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Why Canadian Border Poses Bigger Threat to U.S.

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Updated February 03, 2011

If you're worried about unauthorized immigrants sneaking into the United States across the Canadian border, here's a bit of good news: Homeland Security agents provided an "acceptable level of security" along 32 miles of the northern border in 2010.

The bad news? They didn't do so well along the other 3,968 miles.

In fact, the U.S. Government Accountability Office and Department of Homeland Security warned in December 2010 that the risk of terrorism against the United States was far greater from the Canadian border than the Mexican border.

See more: How Many Immigrants Are Living in the United States Illegally?

"Historically, the United States has focused attention and resources primarily on the U.S. border with Mexico, which continues to experience significantly higher levels of drug trafficking and illegal immigration than the U.S.-Canadian border," the watchdog arm of Congress reported.

"However, DHS reports that the terrorist threat on the northern border is higher, given the large expanse of area with limited law enforcement coverage."

Problems at the Canadian Border

The Department of Homeland Security warned of networks of illicit criminal activity and smuggling of drugs, money, people and weapons across the Canadian border. Facilitating such activity is the rough terrain along the Canadian border, which ranges from densely forested lands on the west and east coasts to desolate, remote plains in the middle of the country.

Though there isn't much of a federal, state or local law enforcement presence in those areas, Homeland Security's $3 billion law-enforcement effort resulted in about 6,000 arrests and the seizure of some 40,000 pounds of illegal drugs along the Canadian border, according to the GAO.

Still, the lack of a serious law-enforcement presence along more than 99 percent of the 4,000-mile Canadian border was problematic to government watchdogs. They specifically cited the maritime border on the Great Lakes and rivers as being "vulnerable to use of small vessels as a conduit for potential exploitation by terrorists, alien smuggling, trafficking of illicit drugs and other contraband and criminal activity."

They also noted that the Canadian border's waterways can freeze during the winter and can easily be crossed on foot or by vehicle or snowmobile. Meantime, the Canadian air border was vulnerable to low-flying aircraft that, for example, smuggle drugs by entering U.S. airspace from Canada. The GAO concluded the "risk of terrorist activity is high" along the Canadian border.

Reaction to Canadian Border Report

U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman was outspoken about what he described as alarming findings.

"These findings should sound a loud alarm to the Department of Homeland Security, the Canadian government, and our Committee. The American people are grossly under-protected along our northern border," said Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut.

"We've got to work together with our neighbors in Canada to raise our guard. We should at the very least be able to detect all illegal entries from Canada into the U.S. so we can get this information into the hands of law enforcement agencies that are well situated to make the necessary arrests."

Border patrol agents were aware of illegal border crossings on only 25 percent of the border, or 1,007 miles, of the Canadian border, according to the GAO. But they were able to make immediate arrests on fewer than 1 percent, or 32 miles.

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