Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) was widely criticized and mocked when he suggested Sunday that the U.S. should explore building a wall on its more than 4,000-mile long northern border with Canada, calling it a “legitimate issue.”
“There’s no idea too ridiculous for a candidate trying to build his anti-immigrant credentials,” said Scott Foval with People for the American Way in a statement to ThinkProgress. “Our country doesn’t need more Trump-style demagoguery.” Foval is referring to the fact that Walker seems to be trying to outpace businessman Donald Trump, currently at the top of the polls for the Republican presidential nomination, on his harsh anti-immigration proposals.
Meanwhile, one of Walker’s rivals in the 2016 race — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) — called it “a pretty dumb idea” and a “ridiculous notion.”
Yet both Walker and those who denounced his comment are ignoring the significant and ever-increasing immigrant enforcement apparatus that already exists on the U.S.-Canada border. Though there is no high wall with razor wire like there is on parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, the Bush and Obama administrations have built checkpoints, increased constitutionally questionable searches, deployed thousands more armed agents, and sent drones into the northern skies. The Border Patrol under President Obama has even toyed with the idea of constructing “fencing and other barriers” on “trouble spots” along the Canadian border, arguing in 2010 that less than 2 percent of it is currently “secure.”
Besides the dollar cost of this ramped-up enforcement — which is in the billions — civil rights and human rights groups say communities of color in northern border states have been subjected to increased harassment, unlawful detentions, and racial profiling.
Since the attacks on September 11, 2001, the number of Border Patrol agents on the northern border has increased by more than 700 percent. Yet the Border Patrol apprehended just over 3,000 people last year, a tiny fraction of the nearly 480,000 apprehended at the southern border.
“The government set up all these new Border Patrol stations in western Pennsylvania, Sandusky, Ohio and Detroit, but you really don’t have people crossing without permission from Canada,” explained Lynn Tramonte with the immigrant rights group Ohio Voice. “There wasn’t enough work for these agents to do, so they started doing interior enforcement. They patrol the highways and conduct sweeps looking for undocumented immigrants. They use racial profiling against people who look Latino, despite fact we don’t share a border with any Latin American country.”
Currently, a federal court in Toledo, Ohio is weighing a lawsuit against the Border Patrol, which accuses them of overwhelmingly targeting Latino residents for stops and searches. The plaintiffs presented documents showing that 85 percent of those arrested by Sandusky Border Patrol agents in 2009 were Latino, though Latinos only make up 3 percent of the northern Ohio’s population. Just 0.2 percent of those arrested were Canadian.
“Do you have brown skin? Are you driving with other people with brown skin? Are you headed to a factory or farm? The Border Patrol thinks that’s probable cause to think you’re an undocumented immigrant,” Tramonte told ThinkProgress. “Now, Latino families in Ohio are afraid to do basic things like drive to grocery store or take their kids to school. We’ve seen so many mothers and fathers of American citizens taken away from their children. What are we doing to these kids?”
Arrests and deportations have sharply spiked in Ohio over the past few years, with agents rounding up and deporting many undocumented immigrants for driving without a license or other minor infractions.
This pattern is repeated across the northern United States. In Michigan, civil rights groups sued the Border Patrol for profiling and targeting Muslims. The lawsuit documented agents detaining lawful border crossers for up to twelve hours, brandishing weapons at them, conducting “invasive and humiliating” body searches, and asking them personal questions such as, “Who else prays in your mosque?”
In upstate New York, Border Patrol agents conduct sweeps on Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses, going after not recent border crossers, but anyone with a “medium or black complexion.” New York University law school and the New York Civil Liberties Union have said the practice “raises serious constitutional concerns.”
“The one irony in all of this is that Republicans are always complaining about big government and taxes, but when it comes to immigration, it’s a blank check,” said Tramonte. “They say, ‘Deport them all, no matter how much it will cost.’ Their principles of fiscal responsibility go right out the window when you add immigrant into the equation.”