Friday, February 01, 2008

Tighter border threatens to distance U.S., Canadian towns.

A couple times last year, I commented on news reports about the impact of proposals to tighten U.S.-Canadian border security on the neighboring towns of Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec - two communities that are so closely tied to one another that they even share a library. Today's Boston Globe has a story considering how new restrictions on border crossings may drive a wedge between another set of close-knit border towns, Houlton, Maine and Woodstock, New Brunswick:
Canadians are among the best customers in [Houlton, Me.], where Interstate 95 links to the Trans Canada Highway. On frequent visits fueled by a stronger Canadian dollar, they fill up their tanks at gas stations near the highway and pile their shopping carts high with milk and butter at the local IGA grocery.

Yesterday, as the U.S. government enforced stricter rules along its borders, requiring all travelers to show a passport or two other forms of identification, Canadians were able to cross the border and visit Houlton businesses without a hitch.

But in Maine and in Woodstock, New Brunswick, a dozen miles away, some residents said the beefed-up border will widen the symbolic distance between them and might chill their economic and social relations. The new rules end a long practice of allowing travelers to prove their citizenship with an oral declaration.

"A lot of people would like to think they could slow down and wave like they used to, but everyone knows we're not going back to that," said Ken Harding, chief administrative officer in Woodstock.

The tightened requirements, to be enforced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents along the 5,525-mile Canadian border and the shorter border with Mexico, precede a more dramatic shift in June 2009 that will require all border crossers to present passports. The rule was scheduled to take effect this year, but was recently postponed by Congress.

. . .

Relations have long been friendly between Houlton, population 6,500, and Woodstock, a town of 5,200. Americans and Canadians intermarry; youth hockey teams cross over for competitions; and some residents commute to jobs through customs, including dozens of Canadian nurses at Houlton Regional Hospital.

Many residents said that the increased security is necessary and that it does not diminish the friendliness between them.

"It's important," said Gladys Dalton, a Canadian who enters Maine twice a week to buy gas and groceries. "There's too much going on."

Others said the changes create an unwanted barrier and do little to protect against terrorism.

Lonnie Forbes, another Canadian, shopped in Houlton yesterday, but said he will balk at spending $400 for four passports for his family.

"I'm just not going to do it," he said. "We would come down to Kittery in the spring to buy a bunch of stuff, but it's like a stop sign that says, 'We don't want you.'"

Troy Obar, a Houlton native, said he has no plans to apply for a passport and will abandon his favorite Canadian wilderness and find new places to go camping when the rules clamp down next year.

"I'm a stickler for the old times," he said, "for the way it was done for years, like you were going from state to state, instead of country to country."
To read the rest, click here. For my part, I respect the need for secure borders but regret the fact that border communities that have enjoyed close and harmonious links for generations may now be driven further apart. I pray that the residents of towns like Houlton and Woodstock will find ways to stay close to their friends and family across national lines in spite of harsh new realities. AMDG.


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