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March Mania

OUR OPINION: Border buildup seems excessive

Helping local law enforcement is all well and good.

But that's not why the United States beefed up the Border Patrol along the Canadian border to 10 times its pre-Sept. 11 size, an expansion documented in a recent Herald story ("Beyond the border," Dec. 1, Page A1).

Instead, that expansion from Maine to Washington was done for one and only one reason -- the same reason why people now need passports to cross the border; the same reason why trade between the two countries remains impaired.

The reason was to better prevent terrorists from crossing the border.

How goes that struggle?

That's the question Americans should be asking, because lots of money is being spent and manpower is being deployed based on what Washington thinks is the answer.

Furthermore, lots of friendship and goodwill between our two countries also is being sacrificed on that altar. This loss is sharply felt in northern states such as North Dakota and Minnesota, where residents fondly remember crossing the border without a care, let alone a passport.

Given those trade-offs, how goes the struggle?

Hearst Newspapers asked that question in 2009. Here is what their investigation found:

"Public data obtained by Hearst Newspapers show the U.S. government, despite a massive injection of resources and staff to guard against terrorists crossing the Canadian border, is mostly catching ordinary illegal immigrants," the story reported.

"Last year, the Border Patrol station in Rochester, N.Y., made 1,523 apprehensions, but 87 percent were for misdemeanors and only 0.05 percent led to successful criminal prosecutions.

"Azel Price, public affairs officer for Customs and Border Protection's Buffalo (N.Y.) Sector, acknowledged that most apprehensions are of illegal immigrants. 'If you look at our apprehensions, a small percentage have anything to with terrorism,' Price said."

A Hearst Newspapers analysis of records "found that of all the national security and terrorism charges filed in federal district courts along the northern border since 2001, only three were based on referrals made by CBP.

"In other words, there is scant record of northern border enforcement catching terrorists."

Perhaps that's not surprising, given that the clampdown was based in part on a creation myth in the first place.

Immediately after Sept. 11, newspapers in Boston and elsewhere suggested that several of the 9/11 terrorists had entered the United States through Canada. As recently as 2009, Arizona Sen. John McCain and then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that this was the case.

But it wasn't. It's an urban legend. As the 9/11 Commission reported, no 9/11 terrorists crossed the northern border on their way into the United States. Instead, all of them entered from outside North America, not through Canada.

Grand Forks is rightly proud of hosting the Border Patrol's Grand Forks Sector headquarters. The agents are thorough professionals, and the selfless aid they give to local police is entirely welcome.

But such benefits come with a cost -- namely, the inconvenience and economic losses created by America's newly restricted border.

Furthermore, when the 2012 apprehensions-per-agent number along the southern border is 19.3 while the comparable northern-border figure is 1.9, the heavy buildup seems hard to justify.

Washington should take a fresh look at whether America's border-security priorities are in the right place.