Canadian border 'not a conduit for terrorists' - Mexico is a much bigger problem for illegal access to U.S., study says

Janice Tibbetts
CanWest News Service
The Ottawa Citizen


Canada does not deserve its bad reputation as an illegal gateway into the United States, concludes an analysis of American statistics over the last decade.

"Canada is not one of the U.S.'s biggest problems in terms of the number of illegals there," Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies, said yesterday. "All things considered, they've got bigger fish to fry in this regard."

The Mexican border is a far greater threat to American security, according to Mr. Jedwab's analysis, which is based on 10 years of figures from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services.

The most recent statistics available show Canada ranked 15th in terms of the point of origin of "illegal aliens" living in the United States in 2000. The list was topped by Mexico, which accounted for almost five million of the seven million unauthorized people living in the U.S. Only 47,000 illegals came from Canada, which was well behind El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras, China, and Ecuador, each of which was the country of origin of more than 100,000 unauthorized people in the U.S.

"When you talk about porous borders, clearly the United States knows that by far the major issue they've got is with Mexico, despite the amount of attention we in Canada are getting," said Mr. Jedwab. "There has been very little evidence to date to support the idea that our borders are a conduit for terrorists entering the United States."

There was little change, percentage wise, between 1990 and 2000 figures, in illegal aliens coming from Canada. Mexico's share increased to 69 per cent from 58 per cent.

Mr. Jedwab is to present his analysis this weekend at an immigration conference in Niagara Falls, Ont.

The overwhelming majority -- 80 per cent -- of unauthorized people living in the U.S. in 2000 were classified as "entrants without inspection," who passed across land borders, says Mr. Jedwab. The remainder entered as non-immigrants and overstayed their admission period.

The number of people who entered the U.S. without inspection -- including Canadians -- and later overstayed their welcome dropped dramatically after the 2001 terrorist bombings. Last year, 1,466 Canadians fit the category of "overstayers," compared to 2,592 in 1997.

Many high-profile Americans, including members of Congress, have publicly complained that Canada's lax immigration laws make it a haven for terrorists.

The fear has persisted since Sept. 11, 2001, when there were reports -- that later proved false -- that some of the culprits had slipped into the U.S. through Canadian checkpoints.

The perception in the U.S. has been exacerbated by recent revelations by Canada's auditor general that the Immigration Department has lost track of about 36,000 failed refugee claimants in the last six years.

Canada has noted however, that proportionally, there are far more people unaccounted for in the U.S.


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