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Pioneer Editorial: Add 'north' to border security talk

While much of the nation's attention has been focused on our southern border with Mexico, and the resulting flow of illegal immigrants across that border, our northern border remains fairly unprotected. Granted, our neighbor to the north, Canada, is more particular about who it lets in and out -- as opposed to a porous border with Mexico -- but nonetheless opportunity is there for those wanting to illegally cross.

That is now changing, as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced plans to expand its Border Patrol offices in Duluth, International Falls and Grand Marais. It's an important upgrade, providing each office with room for 50 employees, a helicopter pad and an 8-foot wall or fence by winter of 2008.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the number of border agents to the north has increased from 400 to more than 1,000. While a need for thousands of new agents is certainly documented for the southern border, we believe the northern border also deserves adequate protection measures albeit not as great as it is to the south.

Under the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, a 20 percent annual increase in agents on the U.S.-Canadian border is required until 2010. In July, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment by U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, DFL-Minn., to put an additional 236 patrol agents at $44 million on the northern border.

Dayton also plans to draw attention to our northern security needs, as he holds three border security forums over two days next week. The first, Monday afternoon at the Roseau County Courthouse, will hear from local law enforcement, emergency management personnel, Border Patrol representatives and elected officials. Dayton will discuss his amendment, which still needs approval by a House/Senate conference committee. Tuesday Dayton will hold similar forums in International Falls and Duluth.

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., has also been active on border issues, and has visited the same cities for the same reasons in the past. He's also working on an effective but non-bureaucratic way for citizens to travel across the border without onerous requirements such as passports.

What is also needed is more Homeland Security funding for such things as communications equipment that can quickly connect local law enforcement with state and federal officers at the border. That funding is more important, we believe, than buying an armored "tank" for Edina, as has previously been awarded.

It's time that when the national debate talks about "border security" that both north and south are included.