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U.S. denies border-fence plan, despite report

The United States government insists it has no plans to put up a fence along parts of the Canada-U.S. border, despite a report that contemplates exactly that.

The report from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency put forward the possibility of fencing the border to deter illegal crossings. But a statement from the agency insisted that "a border fence along the northern border is not being considered at this time."

The study that proposed the fence was intended to put forward options that could be considered "if additional manpower, technology, and infrastructure were employed," the statement said.

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There is no suggestion as yet that Congress or the Obama administration are planning to substantially increase border-protection funding.

The issue of a possible fence emerged as both countries prepared to release their Beyond the Border joint initiative that aims, in part, to improve border security through co-operation.

The possibility of the fence was brought up in a draft environmental impact study released two weeks ago seeking input from American communities along the 6,400-kilometre border from Maine to Washington State. The fencing would be far less extensive than that of the U.S.-Mexico border. Other tools could include deploying more remote sensors and upgrading checkpoints.

"While fencing has played a prominent role in CBP's enforcement strategy on the Southern Border to deter illegal border crossings, it is unlikely that fencing will play as prominent a role on the Northern Border, given the length of the border and the variability of the terrain," the document says.

"CBP would use fencing and other barriers to manage movement (e.g., trenching across roads) in trouble spots where passage of cross-border violators is difficult to control; the resulting delay for cross-border violators would increase the rate of interdiction."

An accompanying table shows there would be about five major projects, either upgrading access roads or building fences of more than 400 metres in length in each of four geographic areas: the border west of the Rockies, the Prairies, the Great Lakes and New England.

The proposal does not involve the border between Alaska and Canada.

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The document outlines five alternatives to help the border agency "protect the Northern Border against evolving threats over the next five to seven years":

- Maintaining the status quo. The study warns that "this alternative would not fully meet the need for the program because it would not allow CBP to improve its capability to interdict cross-border violators or to identify and resolve threats."

- Upgrading current facilities such as border-patrol stations and ports of entry and providing more housing for personnel. "These facilities, built for a different era of operations, are poorly configured to support CBP's evolving trade facilitation and antiterrorism mission," the study says.

- Increasing detection by fielding more patrols and deploying more high-tech hardware, such as body and container scanners, remote sensors, microphones and cameras and radar.

- "Tactical security infrastructure," meaning expanding access roads and "constructing additional barriers, such as selective fencing or vehicle barriers, at selected points along the border to deter and delay cross-border violators."

- A mix of the last three options.

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About the Authors
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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