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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Borders, North and South

A friend of my uncle's was plucking bass out the St. Lawrence River last summer when a Canadian Customs boat pulled up next to him. "Where did you catch those fish?" the uniformed officer asked.

My uncle is in his 90s, and his friend isn't much younger. We're not talking about a dangerous lawbreaker here; the guy's retired and had gone to the river to fish.

The guy said he'd caught the fish in the river, which was logical, but not good enough for Dudley Do-Right, who wanted to know exactly where in the river a particular fish was swimming when in hit the bait and got snagged on the hook. Was it, he wanted to know, a Canadian fish or an American fish?

Tricky question.

The St. Lawrence serves as the border between upstate New York and Canada. It meanders, as does the borderline, between about 1,200 islands, some unihabited, many reachable only by boat. Some are in Canada, some in the US.

People have been known to swim across borders, but there are places in the St. Lawrence where you can wade; in fact, I know one narrows where a decent high school athlete could probably jump. And when you're on a boat in the wider areas, there's no way anyone without GPS equipment for more sophisticated than the average weekend angler carries could tell where the border really is.

When I was a kid we used to swim across to Canada to visit friends. There was no Customs station. Nobody seemed to care.

Now, of course, 9/11 and terrorism and all, there's a (modest) effort to enforce the rules, sometimes bordering on the silly. The Canadian Fish Patrol cited my uncle's friend for using an American boat to catch a fish in Canadian waters using bait purchased in the United States. He got fined. Seriously.

Apparently the US authorities are doing the same thing to Canadians who dare to catch our bass, which, of course, carry no passports when they migrate across the imaginary line to wherever the food is and the fishermen aren't.

I mention this because the reality is that the border between the US is, for the most part, 5,000 miles of open territory. In some places, nobody actually knows where the border is. There are no fences or walls along most of it, no kleig lights and barbed wire. For thousands of miles, all you see is a narrow strip of land where all the trees have been cut down.

Yes, there are motion sensors, and stepped up patrols, and I'm not suggesting that it's easy to sneak into the US from Canada. I'm just saying that nobody in Congress is serious suggesting that we build a massive concrete wall from the shores of Lake Superior to the Vancouver Straight.

Nobody is saying that the passage of an immigration bill requires more fencing or a "surge" at the Canadian border. No: that's just for Mexico.

Are we not worried that Canadians seeking the wonders of American society will cross the unguarded northern border in massive waves? (They won't come looking for health insurance.) Or are we just concerned that people with brown skin will do that?

1 comment:

  1. The overwhelming majority of drug smuggling comes in from South America and Mexico. Besides, no Canadians are trying to cross the border to come in the US - they have it better up north