In Bush’s War on Terrorism, we are told that a North American perimeter is necessary for our protection. Ever since September 11, elected officials in Canada and the United States, media pundits and public opinion polls have shown support for the creation of such a zone. Now, after months of saying otherwise, Elinor Caplan, Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, have signed a joint agreement on border patrols and other supposed security measures.

What does this actually mean? What will its effects be? Will it increase people’s security? Or is it a carefully timed response to exploit the panicky assumption that our borders are out of control? If so, who will benefit and whose lives will be made even more insecure?

While much remains to be seen, one thing is clear: with the signing of this agreement, immigration and refugee policy will be shaped by the U.S. The agenda for any North American perimeter will be set in Washington. The effects on immigrants and refugees in both countries will be devastating.

Camerica and Immigration

Even before this latest joint agreement, Canada’s immigration and refugee policy was becoming Americanized. The changes enacted by the new Immigration Act (Bill C-11, passed in November) include:

  • Increased money, resources and international cooperation for interdiction. This means people will be stopped before reaching Canada and being able to apply for refugee status. Interdiction is a violation of Canada’s international human rights obligations.
  • People can be returned to countries where they will be persecuted or tortured. Again, this is in violation of Canada’s international human rights obligations.
  • Powers of detention are going to be expanded. (For example, automatic detention for anyone arriving with the aid of smugglers)
  • Life sentences to those convicted of smuggling people into Canada are possible, even if smugglers were motivated by humanitarian concerns. (Someone who helps family members flee persecution can be denied access to a refugee hearing or lose permanent residence.)
  • People convicted of “serious” crimes will be barred from applying for refugee or immigration status. People can also be refused entry solely on the basis of association. The definition of serious crimes will be made through regulatory changes that are expected to be made public soon.
  • There are no clear, legislative definitions for “terrorism,” “membership in a terrorist organization” and “security of Canada. As a result, refugees and immigrants are susceptible to unprincipled, arbitrary and even unconstitutional decision-making without opportunities for meaningful appeal.
  • “Being a danger to the security of Canada” is a basis for inadmissibility, allowing the minister, instead of the courts, to determine what this vague terminology means. On the other hand, Bill C-11 includes nothing that specifically protects fundamental rights, such as lawful advocacy, protest or dissent.
  • Permanent resident cards are going to be issued. As a result, the government can monitor, track and deport permanent residents more easily.
  • New inadmissibility clauses will effectively bar those who, for whatever reason, had to misrepresent their situation on an immigration application.
  • The government now has more power to deport those with permanent residence status.

The new Immigration Act effectively politicizes the selection of new immigrants and refugees. In this way, it is a U.S.-style immigration and refugee policy. In effect, the Canadian border has just been moved south, to meet with Mexico.

Playing Politics with People’s Lives

People’s political beliefs will now come into play as a result of vague wording about terrorism and being a danger to security. This is also true because of additional discretionary inadmissibility clauses, which hand decision-making over to Canadian immigration officials.

As a result of this joint agreement, Canada will set the same visa requirements as the U.S. It will create the same inadmissibility standards and procedures as the U.S., too. Already, Canada has added eight new countries from which people require visas so as to appease the Americans.

Worse, a so-called Safe Third Country clause has been accepted by both nations. This clause makes it impossible for anyone to claim refugee status in Canada if they have passed through the U.S. &#0151 a route that has been used by many refugees, especially ones from Central and South America. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Canada had a much higher acceptance rate of refugees from these countries than the U.S. did.

The War On Reason

For decades, the United States has refused to accept people fleeing from countries with U.S.-backed dictatorships. In fact, the superpower’s immigration and refugee policy is among the most political in the world. Now, the Americanization of Canada’s policy strikes a blow against political dissenters around the world. Any person jailed by a dictator can be classified as a criminal or terrorist and be refused entry.

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was, until September 11, quietly considered a friendly dictatorship by the U.S. The regime received hundreds of millions of dollars to help fight the War on Drugs. At the same time, America refused to accept many Afghan refugees fleeing the horrors of war and fundamentalism.

The War on Drugs is also responsible for the militarization of the Mexico/U.S. border. In fact, trends set at this border — and the daily oppression that occurs along it — are what set the stage for the new joint agreement between Canada and the United States.

Over the last decade the U.S. has installed high steel fences, razor wire, flooded tunnels and snipers authorized to shoot suspected Mexican migrants. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has more armed agents with arrest powers than any other federal agency in that country. Over 9,000 armed border patrol agents work on the United States’ southern border. At the western section of that border, more than 400 people have died trying to cross.

José Palafox, a California-based community organizer working with migrants, reports this has meant the use of military equipment, “including Blackhawk helicopters, heat sensors, night vision telescopes and electronic intrusion detection devices. The Border Patrol has also acquired new stadium-style klieg lights and computerized fingerprinting equipment.” The financial cost is US$4.2-billion every year.

Yet despite the heavy costs, people continue to cross one of the most heavily armed borders in the world. Why? Because the very conditions that spawn people’s desperate bid to cross the border — war, poverty, unemployment, destruction of the rural economy, patriarchal violence against women and forced evictions by government or other militarized forces — are further fuelled by U.S. (and Canadian) policies on free trade and western-style development.

Bringing Border Patrol North

What the War on Drugs didn’t accomplish in regards to Canada, the War on Terrorism has. Serious plans to militarize the Canada/U.S. border are underway — with the federal government’s approval.

Canada has already committed $250-million to secure the border. The U.S. yesterday unveiled another US$31.5-million for this effort, with much more money likely to come. Hundreds of National Guard troops will now patrol North America’s northern border, and armed helicopters and military planes will guard more rural areas.

We are being told that all this is being done in the name of securing cross-border trade in goods. However, the Canadian trucking industry has warned that militarizing the Canada/U.S. border will do very little, if anything, to deal with the issue of congested border crossings.

The real target is people. Yet, the U.S. government — perhaps more than any other — knows that this kind of militarization doesn’t actually work to stop the undocumented movement of people. So what is going on?

A Question of Who Belongs

The new Canadian Immigration Act and the U.S./Canada joint agreement that, together, effectively set up a North American perimeter amount to so much ideological double-speak. Both are designed to exploit and further entrench a panic about the border being out of control.

What a North American perimeter will actually do is ensure that the over 150-million displaced people forced to cross international borders every year — and the millions more who will be displaced by the War on Terrorism — will never be able to call North America home.

As well, more people than ever who live, work and pay taxes in Canada will never be able to claim landed-immigrant status, become permanent residents and eventually be citizens. Instead, they will be left to fend for themselves as undocumented peoples struggling to work in job ghettos, living in unsafe conditions and trying to survive without any healthcare. Their children will be denied schooling and they will be easy targets for police forces (like the illegal immigrant squad set up by the Ontario government).

These policies will not stop the movement of people. They only make refugees and immigrants much more vulnerable to the demands of employers, landlords and thugs once they reach the other side.

Little wonder, then, that the Coalition for Secure and Trade Efficient Borders — a group of over forty-five business organizations in Canada — has wholeheartedly supported the latest political moves. Employers are exploiting the events of September 11 for their own private profits. The existence of vulnerability, abuse and terror in the lives of those who are already the world’s most vulnerable, most abused and most terrorized people makes for competitive labour markets. It does nothing to end terrorism.


If we have learned anything from the experiences of the U.S./Mexico border, we know that those who are demanding order at the border will not be made more secure.

At America’s southern border, an increased military presence and more surveillance and detention powers for the state has resulted in exactly the opposite: more violence, fear and insecurity — for migrants, citizens and other people with status. Terrorizing migrants only creates a situation where more money is spent, more people are armed, more war machinery is used and more lives are lost.

If we really want to do something about terrorism, then we need to stop supporting dictatorships and fundamentalists at home and abroad. If we really want to do something about the international crisis in migration, we need to call for an end to those very practices that cause people’s dislocation. We also need to ensure that, once on the move, all people living within any given place are treated equally. Without addressing these issues, we only serve to heighten our collective insecurity.

The creation of a North American perimeter only fools us into thinking we are more secure. What it really does is boost the power of businesses and governments that thrive on terror.