WASHINGTON – Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) held a hearing Wednesday, titled “Securing the Border: Understanding Threats and Strategies for the Northern Border.” It was the fifth in a series of border security hearings the chairman and committee have held over the past few months to better understand and address the reality of the situation at our borders.
Wednesday’s hearing focused specifically on the threats faced at the northern border. Although compared to the southwestern border, there are fewer illegal crossings and less contraband, Chairman Johnson said in his written opening statement, the length and remoteness of parts of the U.S-Canada border ensures that threats still exist and must be taken seriously.
Johnson and the committee heard from witnesses Michael J. Fisher, Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol in the Office of Border Patrol for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, John Wagner, Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Office of Field Operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, James C. Spero, Special Agent-in-Charge for the Buffalo, N.Y. area of responsibility of Homeland Security Investigations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, David Rodriguez, Director of the Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Richard Hartunian, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the U.S. Department of Justice.
Johnson asked about the apprehension rate of illegal immigrants at the northern border. In previous hearings, Johnson and the other committee members have heard contradictory testimony on the apprehension rate of illegal immigrants crossing the southern border.
“Do we have some sense of what the apprehension rate is at the northern border?” Johnson asked Fischer.
Fischer was unable to give a clear answer, saying that the threat at the northern border is defined differently and effectiveness is not measured based on apprehensions, like it is at the southern border. He guessed that the apprehension rate at the northern border is equal to or higher than at the southern border primarily because the flow rate at the northern border is so much lower.
“What about in terms of drug trafficking?” Johnson asked.
“It’s considerably less in terms of the smuggling that occurs between the ports of entry at the northern border than what we see at the southern border,” Fischer said.
“In terms of the drugs that are flowing through,” Johnson continued, “Do we have any sense on the northern border where the primary drug trafficking is occurring? Are they coming, smuggled literally through the ports of entry and lack of detection or are they coming through the vast, unmonitored parts of the border?”
The flow of drugs at the northern border is certainly bi-directional, coming from Canada to the U.S. and vice versa, Spero responded. “As far as the difference between whether or not we are making investigations in drugs being interdicted either at the port of entry or between the ports – we are seeing both – just in some cases different drugs.”
Johnson went on to remark on the value of relationship and cooperation between governments across America’s borders. “Can you just speak to the difference between the cooperation we have with the Mexican government versus the cooperation we have with the Canadian government?” he asked Fischer.
“Information for us is the key to be able to reduce any vulnerabilities regardless of what border we’re talking about. In particular, with Canada, what we have found over the years is the information sharing is really good – it gets better,” Fischer answered, adding that he currently has three U.S. border patrol agents embedded in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Canada. “Having a border patrol agent in Canada, working with the RCMP, only bolsters our ability to understand the evolving threats and helps us secure the border on both sides.”
“So that type of model that we have with Canada – if we could implement something similar in Mexico, it would make a tremendous difference?” Johnson asked.
“Yes,” Fischer replied, “it would.”