For years America’s northern and southern borders 5,938 miles of dense forest and open land were fair game for drug dealers and illegal immigrants looking to sneak into the U.S. That was before September 11, 2001.
After the 9/11 terror attacks, securing America’s borders became a national priority, says Jay Ahern, deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“There was an absolute shift in thinking about the border, from drug interdiction, alien interdiction, criminal interdiction at our borders to one of national security,” Ahern said.
In the last seven years there has been a huge expenditure of money and resources to prevent an attack on America from the north or south.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was formed and, under it, Border Patrol was flooded with new resources.
By the end of this year, the number of agents patrolling the border is expected to be 18,000, double what it was eight years ago. About 338 miles of fence have been built in the south, and more is planned.
The Border Patrol has 267 aircraft — the largest non-military air force in the world — and four unmanned Predator B aircraft to watch the border.
And now all cargo is screened before it gets to the U.S., and shipments deemed high-risk are checked upon entry.
According to federal immigration statistics, fewer people are trying to cross into the U.S. and arrests of illegals dropped 20 percent last year and 8 percent in 2006.
Despite the improvements, critics say the U.S. is not close to securing the border, and not close to being safe.
“It would be so easy to come in here,” said Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, a group of volunteers who patrol the Canadian and Mexican borders. “There is literally no protection. There are some border patrol agents, but at night, I could assure you I could go into Mexico and return to the United States carrying a suitcase nuke.”
As much attention as the southern border gets, experts say the northern border may prove more dangerous.
Canadian intelligence estimates 50 known terrorist groups operate in that country and that some have entered the U.S. In 2006, the federal government’s General Accountability Office repeatedly videotaped its agents crossing into America from Canada without going through immigration checkpoints.