US border insecurity


  1. The American-Canadian border is the longest shared border in the world.
  2. The American-Canadian border is the only shared border between highly developed (GDP per capita > $20,000) in North America. there are 30 such borders in the world, 3 are with Saudi Arabia and its rich gulf neighbors, and the other 26 are in Western Europe.

More little known facts on border security:

  1. The longest open border treaty is the Common Travel Area between The United Kingdom and Ireland. It was signed by Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George. It has only come under threat recently by the Tories. The history of the relationship is fascinating and complicated about why Britain is not a member of Schengen and the Common Travel Area was not superseded by the Schengen Treaty.

The vast majority of wealthy counties in the world which border another wealthy country are in a customs union together with free movement. There are only 4 exceptions to this, Andorra is not a member of the Schengen area, and it counts as twice since it borders both France and Spain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are in the middle of a dispute right now, and the border has been closed between the two. The only other border between wealthy countries which has customs is between the United States and Canada.

This list grows even shorter when you consider that Andorra and the European Union are currently under negotiations to integrate Andorra into the common market. The current crisis with Qatar has to do with Saudi Arabia demanding that they cut off all relations with Iran, and unfortunately there are no signs of them cutting of Iran or Saudi Arabia backing down from their threats.

This leaves us with the United States and Canadian border. Two very wealthy nations which rank highly in every freedom metric. Canada generally does better than us, but the United States generally does well. Both countries have similar issues regarding the treatment of minorities, as a centuries long human rights issue which hasn’t gone addressed, but this doesn’t seem to be a reason to not have a customs union between us.

First of all, I do not expect this will be done within the next decade, mainly due to Donald Trump’s opposition to cooperation with our allies.

If we were to further integrate our two economies we would need to have a common tariff, which would likely be done with Mexico at the same time. This would be basically an extension of NAFTA and make it so that our customs would be all integrated with countries outside of the bloc.

The next issue to be dealt with would be with Canada alone since the possibility of an open border with Mexico is not going to go anywhere with congress. This would be a formation of an Economic Union with Canada. The main difference here would be the free movement of labor and capital. Anyone may search for work or do business in the other country with no restriction.

Once we have a harmonized  tariff policy, we need to ensure our visa policies are integrated as well. I personally would like to replace the ESTA with pure visa-free entry, and the ETA in Canada as well, but this is unlikely to happen. The reason is that before these programs went into place there had never been even one attack on American or Canadian soil from any individual from the countries which require these programs since 1945. They seem to be more of a bother and provide basically no benefit. We would still have visas for countries where people would be likely to overstay, or state sponsors of terrorism, but for people from Western Europe there would be no visa at all. For people who need a visa they would all be multi entry visas which expire when the passport is replaced. There are currently differences in our visa policy when it comes to Mexico, Barbados, Bahamas, Brazil, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Papua New Guinea, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Cyprus, Croatia, and Hong Kong.

This is the biggest barrier of them all really. While over the last 4 years Canada has undergone a large effort to increase trade and improve their already good image to the rest of the world by increasing the ability of people to visit Canada, the United States has barely changed, and has been bullying Canada to have more restrictive visa policies to other countries. I won’t be surprised if Parliament decides to end the ETA program and allow countries from places like Germany visit Canada again without pre-registration. Sandals and socks isn’t that bad honestly.

There is a really big issue with our approach is outlined by Stuart Anderson in this article by Forbes describing how it is based on visa overstay rate which is calculated by the Department of Homeland Security. There is a really big issue here in that the actual numbers for who overstays their visa is highly inaccurate, andhighly flawed. It is going to be impossible to get a visa policy which accurately give the right nationalities true visa free entry as long as this is on the books. This is something which needs to be fixed as soon as possible, and an accurate method of determining who should have visas needs to be devised as soon as possible.

The other issue with the American-Canadian border is that most people don’t know that it has only been closed for less than 100 years. The CBP tells the story on its website where the patrols were infrequent before prohibition, and the US Border Patrol was founded in 1924 to counter the importation of alcohol. If it wasn’t for prohibition, we might have never closed the border with Canada in the first place.

Finding data on historical visa policies is difficult. Here is a collection of papers for information on this topic:


I will to get high quality data myself to do a comprehensive study in the future. This is going to take some time and a lot of work.

We will probably need to harmonize our drunk driving laws, and I am personally in favor of being harder on drunk driving, but once that is done there will likely be no valid reason to keep the border closed. Ironic how the border was closed because American alcohol laws were more severe than Canada’s and in order to open it again we will need to raise the penalty in the United States for drunk driving.

With a harmonized tariff policy and harmonized visa policy I believe the United States and Canada will see significant economic benefits and save billions of dollars every year on border enforcement. I expect we will see that an open border will be worth it.

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