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Pioneer Editorial: In protecting our borders: North to South

With much of the nation's attention focused on our southern border, and that the influx of some 12 million illegal immigrants came mostly from that direction, it's easy to forget about securing our northern border.

While we have the best of relations with Canada, there's a lot of territory that is basically unguarded, and easy to move over not only a terrorist or two but even a division of them. Especially in Minnesota, there's a lot of woods and lakes which remain unguarded and easy to penetrate.

The National Guard is being sent to the Mexican border to bolster efforts there, and the $32.7 billion Homeland Security Department budget approved 100-0 by the U.S. Senate on Thursday focuses more resources in that direction.

But we're happy that the spending bill does pay attention to our northern reaches, through the efforts of U.S. Sens. Mark Day-ton, DFL-Minn., and Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

The bill includes an amendment by Dayton to provide $44 million for 236 extra Border Patrol agents who will be used to beef up the U.S.-Canada border. That move will increase the number of northern Border Patrol agents by 24 percent. Regional law enforcement requested the help, Dayton said, with the border only 100 miles from the Bemidji area. "They say they can't rely on our federal border patrol agents, because there aren't any there," says Dayton. "So, these five or six-person local law enforcement departments are nearly entirely on their own."

Coleman and New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer were successful in their amendment to create a pilot program to outfit three foreign seaports with equipment to scan 100 percent of shipments bound for the United States for radiological material. It requires Homeland Security to test a program that would allow inspectors to see the shipment contents both onsite and in the United States. The program eventually will aid Minnesota, as Duluth is a major inland seaport, and screening will help ensure safe cargo delivery to the Twin Ports.

Coleman had also sought an amendment to study the feasibility of establishing a northern border training facility in International Falls at Rainy River Community College. It would conduct a variety of multi-day training programs for northern border security personnel involving both classroom study and real-world application preparation. Agents would learn safety issues related to biological and chemical warfare, matters relating directly to terrorist threats and would include culture and communications training, firearms and weapons, self defense, and search and seizure. We hope the Republican senator continues to push this issue.

Coleman did note that the bill includes $10.3 million for unmanned aerial vehicles to fly over the borders, with a Coleman pro-vision that UAV tests be conducted for bor-der surveillance along the northern border. That will help with the Pentagon's mission change for bases in Fargo and Grand Forks, which will handle UAVs worldwide.

With our closeness to the border, we're happy to see attention turned north, as well as south.