least anti-American, non-American alive. Around the office I’m known as Canada’s token Bush-loving, war-mongering conservative under the age of 35. But I don’t haul freight for a living, so from my standpoint, my admiration for the U.S. has admittedly always been geopolitical and philosophical.

Recently, though, I’ve come to realize that this administration has no real interest in protecting itself from the bad guys. Just look at the vastly hypocritical attitudes it has in respect to the northern and southern borders. Here U.S.-bound truckers and travelers have their meatloaf sandwiches confiscated, while south of the Rio Grande, border security has stood by and let millions of illegals flow across — many of them since Sept.11, on Bush’s security-sensitive watch.

CBP enforcement has been beefed up in Windsor, St. Stephen, and Surrey, but there’s little support at the Mexican border to help sheriffs track drug and weapons smugglers through the desert — even though it was recently reported by the Drug Enforcement Administration that the cartels are openly working with Islamic terrorists embedded in the U.S. to fund terrorism.

Today, this same administration is battling the Senate to allow Mexican carriers unlimited access to the U.S. market. Worse, until his plan was defeated by grassroots Republicans and Democrats, Bush tried to legislate amnesty for millions of “undocumented” Mexican workers living in the U.S. If approved, the plan wouldn’t have been backed with tougher measures on future border jumpers. No fence. No extra National Guard enforcement. Nothing.

The contrast is obvious. Mexican migrants are seen as a growth demographic by Republicans. Somehow, I doubt Canadian snowbirds in Florida are as influential.

U.S. politicians constantly blast Canada’s immigration system for letting too many undesirables slip into our country. And much of that criticism is warranted. But is the Mexican system more bulletproof than ours? What’s the better bet — that a fanatical ideologue tries to enter the U.S. through Canada first, or that he’ll take his chances with a corrupt, porous country that doesn’t have the will to stop drug cartels from operating with impunity?

Something to think about the next time Mr. Friendly in Detroit asks you to open up your lunch bag.

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